Captain Thunder (1930) Review, with Victor Varconi and Fay Wray

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El Capitan Thunder
Victor Varconi
Ynez
Fay Wray
Juan
Don Alvarado
Released by Warner Bros./First National | Directed by Alan Crosland
Run time: 65 minutes

Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film

  • Thunder is a lady’s man, and all the senoritas are totally into that.
  • “Big boy!”
    “Little girl! Aren’t you afraid of me?”
    “Why, no… I know what you call my… [wiggles eyebrows] onion.”
    “I guess you know all the vegetables!”
  • The rest of the movie makes about as much sense.
  • Our first encounter with Fay Wray’s Ynez is after she’s been stripped of her dress by the dastardly bandit.

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  • Captain Thunder literally gets away with murder.

Captain Thunder: Brief But Especially Loud

“What does a bandito know of promises and honor?”

Poochie. Let’s talk about Poochie. Have you seen that Simpsons episode? Or at least picked up on the idea through cultural osmosis– a character who is crafted by committee to sprout catchphrases and slap on the back of cheap merchandise? You don’t run into a lot of these in the early-30s, but Captain Thunder, a loud braggadocio with a thick accent, a love of the ladies, and a strong sense of honor– feels that way. He’s a laughing bandit, and boy, you really can’t stop him laughing once he starts.

Captain Poochie– sorry, Thunder– rampages around northern Mexico with bandits in tow. He terrorizes a small town by stealing cattle, riches, and the clothes of any unfortunate senorita passing by. He becomes infatuated with lovely Ynez once he gets her dress off her and decides to pursue her, while her fiancee, Juan, seeks to track down Thunder and claim the reward so he and Ynez can meet. There’s also the villainous rustler Morgan (Robert Elliott) who has his eyes on Ynez and to whom Thunder owes a favor.

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That’s the gist of it, though there’s a significant amount of time devoted to the Commandante Ruiz (Charles Judals) suffer through one pratfall after another as he tries to track down Thunder and fails embarassingly again and again. And again. Much of the film’s dreadful comedic schtick is a poor mixture between Ruiz’s goofs and Thunder’s own lasciviousness.

When the schtick runs out, it’s time for the noble, romantic bandito section of the film, which falters. Fay Wray does her best to wrangle her accent, but ti’s just so damnably hard to take seriously. Thunder is just kind of an asshole. What’s charming about him? Hell if I know. There’s a two second close-up of him in the film’s final five minutes which makes him more human than the previous rambling 60 minutes, and by then it’s way too little, too late.

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Captain Thunder is a painful little misfire, a film about a dashing rogue who’d be better off left for the flies. The film is awash in lazy stereotypes and just as often indescribable accents. While everyone tries there best, your best bet is to avoid the hell out of it– or at least wait until Thunder is called back to his home planet.

Gallery

Click to enlarge. All of my images are taken by me– please feel free to reuse with credit!

Trivia & Links

  • Opened at the tail end of 1930, so it’s sometimes credited as a 1931 movie.
  • Here’s the entire brief article by Violet LeVoit at TCMDB that talks about why the movie is probably so nutty.

In 1931, big studios like Warner Brothers were still figuring out the sound game. While they’d developed the Vitaphone sound system (using 33 1/3 RPM records played simultaneously with picture-only prints) they didn’t realize that it was no longer possible to assemble international casts to play interchangeable nationalities, because the actor’s accents would betray the illusion. Thus begat Captain Thunder (1931), where Hungarian Victor Varconi, Canadian Fay Wray, and Dutch Charles Judels struggle as Mexicans with mixed results. The cat-and-mouse game between the bandit (Varconi), the lawman (Judels) and the pretty senorita (Wray) contains no surprises, a fact that did not endear an already insulted Mexico (a nation that had briefly banned the import of American movies because of recurring, insulting “bandito” stereotypes), but this is at least a chance for modern audiences to see Wray in her natural brunette hair color, instead of the bottle blonde made famous by King Kong (1933).

  • Mystery*File caught this on a TCM themed day centered on movies featuring the word ‘captain’ in the title, leading them to note:

Many of the other movies in this grouping, which were shown all day, seem to have been newly recovered from the vaults, but if so, this one may as well go back in.

This production is scarcely a successful entertainment, for while it has its moments of pleasing levity, a good deal of the dialogue is not understandable because of Mr. Varconi’s exaggeration of his naturally imperfect English diction and also of the overdoing of a Spanish accent by Fay Wray and some of the other players. Then, too, the vocal tones are none too well recorded. […] Miss Wray is attractive and aside from her indistinct utterances she gives a reasonably good performance.

Awards, Accolades & Availability

  • This film is an obscure one– it played recently on TCM and occasionally shows up on Warner Archive Instant.

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Danny

Danny is a librarian who lives on the coast of California with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and yappy dog. He blogs bi-weekly at pre-code.com, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

2 thoughts on “Captain Thunder (1930) Review, with Victor Varconi and Fay Wray

  1. oh thank goodness!!

    i had this one on while at work, when i had a big mailing to send out and needed something to listen to while i signed and stuffed about 100 sets. i didn’t want to listen to music, but i figured a very early sound film on WatchTCM would do the trick. I usually find myself not able to focus on 1930s films because of the slowness and lack of subtitles making the audio useless to me, but that same audio is enjoyable to have on in the background while i knit or tidy up.

    So I had this work that didn’t need any mental effort but couldn’t be multitasked, put on a film that i wouldn’t need to give my full attention to in order to enjoy it… and proceeded to find myself confused at multiple points and jumping back to replay scenes because what the heck was going on?! i assumed it was just a bad experiment and for future hour-long envelope stuffing sessions i should just pick an NPR podcast that doesn’t have long plots that may catch my attention irregularly.

    but if it’s really so badly plotted and uneven, it wasn’t me at all, and that’s a relief. around the second half, it seemed to me that the story was based on Zorro, but from a different POV than usual, and pure asshole Zorro instead of the dashing rogue Zorro. but i couldn’t figure out how it fit the first half, and wasn’t sure it was worth watching another time, when i had already replayed several scenes to try to see if i had missed anything (I hadn’t, or at least, nothing important).

  2. It seems back then Fay Wray was in great demand. She must have made five films a year. It’s a shame she only made one great one at of all these trukeys.

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