Dean Mimmack | Santa Cruz | 09/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A romantic comedy set in old Mexico complete with moonlight desert nights, cactus silhouettes, and enjoyable music. Life-loving Leo Carrillo (Cisco's Kid's Poncho) misguidedly decides to modernize his bandito operation (sombreros, guitars, and burros) after watching American gangster films. The plot twists playfully from that premise into kidnapping and matchmaking. Every bit as delightful as Mamoulian's 'Love Me Tonight' in its loving attention to detail, this film is a visual pleasure."
A Pleasant Discovery
Fernando Silva | Santiago de Chile. | 06/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Knowing that Rouben Mamoulian, one of the great film directors of the Twentieth Century (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Love Me Tonight, Queen Christina, Golden Boy,...), had directed this not widely known film and being the Musical Genre on of my favorites, I always had an "eye" on this movie.
I'd define "The Gay Desperado" as a wonderful and entertaining spoof with musical interludes, set in the Mexican Border, where the notorious, funny, charming bandit Pedro Braganza (who's a music fan, very funnily played by Leo Carrillo) and his gang try to imitate the American gangsters' "modern ways", kidnapping a singer (Chivo, played by Nino Martini) in the process.
I must note that Nino Martini is the only member of the cast who actually sings, profusely, in the film, getting to sing some popular Mexican songs and an Operatic Aria among others.
Martini has an impressive voice (you can tell he was a real Opera singer from the Met) and a mischievously charming personality. Leo Carrillo more or less steals the film as the florid leader of the Mexican bandits with an "ear for music". Very funny performances too by Harold Huber as Carrillo's more serious sidekick and by great character actor Mischa Auer (of "My Man Godfrey" and "You Can't Take it With You" fame), who impersonates a silent native (almost a "Buster Keatonish" character) who's part of the gang too.
Ida Lupino is very good (before her later "Warner Bros. Screen Persona") as an American girl who has just eloped to get married in Mexico to a rather wishy-washy, stiff fiancé, getting both to meet Carrillo's gang face to face.
Great cinematography, pace, mood and dialogue (IMHO this is no "ordinary" musical) in a beautifully restored transfer (IMAGE made a great job).
Madcap mixture of many genres somehow manages to work, delig
Muzzlehatch | the walls of Gormenghast | 10/14/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of those rare instances when I just happened on a box cover at the local video store, and it ended up being something I'd never heard of but had to see - and then to own. I've seen just a couple of other films from director Rouben Mamoulian, but though I've liked them a lot the real draw here was lead actress Ida Lupino, in Hollywood for just a couple of years at this point and still looking very young and fresh at 18 or 22 (depending on the source - her birth is still a source of some dispute). Lupino has become an absolute favorite for me, but I haven't looked really hard at her early years, and I had no idea that this obscurity was on video. It really shouldn't be so unknown, though I can see how it wouldn't appeal to an enormously wide audience, or even to a large subset of those willing to watch 30s films.
Basically what we have here is a Mexico-set western-gangster-musical-comedy, a crazy and wonderful mix of genres that I'm coming to believe was especially popular in the Depression/early sound era of the early-to-mid 1930s. The previous year provided one of my favorite examples of genre-bending, the science fiction-western-musical THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, and the musical-western, musical-gangster film and other mash-ups that seem pretty odd today were commonplace during this era. Anyone thinking that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER invented the idea of mixing seemingly disparate styles and stories into one narrative really needs to take a look at this era's films.
THE GAY DESPERADO begins in a movie theater (so there's also the self-referential back-lot theme going on, think Busby Berkeley or some of Mamoulian's own earlier films) somewhere near the border, with a group of desperados watching an American gangster movie, their leader Pablo (Leo Carillo) deciding that he wants to be more professional like the Americans. For some not very well explained reason he thinks that capturing a radio singer, Chivo (Nino Martini) will help his cause. He tries to teach Chivo the ways of banditry - and have him become his own personal singer - and then captures an American couple, Bill Shay (James Blakeley) and his fiancee Jane (Lupino) and tries to ransom them to Shay's rich father. Many songs, car chases and horseback chases, escapes and recaptures follow. The songs are a mix of operatic classics and Mexican folk songs and are all nicely done; Lupino is just gorgeous and charismatic and talented enough to pretty well dominate most of the scenes she's in; and it's nice to see the Mexican bad guys eventually decide that they don't really want to be like the more ruthless - and humorless - American gangsters that they eventually run up against, instead turning the American public enemies in.
So all in all we end up with a light satire on Mexican bandits, American gangsters, and the Hollywood musical form, reasonably fast-paced despite some of the songs feeling a little awkwardly placed; a frothy, weird and fun concoction that has to be one of the most pleasant surprises I've had this year.