Tuesday, August 25, 2020

In Caliente

1935, Warner Bros.
Starring Dolores Del Rio, Pat O'Brian, Edward Everett Horton, and Leo Carrillo
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Music by various

Dolores Del Rio was one of Hollywood's most popular stars in the late 20's and early 30's. Her fiery temperament and exotic Mexican beauty made her a stand-out among the more typical goofy blondes and sarcastic brunettes who were the popular "types" of the era. This is pretty typical of not only her 30's vehicles, but of the kind of movie Busby Berkeley directed dance numbers for between Gold Diggers spectaculars. How does Del Rio's Latin heat look in this Mexican-set romantic comedy? Let's head to New York, where editor Larry MacArthur (O'Brian) is trying to put Manhattan Magazine to bed, and find out...

The Story: In addition to being the magazine's editor, Larry is also its chief critic. He spends most of his time drunk, then writing bad reviews because he hadn't really seen the performances while under the influence. His flustered publisher Harold Brandon (Horton) is fed up with his boozing and falling in love with every woman he sees, including blonde gold-digger Clara Thorne (Glenda Farrell). He shanghais him while on a spree and smuggles him over the border to the popular Mexican resort Agua Caliente Casino to dry out.

While there, Larry falls for lovely Mexican dancer Rita Gomez (Del Rio). She's not as fond of him at first. He gave her a terrible review the year before, and she's wanted her revenge ever since. She and her scheming Uncle Jose (Carrillo) intend to make him look as foolish as he made her look a year ago...but her falling for Larry wasn't part of the deal.

The Song and Dance: Del Rio and filming at the real Agua Caliente resort spice up this typical romantic comedy. Horton and Farrell also have fun as the flustered publisher who just wants his partner to drop the booze and find the right woman and the gold-digger who isn't about to lose her meal ticket. Del Rio's a lot of fun as the dancer who wants to get this jerk back for panning her, especially after her introduction when she realizes he doesn't recognize her.

Favorite Number: By far the best thing about this one is two terrific Busby Berkeley routines. The big chorus song "The Lady In Red" begins with the chorus girls in tilted hats and sexy dresses, singing about the lady of the title in a darkened room with matches in their hands. Dance team the Del Marcos pick up an intricate ballroom duet before finishing with the Lady herself (Wini Shaw) cha-cha-ing with a very drunk Horton. "Tango Muchacha" is the dramatic finale, with Del Rio as the beautiful Mexican senorita who steals all hearts, including that of singer Phil Regan.

Trivia: Agua Caliente Casino was a real Mexican resort that was popular with wealthy Californians during Prohibition. After Mexico outlawed gambling later in 1935, it became a high school. The racetrack there still exists to this day.

What I Don't Like:  I have no idea what O'Brian is doing in a musical. He does well enough with the comic moments, but he can't sing or dance and seems uncomfortable around the Berkeley routines. Wish there was even more Berkeley. Might have gone a long way towards adding more color to a story that's a little on the bland side.

The Big Finale: If you love Del Rio or romantic comedy or want to check out some lesser-known Busby Berkeley routines, this south of the border charmer is worth checking out if you ever run into it on TCM.

Home Media: Currently DVD only from the Warner Archives.


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