Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- The film opens with a Busby Berkeley song and dance number set in a women’s dormitory. It involves the women getting out of bed, getting undressed behind some curtains, bathing and singing lines like:
“In mathematics, really,
we all stand very high.
We show our figures freely,
because our figures never lie.”
“I’ll be here ’til I’m twenty;
I’m only seventeen.
By that time I’ll know plenty…
of course, ya’ll know what I mean…”
“No one’s equaled yet,
the marks I always get,
from riding in a rumble seat…”
Another coed rubs her own bottom: “You’re telling me?”
- At one point in the above musical number (seriously, watch it, it’s great), the bathing beauties dive underwater in quick succession, revealing an array of posteriors to the camera. At this point my roommate Jacob points at the screen and laughed, “Well, I think you found your proof that this one is Pre-Code!”
- Woman points to her chest: “I keep my money right here.”
Star Eddie Cantor shoots back: “That’s right lady. Nowadays you can’t tell which bank is a bust.”
- Another song from Cantor covers a lot of the same ground as his famous number “Whoopee”, insomuch as they both talk about a man who can’t keep it in his pants and learns a lesson when a kids come along. Also, there’s this line, send with some trademark eye waggle: “There’s lots of things she’ll find out in the moonlight.”
- “I’m here to make you the happiest woman in the world.”
“Do you realize I’m in bed and in my nightgown?”
“Of course. This is business. Now take off your clothes.”
- Rosalie (Lyda Roberti) attempts to seduce Cantor by dropping the key to his car down her dress. He gasps, “the key to the whole situation somewhere between Tijuana and the border!”
- The film is about bullfighting, and Cantor pretends to be the son of a famous deceased bullfighter. One visual gag is that they show how the bullfighter got it in the end– the hole in his pants indicates that he literally got it in the end.
One En-Cantor-ed Evening
“I think I’d like to die by eating strawberries.”
So I’ve been working my way through every Pre-Code film currently available on Netflix Instant, the reason being that, outside of the devotees to Turner Classic Movies (which I, sadly, cannot afford) and the Warner Archive (which I, even more sadly, really cannot afford), these are probably some of the easiest Pre-Code films to simply stumble upon. Tellingly, they’re almost entirely in the public domain, too, which means that the movies most available from the period of film I love are horrible demonstrations of why this period was so much fun.
But that’s a rant for another day, I suppose. Made two years after Whoopee!, The Kid From Spain finds our man Cantor in trouble. The film’s opening number, depicting what can modestly be described as the most elaborate and (to my male eyes) amazing girl’s dormitory in the entire world, ends with the reveal that Eddie accidentally spent the night there after some drunken shenanigans.
He was put up to it by his roommate Ricardo (Robert Young), who was getting his degree in the United States rather than his native Mexico. (Note: Robert Young is not Mexican. This will be brought up again in a minute.)
The stunt ends up getting both young men expelled from college. Ricardo decides to return to Mexico and woo his childhood sweetheart, while Eddie accidentally becomes a a getaway driver for some bank robbers and has to flee to Mexico to evade the police. He ends up with Ricardo again, hiding out and pretending to be the son of a famous matador to escape police detection. Little does he know that he’s going to have to prove his mettle as a matador if he’s going to make it out of Mexico malive. Er, alive.
While this is certainly an amusing turn of events, it’s purpose in the plot seems to indicate that Eddie is going to Mexico whether he likes it or not. Much of the film’s plot happens in such odd coincidences and with an undeniable verve that it’s on the edge of being screwball. Only, you know, not very funny.
Cantor’s presence here is far more tolerable than it was in Whoopee!, as his overblown acting and show-stopping gags– literally, they stopped the show for minutes on end while he goes on– are more deftly handled. His tempo is better, and, even if a vast majority of his jokes are groan inducing, there’s a couple that got a few giggles from me.
“Kiss me like a hawk! An heagle!”
“How’s about like a hosterich?”
I’m going to go ahead and briefly point you again to my review of Cantor’s earlier film, Whoopee!, and note that his various racial insensitivities continue through to this film. Some of it is very much a product of its time– extended black face segments don’t get much play nowadays in mainstream American comedies– though a lot of stereotypes of the Mexico shown in this film endure.
The Mexicans presented here range from swarthy to incompetent, with little in between. The main difference between how they’re shown here and today is in how glamorous the Mexico of The Kid from Spain appears. It’s portrayed in much the same way as we saw Havana back in Havana Widows— eccentrically different, but filled with white people (or white people pretending to be ethnic people) and essentially fun places to be.
What ever luxuriousness there is left to the just-over-the-border Mexico presented here has evaporated in mass media portrayals of nothing but illegal immigration and drug wars. If The Kid from Spain reveals much, it shows that, while it might have had an extra layer of gloss back then, American sentiment towards Mexico hasn’t improved much.
One might wonder if we’ve learned to at least disguise this paternalistic seething a little bit better… but then we still have stuff like Three Amigos and Delta Farce to serve as reminders that, no, to Americans, Stereotype Mexico is alive and well.
Oh, and the blackface, I should probably return to that since it’s back. Nothing along the lines of what happened in Whoopee! happens here– no overt racial loathing! what a great movie!– but we’re still treated to Cantor’s routine, which is ungainly and dated to say the least.
Like a lot of early race humor– and a lot of really bad racial humor nowadays– it’s cruel and mocking, coming from a place of dismissive superiority. Again, it’s interesting to see how long ago so many stereotypes thrived and how hard it’s obviously been for this country to try and work past it.
But this is something you probably don’t want to spend a musical comedy pondering. I know I didn’t want to.
In spite of it’s fantastic and fun opening number and a couple of pretty good gags, there’s not a whole lot to do with The Kid from Spain unless you have an unspecified urge to either study American/Mexico relations of the 1930’s or see Eddie Cantor knock out a bull with chloroform. And what a weird thing that is.
With Kid from Spain down, I have only three other Cantor Pre-Code films, and I’ll try to hit at least Roman Scandals in the next few weeks. All I can say is, Jesus, Cantor, I’ve read nothing but nice things about you as a person, but if you could stay out of blackface for like five minutes, that’d be great, thanks.
Trivia & Links
- You can tell this film was a big deal back in the day since Mordaunt Hall’s review in the Times is about twice the length as usual. He adored the film, reporting that the audience he was with also adored the film. I wish Hall would have went into more detail in his reviews since he all too often just reports things that happened in the film and categorizes them as ‘amusing’. I also wish more film critics nowadays didn’t write like this, but now I’m getting off subject.
- I don’t normally link Ozu’s Movie World since his reviews are 90% plot recitation, but this one actually sees him go into the background of the film, talking about Cantor’s incredible generosity.
- Even better, TCM’s article about the film goes into Cantor’s original pitch, Samuel Goldwyn’s scheme to make his money back, and the devising of the film. It’s actually a better use of your time to read this article than watch this movie, to be perfectly honest, though it’s claims that the film is ‘hilarious’ are fairly suspect.