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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Mexican Spitfire Collection
The Mexican Spitfire Collection
Warner Archives // Unrated // May 3, 2011
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Wbshop]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 8, 2011 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Collection:
 
At long last Warner is releasing the eight Mexican Spitfire films from their vaults.  These RKO B-films star the talented and charismatic Lupe Velez in the title role and the terribly under-rated Leon Errol.  Warner Archives have released the whole series in one nice set and though they are unrestored the image is excellent.  For fans of Lupe Velez this is a must-own and for those who haven't been exposed to this wonderful actress, it's a great chance to see her in action.
 


Lupe Velez, the tragic Hollywood star, was born in Mexico in 1908.  Her father was in the military and died during the revolution and Lupe had to work to help support her mother and sisters.  She loved the theater however and took dancing lessons and eventually made her debut in the theater to much acclaim.  Her rise from that point was meteoric.  She moved to Hollywood, was signed by Hal Roach in 1924, stared opposite Douglas Fairbanks in her first feature (The Gaucho) in 1927, and was named a WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1928.  From there she worked with a who's-who of Hollywood:  Gary Cooper, D.W Griffith, Tod Browning, Lon Chaney and Cecil B. de Mille, to name a few.    In 1933 she married Johnny Weismuller (Olympic Gold Medalist and Tarzan star) but the following year her career hit a skid when she was named as a communist. 
 
She worked in other countries and on the stage, but in 1939 (the same year that she and Johnny Weismuller were divorced) she landed a role in The Girl from Mexico, the first of a series that would soon be known as The Mexican Spitfire films.
 
Unfortunately, though she was getting her career back on track, her personal life was a shambles.  She had a number of publicized affairs during her career, including an on-again, off-again relationship with Gary Cooper.  She also had an affair with actor Harald Maresch, and in 1944 found herself pregnant with his child.  Unable to bring herself to abort the child, and still displeased with her lagging career, Lupe Velez took an overdose of Seconal on December 14th, 1944.  Her note suicide read:  "To Harald: May God forgive you and forgive me, too; but I prefer to take my life away and our baby's, before I bring him with shame, or killing him. Lupe."  She was 36 year old.
 
Lupe Velez left a legacy of wonderful films however.  She was a startling beauty, talented comedienne, had a wonderful amount of screen presence.  She nearly outshines Douglas Fairbanks in The Gaucho, something that's not easy to do, and always brought a sense of fun and excitement to the films she made.  Not only that, but she was a strong female character decades before anyone had even heard of woman's lib.  No wilting flower, she often stands up to the men in her life without flinching.  That's particularly true of this series, where when she feels that she's been wronged she leaves her husband and gets a job of her own.  Lupe Velez was a true talent who is sadly underappreciated today.
 
The Films:
 
The Girl from Mexico (1939):  This first film wasn't intended to become a series, but Velez had such screen presence and the movie did so well that RKO decided to keep churning them out.  This first outing finds Dennis Lindsay (Donald Woods) in a jam.  It's only a couple of weeks until his wedding to social climber and all around harpy Elizabeth (Linda Hayes), but his boss sends him to Mexico in order to discover and sign a singer that an important client wants for an advertising campaign.  He has little luck until his car breaks down in a little village and he hears Carmelita Fuentes (Velez) singing in a cantina.  The two get off to a fiery start (Dennis accidently pushes her into a fountain) and Carmelita refuses to go to New York City with the attractive ad man.
 


Making an end run around the hot-headed singer, Dennis convinces Carmelita's parents that going to NY is the best thing for her.  She can't disobey them of course, so after getting a judge's permission (Carmelita is an unwed woman after all) and Dennis' promise that he'll check in with the Mexican consulate in New York to assure him that the young woman is living a virtuous life in the big city, the pair travel back to the states.
 
Dennis has to work however, and reneges on his promise to show Carmelita the sites.  Irate at this turn of events, the young woman charms Dennis' Uncle Matt(wonderfully played by Leon Errol) to take her to a parade, an excavation site (to see the steam shovels at work) a ball game, and ultimately the fights.  Carmelita has such a good time yelling and screaming that she looses her voice and blows the audition, much to the delight of Aunt Della (Elisabeth Risdon) whose complaints about the Mexican visitor stop just short of being racist.  Of course Dennis isn't going to end up with a shrew like Elizabeth, and everyone can see that he really loves Carmelita.  Everyone except Dennis, naturally.
 
This was a very fun film.  Light and carefree, like many comedies of the late 30's/ early 40's but that's what gives the film its charm.  That and the on-screen chemistry between Velez and Errol.  Their trip around New York, ending up at a prize fight where Carmelita jumps in the ring to help the wrestler "Mexican Pete (Ward Bond), is the highlight of the film.  Velez is wonderful in her role and easily overshadows the rather drab Woods.  Her lines are filled with malaprops and odd sayings ("Love makes your heart go thump, thump, thump; like a little baby falling down the stairs.") and she delivers them with a wide-eyed innocence that works well.  Her fiery temper plays well too.  She often starts off yelling in English then switches to Spanish and increases both the tempo and volume.  It's easy to see why RKO decided to make more in the series.
 


