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Tag Archives: George J. Lewis

Twilight on the Rio Grande (April 1, 1947)

Frank McDonald’s Twilight on the Rio Grande features Gene Autry and his co-stars being put through their B-movie paces south of the border.

Crime melodramas (we call them film noirs nowadays) were very popular Hollywood products in 1947, and Twilight on the Rio Grande incorporates several elements from them, such as the hero investigating the murder of his partner, lots of nighttime photography, a plot about jewel smuggling, and a beautiful knife-throwing señorita. (They showed up in noirs every now and then, didn’t they?)

Gene Autry (played by Gene Autry) and his ranch hands, Dusty Morgan (Bob Steele), Pokie (Sterling Holloway), and the singing trio The Cass County Boys, are all down in Mexico, singing in Spanglish and ogling the ladies. (If there was a deeper purpose to their visit, I missed it.)

The diminutive Bob Steele was a western actor whose star had faded by the mid-’40s, and he picks up a pretty easy paycheck in Twilight on the Rio Grande, since his character is murdered in the first reel, which I thought was a shame. I like Steele, and would have enjoyed seeing him and Autry solve the murder of Sterling Holloway’s character, Pokie, since the loose-limbed, rubber-faced Holloway is more annoying than a barrel of Jim Carreys.

The femme fatale of the film is the beautiful and hot-blooded Elena Del Rio (Adele Mara), who throws knives at Gene while he’s singing “I Tipped My Hat and Slowly Rode Away.” She throws one after the other into the wall behind him, in order to show him how angry she is. She has a steady hand, so she doesn’t hurt him. But then Gene shows her his steady hand when he finishes his song, throws her over his knee, and spanks the bejeezus out of her with the flat of a big knife blade.

Dusty is murdered with a knife in the back, and a smuggler Gene and his boys rope out on the prairie winds up with a knife in his back that could only have been thrown, not thrust at close range, so suspicions fall on Elena.

The title song is a good one, and was never released as a record by Autry, so if you’re a fan of his music, it’s a reason to see this picture. He sings two versions, a slow, mournful version at Dusty’s funeral, and a more upbeat version to close the picture.

If you’re not a fan of Autry’s music, there is really no reason to see this picture. It’s not terrible, but there are plenty of better B westerns out there.

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Beauty and the Bandit (Nov. 9, 1946)

Maybe I should stop watching these Cisco Kid pictures. They’re dead-on-arrival Saturday matinées from Monogram Pictures that have now thrice failed to entertain me. After sitting through The Gay Cavalier and South of Monterey, feeling like a drunk who’d fallen asleep in a grindhouse on a Friday night in 1946 and woken up the next morning surrounded by kids yelling at the screen and throwing popcorn at each other — too hungover to get up and leave — I figured I could call it quits with the series and not miss much.

But Gilbert Roland is a lot of fun to watch as Cisco. While these movies seemed pitched at a pretty young audience, his smooth line deliveries and double entendres are clearly aimed at adults. And the presence of Ramsay Ames as the heroine made it hard to say no to Beauty and the Bandit. I fell in love with Ames in the Universal horror picture The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), and will watch her in anything, although in both Cisco Kid pictures I’ve seen her in she’s skinnier, less voluptuous, and a little harder-looking than she was in her earlier horror-movie appearances in The Mummy’s Ghost and Calling Dr. Death (1943).

In the first scene of the film, Cisco (Roland) gets a tip from his old friend Sailor Bill (Glenn Strange) — who has given up a life of crime for a home, wife, and eight children — that a young Frenchman is traveling to San Marino with a chestful of silver. This young man is played by Ames, who is the least convincing young “man” I’ve seen since Barbara Hale put on drag in West of the Pecos (1945). Perhaps this is by design. If Ames was convincing as a fellow, the scene in which Roland leans forward and lights her cigarette would be the most homoerotic image of 1946, since they stare at each other with more heat and longing than you’d see during a day at the beach with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.

Later he teaches Ames to drink tequila (with lemon and a little salt) and engages in all manner of sexual teasing, like trying to sleep in her bed and then kicking her out when she objects.

Once the idiotic cross-dressing subterfuge is done away with, Ames looks great in a pair of pants and boots. She has more swagger dressed in men’s clothes with her long hair free than she does in drag, but her accent is still all over the place, and the “n’est-ce pas” that often ends her lines sounds about as French as Steve Martin playing Inspector Clouseau. Her character, Jeanne Du Bois, is trying to buy land from the disgraced and drunken Dr. Juan Valegra (Martin Garralaga), land which was stolen, and which Cisco wishes to return to the peasants. His devotion to the Mexican people of Old California gets in the way of his romance with the headstrong Jeanne, but as usual, a good spanking fixes her right up.

South of Monterey (June 15, 1946)

William Nigh’s South of Monterey is another dreary Cisco Kid programmer from Monogram Pictures. Gilbert Roland, in his second appearance as the character, cuts a dashing figure and is always fun to watch, but overall this one is a real snoozer.

I wasn’t exactly knocked out of my seat by Roland’s first turn as the character in The Gay Cavalier (1946), and his second outing is more of the same, with a by-the-numbers story and an anticlimactic finale. As before, Roland is fun to watch as a smooth Lothario and laid-back hero. It’s everything else about this picture that’s the problem.

This time around, Cisco, his sidekick Baby (Frank Yaconelli), and his merry band of Mexican outlaws have a rival, called “The Silver Bandit.” It should come as no surprise to veterans of Saturday afternoon matinees that Cisco and his crew will be blamed for the nefarious exploits of The Silver Bandit.

South of Monterey combines the two hoariest concepts in these types of films; the evil landowner bleeding the poor farmers dry and the young woman in danger of being forced to marry a man she doesn’t love.

