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Su excelencia

Su excelencia
Columbia TriStar
1966 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 133 min. / Street Date October 7, 2003 / 19.95
Starring Mario Moreno 'Cantinflas', Sonia Infante, Guillermo Zetina, Tito Junco, Miguel Manzano, José Gálvez, Víctor Alcocer, Maura Monti, Jack Kelly
Cinematography Gabriel Figueroa, Rosalío Solano
Production Designer Roberto Silva
Film Editor Jorge Bustos
Original Music Sergio Guerrero
Written by Carlos León, story by Marco A. Almazán and Mario Moreno Reyes
Produced by Jacques Gelman
Directed by Miguel M. Delgado

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This atypical Mario Morenos 'Cantinflas' programmer finds the usually scruffy comedian in tie and tails commenting on the Cold War circa 1966. Rather slow and artless but still good Cantinflas fun, the film ends with an interesting speech about global competition from the point of view of the Third World. Cantinflas' oratory is as emotionally valid as Charlie Chaplin's plea for humanity in The Great Dictator, and just as simplistic.


A series of revolutions kicks embassy clerk Lopitos (Cantinflas) upstairs to the role of ambassador, putting him on the hot seat between the Communist and Capitalist world blocks. An upcoming world council vote will determine if the planet goes all 'red' or 'green', and Lopitos' country of Los Cocos comes under heavy influence to choose sides from both the Pepeslavians and the Dolaronians. The sneaky spies of Dolaronia send sexy agent Tania (Maura Monti) to sway the ambassador's vote, but his heart is for his faithful secretary (Sonia Infante).

Lopitos is Cantinflas' amiable bum character elevated to diplomatic status. He's still a social liability, but relative to the cartoonish folk around him he's the sanest character on screen. He's been outfitted with a tux with a waistline about five inches too low to let everyone know he's still the same crazy guy, even though he no longer scratches himself involuntarily. One thing that hasn't changed are his signature double-speak verbal tricks. Opinionizing to the confused Dolarian (read: American) envoy, the comedian blabs reams of important-sounding but meaningless nonsense. Cowed, the envoy has to admit his Spanish isn't as good as it should be.

Naturally, Lopitos has a golden heart that wins the love of his secretary, the popular Sonia Infante. The Dolaronians send a Mata Hari who wears revealing clothing and behaves in a forward manner, a crude approach easily deflected by the suave and unflappable hero.

The comedy setup is a fairly weak farce given a fanciful Mexican twist. Cantinflas doesn't automatically choose America over the Russians. Both are re-named with bad puns, as are other countries ... Germany is a joke on the Spanish word for sausage, for instance. Pepeslavia is a nation of sneaky, swarthy conspirators plotting to overthrow little places like 'Los Cocos'. Dolaronia thinks the solution to all problems is mass consumption of expensive (and presumably Dolaronian) cars and home appliances.

Cantinflas also makes fun of Los Cocos, a generic Latin country that we would dismiss as a Banana Republic. The various military attachés at the embassy are vain clowns who play with toys. A system of political cronyism is made clear when a series of telegrams from back home changes the ambassadorship three times during one dinner.

Reflecting Latin tastes, the movie has several potentially offensive jokes about blacks. The ambassador from Africa is treated with equal respect, except for Cantinflas' repeated 'innocent' cracks about his skin color. There are several unfunny jokes about cannibalism - when the other diplomats salivate over the sexy Tania, the African ambassador licks his chops and says she'd taste great cooked a certain way!

Cantinflas' Mexican films stand apart from their competition by virtue of excellent production values. I saw one on a double-bill in the middle 70s with a bad so-called comedy that was cheap, ugly and barely a movie. The Cantinflas picture was in brilliant color and as technically polished as a Doris Day film. Su excelencia isn't as good looking as those; the lighting is flat and the large United Nations-like assembly at the end visually unimpressive. It's also a bit slow, especially if you aren't a Spanish speaker. Many of Cantinflas' sly verbal jokes go unflagged in the subtitles. He has a clever habit of saying not the word one expects, but a sound-alike with a different meaning.

The 'big speech' ending is rather significant. Cantinflas' reknown and reputation was unequalled in the Spanish speaking world, and it's interesting that he felt the need to make a political statement about the Cold War, as Chaplin did about Fascism 25 years earlier. Mexican films tend to be politically conservative, so we pay attention when the comedian switches to a completely serious mode to gently criticize both sides of the ideological divide. He's pretty accurate with his jabs at the Reds, and his words about Dolaronia (America) are still accurate to a 'T': We're arrogant and we think the world belongs to us, with other peoples having lesser status. We're obsessed with materialism and we use military force to impose self-serving definitions of freedom and democracy.

Believe it or not, this comes across as a gentle nudging toward peace and understanding. All Cantinflas asks is for both superpowers to stop strong-arming the little guys.

The setup for the speech is absurd, as Los Cocos is a tiebreaker in the 'big vote' for whether the world adopts the Dolaronian or Pepeslavian way of doing things. Why either superpower would allow such a thing isn't discussed, so the fantasy has definite practical limits. As can be expected, Lopitos dazzles the crowd with his oratory but basically walks out on the meeting, gently abdicating his responsibility to help solve the world's problems. He earlier shamed the Communist bloc from walking out, but reserves the right to do so himself. It gives him an air of superiority, but won't do Latin America any favors. Lopitos gets the girl, scores his debating points against the big powers and moves on. It's at least as meaningful as Chaplin's speechifying - Cantinflas' description of the world situation is just as lucid, if not as courageous.

Columbia's DVD of Su excelencia is a fine-looking transfer given a good encoding. I'm not used to seeing older Latin American films presented this way; the difference is obviously that Columbia maintained their Cantinflas pictures for continual profitable distribution in Spanish language theaters in the U.S.. The dialogue is so clearly articulated that the film is recommended for people learning Spanish. Even Cantinflas enunciates more clearly than usual. There are optional Spanish and English subs, aiding the language-lesson concept.

There's a cute montage promo for other titles in Columbia's Cantinflas series. I can recommend El Bolero de Raquel as an excellent and more typical Mario Moreno vehicle - it has great music, too.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Su excelencia rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: promos
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 20, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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