DOWN ARGENTINE WAY, an 89-minute confection from 1940, became that year’s 12th most popular outing, boosted 24-year-old Betty Grable into a starring role which she then kept for 15 years and put Brazilian whirlwind Carmen Miranda into her first American movie. Don Ameche courts Betty in this breezy musical, the first of a number of similar entertainments hoping to stress President Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy”. Though it rather backfired in that aspect, it packed audiences north of the Rio Grande, and made good at the neighborhood of 20th Century Fox with its gross of $5,600,000. *
Aside from winning new friends (and keeping them away from being cozy with Nazi Germany), this time around the excuse for songs, dances and finding true loves are race and show horses, owned by Ameche’s family in Argentina and sought by Grable and her aunt (Charlotte Greenwood) up in the the USA. The ladies journey to Buenos Aires, where to woo them a variety of Latin-flavored (or butchered) accents are employed by Ameche and members of the supporting cast. Others pretending to be Argentines include J. Carrol Naish, Leonid Kinskey and Henry Stephenson. “Culture” is featured. The right people and horses end up with each other.
Establishing footage of Buenos Aires is followed by reimagining Argentina in California, decked out in glossy Technicolor. Grable and Ameche do a few numbers, Naish, Greenwood and Kinskey handle the comedy. Miranda, playing herself, is on hand to zip through “Bambu Bambu” “Mamãe Eu Quero” and “South American Way”.
Amusing period piece, with the undoubted highlight a dazzling dance number from the amazing Nicholas Brothers, another of their absolute showstoppers that leave you agape in wonderment.
Directed by Irving Cummings, written by Rian James and Ralph Spence, it picked up Oscar nominations for Cinematography (Leon Shamroy and Ray Rennahan), Art Direction (snazzy sets courtesy of Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright) and the title song, written by Harry Warren & Mack Gordon.
With Chris-Pin Martin, Fortunio Bonanova, Frank Puglia and Elena Verdugo.
* Argumentative Argentines didn’t applaud, instead receiving the movie with offense, their dignity unintentionally backhanded by the misplaced accents (Mexican, Brazilian, Caribbean), incorrect idioms, misstepped dances (no tango!) and general gringoesque fumbling of anything Argentine other than the title and opening location scenery. ‘Down’ was eventually banned in the country it was hoping to salute. That didn’t stop the northern neighbors from coming, as evidenced by 40’s visits from the likes of One Night In Rio (Ameche, Miranda, Naish, Kinskey), Weekend in Havana (Miranda), The Gang’s All Here (Miranda), Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.