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
terribly under-rated Leon Errol. Warner
Archives have released the whole series in one nice set and though they
unrestored the image is excellent. For
fans of Lupe Velez this is a must-own and for those who haven't been
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
during the revolution and Lupe had to work to help support her mother
sisters. She loved the theater however
and took dancing lessons and eventually made her debut in the theater
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
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.
she married Johnny Weismuller (Olympic
Gold Medalist and Tarzan star) but the following year her career hit a
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,
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,
still displeased with her lagging career, Lupe Velez took an overdose
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
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
she leaves her husband and gets a job of her own. Lupe
Velez was a true talent who is sadly
The Girl from Mexico
(1939): This first film wasn't intended
to become a series, but Velez had such screen presence and the movie
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
Elizabeth (Linda Hayes), but his boss sends him to Mexico in order to
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
singing in a cantina. The two get off to
a fiery start (Dennis accidently pushes her into a fountain) and
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
getting a judge's permission (Carmelita is an unwed woman after all)
Dennis' promise that he'll check in with the Mexican consulate in New York to
that the young woman is living a virtuous life in the big city, the
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
Leon Errol) to take her to a parade, an excavation site (to see the
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
of Aunt Della (Elisabeth Risdon) whose complaints about the Mexican
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
This was a very fun film.
Light and carefree, like many comedies of the late 30's/ early
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
jumps in the ring to help the wrestler "Mexican Pete (Ward Bond), is
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
falling down the stairs.") and she delivers them with a wide-eyed
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.
(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
at the end of the first movie?? Did
anyone not see that coming?) and are met at the airport by Uncle Mat,
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
the cultured Elizabeth
in her place. The plot revolves around
Lord Epping (played by Leon Errol who also reprises his role as Uncle
British nobleman who is thinking about hiring Dennis' firm to advertise
in America. Della convinces Dennis that Carmelita is
totally inappropriate to act as hostess when Lord Epping comes for
dinner, and Elizabeth
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
plotting against her. She's not some
naïve girl who falls for the same tricks over and over; she
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
starts to compliment them. A fine light
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
the impressing that he's going to where Epping is hiding) Matt decides
the competitor tied up in Reno
by impersonating the British distiller.
That works out well until he gets in the papers (as Lord Epping)
Dennis, Aunt Della, the real Lord Epping's wife, and the real Lord
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
stab at getting Donald, but after being left at the altar by the guy
three movies, she finally gets the hint.
She isn't in the rest of the series.
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
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
be from, so Epping brings Fifi (Marion Martin), a 20 something blond
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
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
get wild when Fifi's fiancée (played by the wonderful Fritz
Feld) arrives from France
to duel the man who has stolen his sweetheart.
Unfortunately, Velez gets a little less screen time in this
but Leon Errol is still wonderful in his dual role.
When all is said and done this is a fun-filled
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,
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
instead of Carmelita. She gets back at
him by pretending to be in love with his business rival, Skinner, and
the course of events Uncle Matt (who wouldn't take their aunt and uncle
their second honeymoon??) ends up impersonating Lord Epping and
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
Mexican Spitfire Sees
a Ghost (1942): Lord Epping lives in
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
badly need an influx of cash) and the rich friends of Lord Eppings are
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,
To make matters worse the vacation house is being used by
crooks to manufacture explosives (why??) and when they discover that
have arrived, they try to convince the unwelcome guests that the
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
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
Matt (in his Epping disguise) order a tonic water, only to have the
it to the real Epping who loudly declares he hates drinking water and
Scotch and Soda, with no soda. The
waiter then gives the strong drink to Matt who spits it out and says he
water. Repeat. It
was cute the first couple of times, but by
now the writers need to come up with something fresh.
Elephant (1942): The war is on, and
Aunt Della is doing her part volunteering to raise money for the troops
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
lands a crook, Diana (played by Marion Martin who was also Fifi earlier
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
Once on shore she needs to get it back, with the help of her
big boyfriend/accomplice, but the absentminded Lord has forgotten where
put it. Enter Carmelita and Uncle Matt,
who try to help out by discovering just what the crooks what from
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
film should look like when it was completed.
The part where Carmelita, hearing that Diana wanted an elephant,
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.
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
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
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
by Hugh Beaumont) all travel across the country to see the new baby,
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
Dennis asks where "the blessed event" is, Carmelita causally replies
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.
These eight films (each runs about 70 minutes) arrive on
four DVD-R discs housed in a single width quad keepcase.
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.
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
very rare. Overall this is an excellent
looking set and should please film fans.
Being a Warner Archive title, there are no extras.
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
enjoyable. Funny and charming, this set
comes Highly Recommended.