9 October 2018 | gbill-74877
Watch this one for Vélez
I confess I liked this one probably more than I should have. It's not really because of the two male leads, a couple of characters named Flagg and Quirt who are together for the last of four movies in this series from 1926 to 1933. They're tiresome, often buffoonish, and rarely funny. One of them is awfully handsy with women, and says disturbing things like "You're a no girl with a yes smile." It's tedious to even describe the plot, but in a nutshell, Quirt (Edmund Lowe) is a master at cheating others, including Flagg (Victor MacLaglen), using trick dice, fake police badges, and his wits to talk himself out of situations. Flagg is a bit of dunce, but has somehow amassed a large number of nightclubs in the era of Prohibition, and on one of the ships bringing in rum for him from South America, he finds out that a young woman (Lupe Vélez) has stowed away. While she's initially a nuisance, eventually the two become rivals for her affection.
The reason for watching the film is Vélez, and its pre-code banter. The film doesn't have moments that are erotic, but it is suggestive throughout, and it's so silly that I ended up being somewhat mesmerized. It's probably the feeling people get who like cult or B-movies, knowing they're bad, and yet somehow liking them to some extent anyway.
Some examples are with Lilian Bond, who is in a supporting role. When she says "I'm not feeling myself tonight," Quirt replies, "Don't worry ... I'll take care of that later." She also drops the shoulder down on her blouse as a signal intended to help Quirt cheat at poker. The film is really Lupe Vélez's though. She really lets loose in her fight scenes, showing great physicality and a very natural flow to her lines. In one scene, she wields a knife and tells a group of sailors that if they move, she'll stick it where it belongs. Later during a melee she tries to pick up a big table over her head to throw it, only to be pulled over backwards. These are comedic moments but there is also a realism to them. As with other films from the era, she gets spanked briefly, which seems to have been a go-to Hollywood move, delivering a little male domination to a sassy woman, putting her in her place as if she were a child, while at the same time titillating the audience. It's wrong of course, but as in other pre-code films, the female character actually asserts herself and has a degree of power. Vélez uses her sex appeal, in one scene removing her clothing item by item as she goes upstairs to avoid being thrown out of Flagg's house, and later shaking her hips to the beat of a musical number she performs. Unfortunately the directing and editing is pretty awful, with angles and cuts that aren't all that flattering.
It's nice that Vélez doesn't let herself get pushed around, and in a very nice little moment, she lets Quirt and Flagg have it for thinking that they can arbitrarily decide who she'll be with, when it's her decision. I wasn't wild about an odd scene in China tacked on at the end, showing the boys still up to their hijinks in chasing 'exotic' women, continuing their rivalry, and having difficulty shouting orders to Chinese troops. However, it includes a nice moment when they ask a Chinese-American to help translate, and he says in perfect English "Sorry Sir, I don't know Chinese." Definitely a mixed bag.