Monday, March 30, 2020

Slide, Vaquero! SHIP OF MONSTERS (1960)

It's spring in the pre-or-post disease era and, if you love bizarre old classic sci-fi musicals, time to crack open the YouTube and dive into my weirdest/best Mexican cinema discovery since La Maldicion del la Llorona (1963). Long unavailable on DVD, in English either dub or subtitles, it's now got quite legible subtitles on El Youtube -aqui!

For fans of classic matinee sci-fi/horror who'd rather have va-voom classic sex appeal in their sci-fi western comedies, rather than hokey Gene Autrey tunes (as one finds in that hokey 1935 serial The Phantom Empire - which is actually the closest thing this film has to a hermano), Mexico delivers Rogelio Gonzalez's Ship of Monsters. The plot: two glamorous Venusians coming home from a long quest rounding up fit male specimens from the galaxy to repopulate their female-only planet, make an emergency landing in Chihuahua, Mexico for their robot to make repairs. Perhaps you've guessed the rest. A freewheeling vaquero wins one of their hearts with his songs? Si, naturalmente, claro! 

I won't bore you with a list of the legion of 50s comedians who've gone to the moon or Venus to find all sorts of babes suffering from an extreme hombre shortage. Everyone from the Stooges to Abbot and Costello to Sonny Tufts went up to space and tangled with them. And that's the key difference - the ladies come here and meet the fabulous singing vaquero Eulalio González! Ay dios mio!  Pipporro! And he's cool!

Possessing a genuinely disarming smile, a naturalness in his awed reactions, a dewy twinkle in his dark glassy eyes, and a gently lilting yet masculine baritone voice that deepens to a questioning smolder at the end of every sentence, "Pipporro" has a great natural ease, a kind of twinkly-eyed singing caballero version of young Bob Hope; he also has a great kind of hippity-hop Elvis tango dance style that smolders while still being funny. An inexplicable juke box in his kitchen provides the instrumental back-up to his songs, which he performs to the agog wonderment of his alien women visitors (while their robot plays with his little brother outdoors). Gonzalez shows a great way with each of the ladies in turn: he's passionate, smitten, confident, and a little confused with the nice one; flattered but firm in his 'no!' to the (vampiric) one who comes onto him later. He holds fast in his ardor; if a spark flies, it's true love and worth being faithful for even if you just met them both at the same time. I never understood why Flash would turn down Aura when Dale is just some blonde earth woman he barely met an hour earlier.. until now. 

Ana Bertha Lepe is Gamma (the good one) and Lorena Velázquez is Beta, the bad one (she played many vampires and wrestling women in the course of her illustrious career, battling everyone from Santos to the Aztec Mummy). These ex-Miss Mexico beauty queens wield ray guns and rock tight-fitting uniforms and generally strut about the Chihuahua flats and into Pipporro's life in a way that puts most American beauties to shame. The alien monster male samples kept on ice from other planets are each unique and cleverly-if-cheaply--constructed. All are done with a mix of art class-level papier mache and giddy imagination. And they talk! They make rational decisions, and can make love as easily as they kill. Even a sabre tooth tiger skeleton man gets his opinion considered (and has a great Tom Waits-style croak of a voice). But the alien girls are always in control, able to pause Emilio in mid sentence to check up on the words he uses that they don't understand, accessing what we in our futuristic world might call Alexa reading from Wikipedia. My favorite line is when the narrator of the video they're watching on their laptop to learn about Mexico notes (while showing scenic travel footage) that's it's a lovely country and "for all they've tried, the Mexicans haven't been able to destroy it."

I have fallen in love with this film so much I don't even mind that Lauriano (Gonzalez's character's name) has a little brother, Chuy, (Herberto Davila, Jr) with whom he lives alone on a big ranch outside Chihuahua. I generally can't stand sci-fi films set in southern climates as they always have cute impish kids in them, but Chuy is no imp who should be in school instead of acting as guide for the American hero. Chuy is an able assistant around the ranch, going off to play with the robot when the talk gets adult but when the monsters fly into action, Chuy even tackles and kills one of the monsters all by himself with the fury of one of the kids in Over the Edge or The Bad News Bears! Imagine Abbott and Costello doing anything but running in a similar situation and you begin to understand what the males of America are up against. And these two women aren't afraid to either kick ass or make love to the monsters right there on camera.

That's basically all there is... what else... hmm, some outfits worthy of Artist and Models (I could see this film as a collaboration between Tashlin and Bunuel) and some lovely female flesh on display--but each woman is resourceful, intelligent, strong and assertive. There's never a thought of turning the good one into a household drudge at the end, the way there would be in a Hollywood product. No, amigo. Would it was available on one of those great discs from the (now sadly defunct) La Casa Negra DVD label. Or, ideally, Criterion!

Man, am I losing my mind? I've been watching Tarkovsky, Godard, and Suzuki on Criterion too. I swear ta god: I'm fancy. I'm a highfalutin' intellectual.  Criterion should have me do one of their "Adventures in Moviegoing" collections. I'd frickin' nail it.  Ship of Monsters - front and center. This is Erich saying, I'm losing my mind and in the process found something better.

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