Viva! Viva! Velez!
Lupe Velez was one of the few Mexican stars to break into early Hollywood, but ultimately failed ever to reach the pinnacle of stardom which the industry could offer. 1939 she stumbled into Tbe Girl from Mexico, planned as a relatively routine comedic romp, with Lupe Velez playing Carmelita, who is chasing Dennis Lindsay, played by Donald Woods. Dennis’ Uncle Matt, played by Leon Errol, dogs the two each step of the way.
For a short 71 minutes this first entry of the collection is by far the strongest. The story isn’t overly contrived and the interplay of the cast, especially Lupe Velez and Leon Errol, is a pleasure to see.
Although really a standard “B” movie The Girl from Mexico became a surprise hit and RKO, seeing potential in what had previously been an underperforming star, quickly decided to create a series around the antics of the three under the moniker of the Mexican Spitfire.
By 1943 the series counted eight pictures, including the original The Girl from Mexico. The other take on rather pedantic titles, being titled Mexican Spitfire, Mexican Spitfire Out West, Mexican Spitfire’s Baby, Mexican Spitfire at Sea, Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost, Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant, and finally Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event.
As the series ages most of the cast change a few times, although Lupe Velez and Leon Errol are constants. However, the interplay between the two is never better than in the original film and Lupe Velez never seems to strike much chemistry with any of those playing her husband.
Even though the entire series was very popular after the first one the luster is gone. The plots become more and more contrived and completely implausible. Also, Leon Errol’s alter on screen ego in the series, Lord Epping, goes from a humorous bit to a mind numbing monstrosity of monotony.
The humor becomes weaker and more redundant as we move along and I don’t think most will want (or need) to watch the entire series. It simply runs out of ideas about halfway through the second film. Later films ape the earlier ones and one tires of Lupe’s broken English delivery which is made the focus of several gags. The frequent screaming matches she undergoes with her husband also lend little to the proceedings.
Sadly, Lupe Velez found herself pregnant and unmarried in 1944. Although most agree that the father was then young actor Harald Maresch, there is some evidence (although slight) to suggest it may have been Gary Cooper’s. In any case, Lupe Velez found death a preferable option and took her own life in December of 1944 by overdosing on sleeping pills.
There is also some discussion over where her body was found. Accounts reported at the time were that she was found in bed surrounded by flowers, although later urban legends have always reported that she drowned in her toilet, being overcome with nausea from the sleeping pills.
It makes no difference the truth, but this latter has been mentioned and parodied at times in several movies and television programs, although most who have heard these references haven’t a clue who Lupe Velez is or was.
These films, excepting one, have never been available on DVD prior, and on May 3 Warner Archives will be releasing them all in a set including all eight films spread over four standard DVDs. Available only from the Warner Brother Archive (WAC) via http://bit.ly/WAC_VELEZ.
It wasn’t my cup of tea but I am still glad these are available for those who are partial to them. All the transfers appear mostly the same, with some wear and damage, but the prints overall look better than what I have seen on TCM in the past, so these are most likely taken from better source material as I do not think they’ve been remastered- but still very watchable.
Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Thanks!