THE GIRL FROM MEXICO, a low-budget 1939 comedy, scored enough audience approval that a series was born, with RKO making hay over the next four years through seven subsequent adventures of a five-foot stick of delightful dynamite dubbed ‘The Mexican Spitfire’. At 31, Lupe Velez was a bit past the girl stage, her vivacious on-screen personality—actress, dancer, singer— familiar since the middle of the previous decade, her flamboyant escapades and lovelife off-screen salacious fodder for gossip gaspers. She lets loose her furiously funny side with exuberant glee in this romp, written by Joseph Fields, directed by Leslie Goodwins. With Lupe and her co-star, zany Australian-born comic whirlwind Leon Errol, “written” and “directed” might as well be a goose on the loose.
Ad man ‘Dennis Lindsay’ (Donald Woods) is sent to Mexico on a talent search for a radio show. He finds more than he bargained for in ‘Carmelita Fuentes’ (Velez), who has a temper to match her talents, and when he brings her to New York City, she upends his marriage plans (because she’s the real enchilada and his fiancée is a stuckup shrew), but not before going on a fun-binge of the city’s hot spots with ‘Uncle Matt Lindsay’ (Errol), a savvy pot-stirrer married to ‘Aunt Della’ (Elisabeth Risdom). Della’s outraged by Carmelita’s earthiness (and borderline berserk personality), as is ‘Elizabeth’ (Linda Hayes), the understandably upset fiancée.
Seventy years before Modern Family blessed us with the dynamic dazzler Sofia Vergera, Lupe Velez stormed up a charm tornado, not making fun of, but having great fun with her accent and exoticism, using slapstick, syntax and sex to triumph in culture clashes, class warfare, and couple contests. Carmelita’s weapons of mass affection include an arsenal of mangled gringo-speak, wild wishes and temper detonations accented by barrages of Spanish invective. Add a sweet smile, twinkling eyes, lighting reflexes and an odd song or two.
Errol, 57, was a one-man master-class in vaudeville-honed timing, vocal horseplay and physical self-endangerment, the ideal comrade-in-chaos to match mania with the leading lady. The plot doesn’t matter, and Woods is—yes—wooden, but Lupe and Leon are a match made in Merryland.
“Do you know what love is? Love makes your heart go thumpa thumpa thumpa, like a little baby falling down the stairs.”
With Donald MacBride (always fun), Ward Bond (doing a bueno job speaking Spanish in one of 21 parts he logged in ’39) and Byron Foulger. The merrily flavorful scoring was a joint effort from Albert Hay Malotte, Roy Webb and Harry Tierney. 71 minutes. Followed a few months later by the slaphappy Mexican Spitfire.
* This was the debut for pretty 20-year-old Linda Hayes, who only gathered 17 acting credits before opting out in 1942. Two years later she became the mother of the multi-talented Cathy Lee Crosby. While December of ’44 ended in happiness for Haynes, it was tragic for Lupe Velez, who took her own life at the age of 35.