The main villain of the piece is the local tax collector, Bennet (Harry Woods), who repossesses peasants’ land based on non-payment of sky-high taxes and then resells them for a profit. The young woman in danger of being forced into a loveless marriage is Carmelita (Iris Flores), the sister of local commandante of police Auturo (Martin Garralaga). Carmelita is engaged to a fiery young activist named Carlos Mandreno (George J. Lewis), but her brother is angling to have Carlos thrown in jail and his sister married off to his friend Bennet.

The film tries hard to achieve an exciting, south of the border flavor, and occasionally succeeds. Roland doesn’t play Cisco as a Boy Scout — he’s a tequila-drinking, womanizing, cigarette-smoking rapscallion. Also, there are four songs in the film sung in Spanish, one of which leads Cisco to pay Carmelita one of his typically over-the-top compliments, “Your voice has the sweetness of a meadowlark, and the softness of mission bells at twilight.”

South of Monterey isn’t a terrible programmer, it’s just a fairly typical Monogram cheapie. The main reason for me that it was a step down from The Gay Cavalier was the climactic fight, which was a fistfight. Yawn.

As he ably demonstrated in Captain Kidd (1945) and The Gay Cavalier, Roland was a hell of a sword fighter, so it’s a shame to see him swinging haymakers and smashing furniture when his blade was no doubt screaming out for blood. I know I was.

Gilda (Feb. 14, 1946)

Charles Vidor’s Gilda premiered on February 14, 1946, and went into wide release on March 15. It’s best remembered as the film that made Rita Hayworth the biggest sex symbol of the ’40s. (Not that she was a shrinking violet before 1946. I saw her in the 1944 film Cover Girl when I was a kid, and I never forgot her.)

Born Margarita Carmen Cansino in Brooklyn in 1918, Hayworth was the daughter of Spanish flamenco dancer Eduardo Cansino, Sr. and Ziegfeld girl Volga Hayworth. With that kind of pedigree, her hundred-megawatt sex appeal should come as no surprise, but it does, even today. Usually the only image I post with a review is the theatrical poster, but for this review I was tempted to plaster up several cheesecake shots of Hayworth. The only problem with photos of her is that they lack something. She looks great in all of her pinup shots, but her blisteringly hot sexiness is something that needs to be seen on film to be believed. It doesn’t hurt that nearly every line in Gilda is an innuendo. When she first appears on screen, throwing back her mountain of wavy hair, and her husband asks her if she’s decent, the long pause after her bright, “Me?” followed by the husky response, “Sure, I’m decent,” clearly has nothing to do with whether or not she’s fully clothed.

Besides the obvious lascivious value Hayworth offers the production, Gilda is a pretty good movie, full of nasty double-crosses and intrigue in an exotic locale. At one hour and 50 minutes, it overstays its welcome by at least 10 or 15 minutes, but it’s still an entertaining film noir about love-hate relationships, high-stakes gambling, and double-dealing.

When we meet Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), he’s just another down-on-his-luck gringo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a post-war hot spot (and not just for Nazi war criminals on the lam). In noir fashion, Farrell narrates the picture, sounding jaded and world-weary when he’s not twisted up with hatred and lust. Caught cheating at craps, Farrell is saved from a vicious beating at the hands of a bunch of thugs by a dapper gentleman named Ballin Mundson (George Macready) who wields a sword cane. Mundson tells Farrell of a casino where he can go to make some real money; a ritzy, illegal establishment that operates in the open, thanks to bribery. Mundson warns Farrell, however, not to cheat there. The bullheaded Farrell does exactly that, and is caught. A couple of mugs drag him into the second-floor office to face the boss, who turns out to be none other than Mundson. A fast talker, Farrell convinces Mundson to give him a job in the casino, and he quickly rises to the level of right-hand man.

Things go along swimmingly until the day that Mundson ignores his own advice that “Gambling and women don’t mix,” and brings home his new wife, Gilda (Hayworth). From the look on Farrell’s face when he first sees her, he might as well be seeing the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki. Unaware that Farrell and Gilda share a history, Mundson entrusts his right-hand man with Gilda’s care and keeping. Forced to shield Mundson from Gilda’s constant indiscretions with other men, Farrell’s hatred of Gilda increases. Only it isn’t really hatred. It’s that strange brand of love/hate that fueled many a post-war film noir. Or, as Mundson himself puts it at one point, “It warmed me. Hate is the only thing that has ever warmed me.”

Meanwhile, Mundson’s secret plans to form a cartel with a group of Germans to control tungsten production in Argentina slowly comes to light, and Farrell realizes that the Argentine secret police are onto Mundson, and that the whole casino is a powder keg waiting to be ignited.

Argentina had a checkered history during World War II. The nation broke relations with Germany and Japan in 1944 only under heavy pressure from the United States, but continued to maintain its neutrality. On March 27, 1945, Argentina declared war on Germany, when German defeat was a foregone conclusion.

It’s a great setting for a tale of steamy intrigue (with a brief narrative sojourn in Montevideo), but the political and criminal machinations take a back seat to the sexual tension between Farrell and Gilda. Their love/hate relationship takes some nasty turns, both physical and psychological. (In the scene in which Gilda slaps Farrell across both sides of his face, Hayworth reportedly chipped two of Ford’s teeth.) The story also takes a back seat to the sheer physical spectacle of Gilda, in particular the show-stopping number in which she performs “Put the Blame on Mame.” Hayworth lip-synched to Anita Ellis’s singing voice, and did an excellent job. Just from watching the movie I wouldn’t have had any idea she wasn’t singing herself.

“If I’d been a ranch, they would have named me the Bar None,” Gilda says at one point in the film. Truer words have not been spoken.