16 March 2013 | tjhodgins
Gypsy Wildcat's Final Coach Ride Is a Wild One
Gypsy Wildcat has both the pluses and minuses usually associated with the type of unsophisticated but colourful adventures associated with the Universal screen team of Maria Montez and Jon Hall.
The story line is incredibly lame (incredible than James M. Cain is somehow associated with it), with many of the attempts at humour painful, at best. On the other hand, a good print of this film can truly be a visual joy. This silly film about gypsies and corrupt barons has rich Technicolor and is consistently a pleasure for the eye.
And that includes the cast. Maria Montez was a beauty, no doubt, and even if no one will ever accuse her of being a good actress, somehow her exotic appeal, flashing eyes and grade school dialogue delivery seem very right for this kind of campy material.
Jon Hall, whose career highlight as an actor was seven years before when John Ford guided him to an effective performance in The Hurricane, looks dashing, in an Errol Flynn-kind of way, though he certainly lacked Flynn's flair and personality. As long as he isn't dressed as a clown (which, incredibly, he actually is in a couple of scenes), he's a decent leading man.
The film's second noteworthy virtue, along with its rich Technicolor and two stars, is an above average supporting cast of character actors. Peter Coe, as a gypsy in love with Montez and always helping her, doesn't make much of an impression. Leo Carrillo and Gale Sondergaard both look good, at least, even if their roles aren't much.
Douglass Dumbrille is his usual smarmy self as the film's chief villain, an autocratic official imprisoning the gypsies, but offering them their freedom if gypsy wildcat Montez will marry him. But the best of all comes when the film is nearing its end, with the typically endearing and bumbling performance of Nigel Bruce. Bruce brings this film its most successful moments of humour, and it's a joy to watch the man best remembered today as Dr. Watson in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films as he pretty much steals every scene he's in.
I'm happy to report that Gypsy Wildcat has a genuinely exciting climax, with director Roy William Neill (or was it a second unit director?) bringing a sense of fun and zest to a wild coach chase sequence. The sequence is also partially played for laughs, with hero Hall on horseback pursuing the coach, while inside that coach a bumbling Nigel Bruce is trying to marry Montez to Dumbrille.
The sequence is quite beautifully edited, as well as photographed and if what precedes it is not exactly the stuff of a Michael Curtiz epic over at Warner Brothers, this sequence partially compensates for that.
Overall, for those who enjoy unsophisticated undemanding adventure films of this kind, Gypsy Wildcat will probably satisfy them. It's a colourful time waster and an escape, which was, after all, its original intention when it was first released for 1944 wartime audiences. In that respect, the film still succeeds.