Movie: Foreign comedies often don't translate well when they are brought to an American audience. It usually relates to the cultural or language differences although some comedians have successfully bridged that gap by focusing on physical comedy rather than the subtler verbal style so many good comedians prefer to use. One great comedian that was able to make people all over the world laugh, the popular Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno, is now getting some of his movies released on dvd for the first time. Columbia Pictures is releasing a four pack of his movies next week and this review is about one of them, El Bolero De Raquel.
The movie follows the misadventures of a poor man, (Moreno), who shines shoes for a living. His Godson Chavita (Francisco Fernandez) had lost his father to an accident at work and his mother needs to go settle affairs with her in-laws. Moreno, faced with the responsibility of raising a child on his own, with his very limited means, takes on a number of odd jobs to make ends meet. The movie shows Moreno's "every-man" version of humor as the uneducated, barely civilized guy looks after his young charge while trying to pick up women in a host of circumstances. From shining shoes, to construction, to dancing, to becoming a lifeguard (not knowing how to swim), the happy go lucky guy makes the best of whatever life sends his way.
The comedy here was mostly verbal but it had a fair helping of physical added in as well. Key moments would be when he discussed the death of his friend with the widow, his dealings with Chavitas' teacher, and when he's called on to save a drowning women but there were a great many more (such as the funeral) that would have you rolling on the floor laughing. In almost every case, there were several levels of double entendres and innuendoes going on at the same time as a more serious look at life in Mexico (particularly with regard to the poor people). Moreno doesn't feel obligated to acknowledge the wealthier class as superior but he doesn't attack them too harshly either, preferring to promote his own world-view as the one that matters, even as he pokes fun at various figures of authority.
Okay, there wasn't a whole lot of plot here other than how the two lead characters were trying to life off their wits in a society that seemed to think such people were beneath them. 1950's Mexico was similar to many other urban areas in how the "haves" and "have-nots" didn't see eye to eye. Moreno did an excellent job of putting both views on display, even though it was obvious that he identified with the poor much more readily (he was well known as a philanthropist, contributing much of his earned wealth to the less fortunate). I think a lot of people would really like this movie as it was funny on many levels, from brutal honesty to more subtle wordplay, with a dash of physical comedy thrown in for kicks. I think it was well worth a rating of Recommended.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color. The first hour or so looked very clear for such an old movie although it showed more degradation after that. The source print for this one had a number of scratches but most were small and not extended in length. There were the usual minor issues with grain and soft focus as well as a few minor artifacts but Columbia did a good job on this one overall.
Sound: The sound was presented in Dolby Digital stereo Spanish with optional English and Spanish subtitles. As with the picture, the sound was pretty solid for its age. The vocals and sound both fit in well although a couple of times I noticed it had some minor dropouts.
Extras: There were a few trailers and a paper insert with the chapter listing and other Cantinflas movies listed.
Final Thoughts: The character portrayed was certainly no saint and seeing his carefree lifestyle clash with the responsibilities of fatherhood was very interesting to watch. With solid technical qualities combined with the very amusing acting, writing and direction, I think the movie deserves a broader audience than it received initially. While it was made in Mexico, it addresses a number of concerns people worldwide have with economic hardships and how those in power or with influence treat the less fortunate. Check it out for a good time.