30 October 2014 | EdgarST
Since Tarzan went to Guatemala in 1935, Charlie Chan to Panamá in 1940 and Fox organized a "Carnival in Costa Rica" in 1947, I decided to watch Jacques Tourneur's "Appointment in Honduras", just to have a richer view of how Hollywood depicted Central America in the old days. Now they are a bit more exact, although the approach (from the "exotic value" perspective) has changed little, if we consider how Costa Rica has been a Jurassic garden for T-Rexes, Panamá a center for tailors who are UK spies, while Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are still the settings of stories of violence. But back then things were so corny (and not from the natives' side, but from Hollywood's), that one has to take most of these films with a grain of salt and laugh. Of those I think that "Charlie Chan in Panamá" is the best, due to its dark plot of treason during II World War, but this fabrication is as ugly as it is opportunistic, using recent facts as starting points without even considering all the tragedy, deaths and losses that can be originated by a political assassination or a coup d'état (with the assistance of the CIA or any other American "industry"). In days of the real overthrowing of Jacobo Arbenz (president of Guatemala), with the collaboration of highly paid American hired-assassins (1954), Glenn Ford plays Corbett, somebody quite close to those men, who supposedly has to help an overthrown president instead. Guatemala is replaced by Honduras, the president is called Prieto, and he has to receive money "for the cause" from Corbett. To do so Corbett has to take command of a ship, make it stop by the Honduran shore, and then cross the jungle up a river in search of Prieto to fulfill his mission. You can have three guesses to determine why Corbett does all that, but in the end, when he identifies himself as a farmer, no character in the film and nor the audience watching believes him. Before he finds Prieto, of course, Corbett has to make that dangerous jungle trip with four convicts that helped execute the operation, led by wicked Rodolfo Acosta, who took two passengers along as hostages: Ann Sheridan, who has to cross the jungle in her night gown, and her rich, mean and coward husband, played by Zachary Scott, good as usual. In their way they meet soldiers, crocodiles, ants, serpents, jungle cats, tropical storms, swarms, piranhas that swam all the way up from South America to appear in this film, an anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria to Corbett and all the clichés scriptwriter Karen DeWolf imagined or believed you would find in the Central American jungles. They never see an orchid, a high full moon, a bright butterfly or a marijuana plant that would have been so helpful to keep them relaxed. All that is left is bare tension by primitive motives, bad acting and Tourneur's boredom or indifference to the material, all in Technicolor. I don't know you, but I'd rather stick to Tarzan, Charlie Chan and the Costa Rican carnival.