Los platillos voladores (1956)

(Literal translation: The Flying Saucers)

Honorable Mention

I’ll confess that Mexican cinema is one of those areas I haven’t spent much time exploring.

Which, of course, means that I keep finding a few interesting films to watch.

Heck, some of them, like El monstruo resucitado [Monster](1953), are quite good.

Fortunately, I don’t have to do all the heavy lifting, going through endless lists of Mexican films to find a few treasures because the incomparable Janne Waas has been out there searching for them as well, and posting them on his site, Scifist.  Janne is perhaps the best online science fiction critic working today, so I’m sure I can safely leave it to him.

Which leads us to one of his latest discoveries, Los Platillos Voladores, from 1956.

Marciano (the Mexican comic Resortes, aka, Adalberto Martinez), a bumbling tinkerer who loves to do good for everyone in his impoverished little neighborhood, is in love with Saturnina, the beautiful daughter of an actor who also works as a fake blind beggar.  She’s fond of him, but won’t marry him until he becomes successful.

Marciano has been building a super race car out of whatever parts he can scrounge up and hopes to enter it in a big race and become rich once he wins.

And, who knows, maybe Saturnina will actually let him kiss her then.

But Marciano gets in a fight at a big costume party with his rival for Saturnina’s affections and the two are forced to flee town in his super car.

Unfortunately, he loses control, it takes off and flies through the air…

Then crashes, destroying it completely and leaving the two unconscious and still dressed in their fancy costumes.

So naturally everyone thinks they are Martians, and they immediately become huge celebrities…

There was a rather sad little film Buster Keaton made in Mexico after he left MGM called Boom in the Moon, which somehow became the model for most of the Mexican comedies which followed.  It’s not hard to see Buster’s influence on Resortes, as he is an amazingly gifted physical performer who is adept at carrying out complex dance moves while acting like he’s just bumbling through them.

That’s a lot harder than you think it is.

Perhaps his finest moment here comes when he wanders through a troupe of performers doing a wild sword dance, with lots of scimitars flashing around, and avoids them all as he stumbles around in perfect time to the music.

And yes, this is a musical comedy, with lots of dancing and singing.  The message Marciano and Saturnina try to sell the world, that their imaginary utopian Mars is happy and content because everyone sings and dances and does good things for everyone else is so naive that you wonder why anyone would believe it, but it does give the film plenty of room to throw in a lot of song and dance numbers (and most of the film does seem to be song and dance numbers), including a major setpiece which shows us the surreal world Marciano tells everyone about, which is full of weird ramps, strangely shaped windows, and bizarre furniture.  You can’t imagine anyone actually living in it, but it is just perfect for song and dance numbers.

Evangelina Elizondo, who stars as Saturnina is incredibly gifted and appealing, and her graceful style somehow fits perfectly with Resortes antics.  Elizondo was far more interested in singing and dancing than in dramatic acting and worked primarily in musicals (although she is also in El castillo de los monstruos [Castle of the Monsters]).

Speaking as the grumpy guy who has been known to fast forward through musical numbers when he watches movies, the songs aren’t too bad and it is all done with a great deal of skill.  However, one particularly goofy routine, which also features the aging secretary who has the hots for Marciano, has all three mugging at the camera every time they pass close to it.

Oh, well.  No one expects musicals to be realistic.

And, come to think of it, most of us don’t go jumping all over the furniture when we’re at home, either.  But then, “Resortes” means “Spring” or “Coil” and his style of humor involves a lot of very physical leaps and pratfalls.

I will point out that Mexican film comics do tend to go in for a lot of extreme expressions.  It isn’t exactly subtle, but it isn’t too distracting if you are expecting it.

Mind you, they definitely didn’t get that from Buster Keaton.

Now there’s a lot of verbal comedy flowing about throughout the film, but I’ll confess I didn’t get all of it.  I was watching an auto-subbed, auto translate version of the film on Youtube, and there are large unsubbed gaps throughout the film.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the fact that our phony aliens are essentially named “Mars” and “Saturn” might play a part, but I certainly never saw it in the subs.  Nor do I know what’s going on with the group of foreigners of some sort who have apparently been ordered to kill or possibly capture Marciano.  This leads to that saber dance, but then we never hear another word about it.

But I guess as long as they set up another song and dance number, they did their part.

The couple’s “alien” costumes are also worth a note.  Evangelina looks like she stepped off the cover of an issue of Amazing Stories, in a very Fifties futuristic outfit with a black body suit that stops at the top of her legs, black gauntlets with oversized cuffs, and a short cape.

However, the car itself just looks like a Forties sedan with extra fins stuck on it and a big panel with a small fin stuck in the center of the grill.

Resertes has a suit of armor complete with a joy buzzer electrifying the outside of the suit and a helmet that completely covers his face.  I was mildly surprised that he wasn’t mistaken for a robot later on, as he takes his helmet off while driving.

But he does actually do some fairly impressive dance steps while wearing this heavy and confining suit.  And makes them comic at the same time.

Which you have to admit is quite impressive.  Buster Keaton would be proud.

And I’ve got to say that I like the way the romance is handled here: it would be dismissed as old fashioned in our day and age, but remember, Saturnina is very much in control.  She may already have chosen her man, but her mind is set on the important things and she refuses to give in to her passions.

Even with only a few snatches of that verbal humor coming through, I still found this one an enjoyable minor film.  It really isn’t science fiction — unless you count Marciano’s crazy race car and a highly deniable appearance of aliens at the end — but is a fun little musical romp, with an absolutely dazzling set of performances from its two leads.

At least when they are dancing.

I’ll admit it, I liked this one.  It may not be the best Mexican science fiction film out there — or the best Mexican comedy — but it contains enough lighthearted fun to hold your attention for an hour and a half.

And you can watch it on Youtube for free.

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