1 March 2014 | EdgarST
Television, Cha-Cha-Cha and Women's Lib
"Club de Señoritas" was intended as an irreverent comedy by their producers, most probably with high hopes, but the routine handling by director Gilberto Martínez Solares turned it into an average product. It was a true revelation for me though: starring, produced and choreographed by Ninón Sevilla, I had no idea that there was a Mexican film made in the 1950s that flirted with women's liberation, with firm militants and aggressive activists (among them, the very funny Vitola, as a bodyguard, dressed in cowgirl attire and armed with guns and a club), and that Ninón was interested in comedy. For the first time Ninón –in a Mexican context- flaunts her Havanan origin, without even suggesting her Cubanness; she has only one dancing number (a dream sequence in which she mixes Alfred Newman's "Street Scene", with Félix Reina's cha-cha-cha "Los espiritones"), and above all she shows affinity with the tradition of Cuban "comedia bufa", a theater expression that became very popular in the 19th century in La Habana, performed by the so-called "guaracheros", with funny plots involving stereotypes as the Galician, the Negro scholar, the Mulatta of fire, the Chinese, the happy peasant, the not-so-innocent girl, etc. Ninón was often cast in erotic melodramas as a fatal rumba dancer, so it was refreshing to see her in a comedy in which she does not have to seduce andropausic old judges or fresh-faced rich students, hiding her work as a whore or cabaret dancer. Made to capitalize on the introduction of television sets in Latin America homes in those years (the main credits are drawn inside a television screen), and the cha-cha-cha craze, a very popular rhythm then in almost all the American continent, the film tells how the hostess of a TV program called "Club de Señoritas" fights with her scriptwriter/lover (Ramón Gay), when the press is about to discover that her call to the liberation of the Mexican women is a fraud and a money-making scheme. As a response, Gay creates a new program for men and women of all ages called "El Club del Chachachá" that airs at the same time and becomes an instant success. Music and jokes lead the action, but the rhythm is somehow affected by the scenes involving Joaquín Pardavé (as a right-wing football-fanatic husband and follower of Porfirio Díaz) and Óscar Pulido (as the Chinese owner of a restaurant, and a Pancho Villa's follower). The action often slows to allow both actors to show their verbal humor. In the case of Pardavé, he was a comic of the old of slapstick school, and he was still in shape for the cha-cha-cha scenes and the classic pie-throwing ending. For today's standards, the predictable story (that will offend the self-righteous crowd) is full of "offensive" stereotypes that may raise the brows of PC militants. I believe though that offense and stereotypes are more often than not at the core of good or bad jokes. So if you put all that aside, you can laugh this time with Ninón.