Mexican Spitfire (1940):   It's rather surprising, but this second film in the series picks up where the previous one left off, a few weeks later.  Dennis and Carmelita have just returned from their honeymoon (is it really a spoiler that they were married at the end of the first movie??  Did anyone not see that coming?) and are met at the airport by Uncle Mat, Aunt Della, and (surprisingly) Elizabeth, Dennis' ex-fiancée.  Aunt Della, sure that Carmelita is totally wrong for Dennis, has hatched a plan to get rid of the foreigner and substitute the cultured Elizabeth in her place.  The plot revolves around Lord Epping (played by Leon Errol who also reprises his role as Uncle Mat) a British nobleman who is thinking about hiring Dennis' firm to advertise his liquor in America.  Della convinces Dennis that Carmelita is totally inappropriate to act as hostess when Lord Epping comes for dinner, and Elizabeth takes her place, temporarily, as woman of the house.  When Carmelita discovers that Epping can't make the dinner, she convinces Uncle Mattto impersonate the often inebriated nobleman at the dinner.  Mayhem ensues when the real Epping shows up without Uncle Mattrealizing it.
 
This film really kicks off the series, as the rest of the films follow the basic plot established in this movie:  Uncle Matt having to disguise himself as Lord Epping to get himself and/or Carmelita out of a jam.  One of the nice aspects of this film (and the series as a whole) is that Carmelita realizes that Della and Elizabeth are plotting against her.  She's not some naïve girl who falls for the same tricks over and over; she quickly ascertains who her enemies are and attacks them with vigor.
 
Leon Errol steals the show (as is true of the rest of the series) with his dual role.  Yeah, it's a silly plot device that would only work in movies, but it's hilarious.  Seeing Epping (in reality Uncle Matt) insult Aunt Della and Elizabeth is great and it only gets better when the real Epping starts to compliment them.  A fine light comedy.


 
Mexican Spitfire Out West (1940):  It's been a year since they got married, but Carmelita and Dennis are having problems.  Dennis has to keep Lord Epping away from a competitor, Skinner, who is trying to steal the account.  He's spending so much time worrying about Skinner and keeping him away from Epping that Carmelita runs off to Reno to get a divorce.  Uncle Matt travels there to bring her back, but when Matt discovers that Skinner has followed him (under the impressing that he's going to where Epping is hiding) Matt decides to keep the competitor tied up in Reno by impersonating the British distiller.  That works out well until he gets in the papers (as Lord Epping) and Dennis, Aunt Della, the real Lord Epping's wife, and the real Lord Epping separately find out and head to Reno. 
 
This is another good entry into the series.  The focus is starting to shift to Leon Errol with this film, which he deserves.  Elizabeth makes another stab at getting Donald, but after being left at the altar by the guy twice in three movies, she finally gets the hint.  She isn't in the rest of the series. 
 
Mexican Spitfire's Baby (1941):  This film has the most hilarious (if unrealistic) premise of any of these films.  While celebrating their first anniversary (again...) Camilita and Dennis (now played by Charles 'Buddy' Rogers) get into a fight about the amount of time Dennis spends at work.  The next day Uncle Matt comes up with a solution:  he'll have Lord Epping bring a French war orphan to America with him for Dennis and Carmelita when he comes to visit!  Matt sends off a wire and a couple of months later Epping arrives with the orphan.  The only problem is that Matt didn't specify WHICH war the orphan should be from, so Epping brings Fifi (Marion Martin), a 20 something blond bombshell who lost her parents in WWI.  Needless to say this causes a lot of problems for both Dennis and Matt.  The latter hides Fifi at an inn in the country run by the snoopy Miss Pepper (Zasu Pitts) who thinks something is definitely strange with the old man and his young 'wife.'
 


Another fun outing and the addition of Zasu Pitts helps add a little spring into the step of the series.  Needless to say, there are more Matt/Epping impersonations and things get wild when Fifi's fiancée (played by the wonderful Fritz Feld) arrives from France looking to duel the man who has stolen his sweetheart.  Unfortunately, Velez gets a little less screen time in this adventure but Leon Errol is still wonderful in his dual role.  When all is said and done this is a fun-filled B picture.
 
Mexican Spitfire at Sea (1942):  For their second honeymoon Dennis surprises Carmelita with a cruse to Hawaii.  The surprise is that it's really a business trip.  He's trying to sign a new client, a social climbing nouveau-riche couple, the Baldwins.  He figures if he can introduce them to Lord and Lady Epping, they'll be happy to sign with his company. 
 
The trouble is that Fifi's aboard the ship too, and when Mrs. Baldwin assumes Fifi is Dennis' wife, he's forced to take her to a party instead of Carmelita.  She gets back at him by pretending to be in love with his business rival, Skinner, and during the course of events Uncle Matt (who wouldn't take their aunt and uncle on their second honeymoon??) ends up impersonating Lord Epping and convinces Miss Pepper (who's also aboard... go figure the odds!) to play Lady Epping.
 
This film was really made by the inclusion of Zasu Pitts as Miss Pepper.  Her portrayal of Lady Epping was hilarious.  Her outrageously bad British accent was great and she really played up the part without getting too hammy. 
 
Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942):  Lord Epping lives in the US now, and even has a vacation home in the States.  That's where everyone goes when some friends of Epping's from Canada, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzbadden, come to visit.  Dennis wants to convince the Fitzbaddens to invest in his company (they badly need an influx of cash) and the rich friends of Lord Eppings are willing to contribute.  The only problem is that Lord Epping himself decides to go moose hunting in Canada instead.  That means it's up to Uncle Matt to play Lord Epping and save the day, but when the real Lord arrives unexpectedly, things get wild. 
 
To make matters worse the vacation house is being used by crooks to manufacture explosives (why??) and when they discover that people have arrived, they try to convince the unwelcome guests that the mansion is really haunted.
 
The series starts to get a bit tired at this point, but it's still enjoyable.  The old 'crooks are haunting the house' gag could have made this entry into the series seem fresh, but they dropped that plot line for the post part until the final reel.  The movie, once again, is mainly taken up with Lord Epping mixups.  Unfortunately they reuse a lot of material from earlier entries in the series... having Uncle Matt (in his Epping disguise) order a tonic water, only to have the waiter give it to the real Epping who loudly declares he hates drinking water and wants a Scotch and Soda, with no soda.  The waiter then gives the strong drink to Matt who spits it out and says he wants water.  Repeat.  It was cute the first couple of times, but by now the writers need to come up with something fresh.
 


Mexican Spitfire's Elephant (1942):  The war is on, and Aunt Della is doing her part volunteering to raise money for the troops and Uncle Matt is an Air Warden.  Lord and Lady Epping travel to the US to help Aunt Della raise money for the war effort and just before their ship lands a crook, Diana (played by Marion Martin who was also Fifi earlier in the series) gives Lord Epping a small elephant statue.  Inside is a large gem stone that she wants to smuggle into the country, and she's afraid the customs officials will find it on her. 
 
Once on shore she needs to get it back, with the help of her big boyfriend/accomplice, but the absentminded Lord has forgotten where he's put it.  Enter Carmelita and Uncle Matt, who try to help out by discovering just what the crooks what from Epping and why.
 
This is the weakest film in the series.  Not only does Velez get a new screen husband (Dennis is now played by Walter Reed) she also dyes her hair blond (!).  The movie itself seems like it was created by just stringing a bunch of gags together without having a coherent idea what the film should look like when it was completed.  The part where Carmelita, hearing that Diana wanted an elephant, brings a live pachyderm into a night club was amusing, but not really hilarious.  It was a bit predictable and they didn't do anything out of the ordinary with it.  The same can be said of the rest of the movie.
 
Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event (1943):  Velez' penultimate film (her final screen appearance was in Nana a Mexican film based on Emile Zola's novel of the same name), and the last Mexican Spitfire film.  Happily the series ends on a high note, as this is one of the better installments.
 
When Dennis joins the Merchant Marine to do his part for the war, he sends Carmelita off to Arizona to a resort.  Before she goes Uncle Mat gives her a large cat which ends up having a kitten.  Carmelita sends a telegram top Uncle Matt (addressed to 'Mr. Lindsey') where he's staying with the Eppings in an attempt to get the constantly inebriated nobleman to sign yet another contract.  It turns out that Dennis had two weeks leave, and rather than spend it with his wife, he ran up to Epping's place to seal the deal.  (Maybe her complaints that he spends too much time on business are well founded.)  He's given the telegram and assumes that Carmelita has had a baby.  Epping, Matt, Dennis and his main competition for the contract, George Sharpe (nicely played by Hugh Beaumont) all travel across the country to see the new baby, with the standard mayhem following.
 
The series found its feet again with this final installment.  The mix-up about the baby was nicely handled and resulted in some very funny scenes.  Carmelita describes the baby as being very cute with brown spots all over, and when Dennis asks where "the blessed event" is, Carmelita causally replies she's on the floor in the dog bed.  The film does end on a bitter-sweet note, with a doctor informing Dennis and Carmelita that they are going to have a baby.  Of course, it was this news in real life that lead to Lupe Velez taking her own life.   
 
The DVD:

 
These eight films (each runs about 70 minutes) arrive on four DVD-R discs housed in a single width quad keepcase.
 
Audio:
 
The mono soundtrack fits the movie well.  There isn't any noticeable hiss or background noise at normal volumes, and the dialog is easy to discern.  There are spots of distortion, doubtlessly present on the master negative, during especially loud scenes.  When a crowd cheers the noise tends to crack, but this happens rarely.
 
Video:
 
I was very pleased with the full frame image.  Though these haven't been restored, the prints look very, very good.  The lines are tight and the image is very clear.  There's a lot more detail than I was expecting and digital defects are very rare.  Overall this is an excellent looking set and should please film fans.
 
Extras:
 
Being a Warner Archive title, there are no extras.
 
Final Thoughts:
 
This is a wonderful set of movies.  Though they are a bit formulaic and tend to repeat themselves, Lupe Velez and Leon Errol make even the weakest offerings enjoyable.  Funny and charming, this set comes Highly Recommended.       
 
 
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