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
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 Girl from
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
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
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
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
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
This is another good entry into the series. The focus is starting to shift to Leon Errol with this film, which he deserves.
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'
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
Mexican Spitfire at Sea (1942): For their second honeymoon Dennis surprises Carmelita with a cruse to
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
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
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
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.
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 defects are 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 offerings enjoyable. Funny and charming, this set comes Highly Recommended.