Watching 1939: The Girl from Mexico (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  The Girl from Mexico (1939)

Release date:  June 2, 1939

Cast:  Lupe Velez, Donald Woods, Leon Errol, Linda Hayes, Donald MacBride, Edward Raquello, Elisabeth Risdon, Ward Bond

Studio:  RKO Studios

Director:  Leslie Goodwins

Dennis Lindsay (Woods) is an advertising businessman who goes to Mexico to find a singer for a client. He finds quick-tempered Carmelita Fuentes (Velez) and brings her back to New York to audition. While in New York, Carmelita explores the city with Dennis’s Uncle Matt (Errol) and gets into trouble. All the while, Dennis falls in love with Carmelita, but the problem is that he’s engaged (Hayes).

1939 Notes:
• The first of the “Mexican Spitfire” series. There were a total of eight. There were no plans for there to be more than one film, but this movie was so successful which spawned the other films.
• Lupe Velez’s only film released in 1939. It was her return to the screen after eighteen months, according to February 1939 newspaper briefs.
• Donald Woods and Leon Errol were in three films released in 1939.

Lupe Velez in “Girl from Mexico”

Other trivia: 
• “The Girl From Mexico” played to sell-out crowds for three weeks in New York at the Rialto, according to the book “Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood’s Mexican Spitfire” by Michelle Vogel.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Actress Lupe Velez has been acting since 1927 and found success in Hollywood in silent films and the early 1930s. But by the late 1930s, her career was waning.

Velez went home to Mexico and starred in the film La zandunga (1938). She was on the brink of signing a film contract in Mexico when she received an offer from RKO for “The Girl from Mexico.”

What was supposed to be a standalone B-picture, exploded. “The Girl from Mexico” was hugely popular and spawned an eight-film series, which revitalized Lupe Velez’s film career as she starred as Carmelita Fuentes Lindsay.

“The Girl from Mexico” (1939) proved to be an important film for Velez’s career, marking it as notable for 1939. However, while I like Velez in general, I’m not a fan of this film or the “Mexican Spitfire” series that followed.

Unsurprisingly, “The Girl from Mexico” and the “Mexican Spitefire” series that followed is filled with Mexican stereotypes. Carmelita is quick to anger, wild and naive. For example, she doesn’t know what a fire alarm is when she gets to New York and pulls the alarm. She will go ballistic and yell at Dennis Lindsay, but also likes him and will be unhappy when he leaves. Carmelita’s dialogue is broken English and the occasional “How you say?” or she will give a tirade in her native tongue.

Outside of the stereotypes, the humor is loud, frenzied and exhausting. Leon Errol as Uncle Matt pulls more than his share of a load of annoyingly nutty comedy. (In later films, Errol plays a double role which is even more tiresome).

Leon Errol and Lupe Velez in “Girl From Mexico”

But with all that said, this series and Lupe Velez were part of something groundbreaking. It is an early representation of interracial marriage. Mexican Carmelita marries American advertising executive Dennis Lindsay. Each movie revolves around the marriage of Carmelita, played by Velez, and Dennis Lindsay, who was played by Donald Woods, Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers and Walter Reed throughout the series.

Lupe Velez was a talented actress. I just feel like she deserved better than these films (though important to her success), and wonder what things could have been like for her had she had the opportunity to play more serious roles.

Lupe Velez and Donald Woods

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