Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles at the UCLA Film and Television Archive: ¡Asegure a su mujer!, No dejes la puerta abierta, and Castillos en el aire
February 1, 2018
Welcome to part 3 of my recap from UCLA Film and Television Archive's series Recuerdos de un cine en español: Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles, 1930-1960. The program, which featured several new restorations and special guests, was organized as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, “a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles,” which was celebrated at over 70 Southern California cultural organizations in 2017.
In my first review, I explored two daring 1934 titles, La mujer del puerto (Mexico) and Nada más que una mujer (US), and last week, I covered two suspenseful Mexican productions, La otra (1946) and El vampiro (1957). To conclude my series recap, I'm going to shift focus to a trio of lighter entries, all produced in the US: ¡Asegure a su mujer! (1935), No dejes la puerta abierta (1933), and Castillos en el aire (1938).
¡Asegure a su mujer! (Insure Your Wife!, 1935, US)
Any title that translates to Insure Your Wife! – exclamation mark included – is a film I have to see. Unfortunately, I was a little tired during this screening, which didn’t help my understanding of the zany plot one bit. Let’s see… in a nutshell, basically everyone is having an affair with everyone else, married or not. The story centers around Ricardo’s (Raul Roulien) idea to create an infidelity insurance in a quick ploy to get an upset husband off his back. The plan’s a hit with most of the male species… except its inventor, particularly when he realizes how he just kissed his sex life goodbye, since married women are off limits now. (Fear not, he finds an alternative: his single secretary.) There's innuendo and skin a-plenty when it comes time for the peeved ladies to fire back at Ricardo in the film’s third act. Though they marched into his office once before to protest such an epic invasion of their privacy, this time they mean business, officially banding together to retaliate and even advocating for an insurance for wives!
It's all a bit dizzying, isn't it, Camelia (Conchita Montenegro)?
While incorporating a great deal of comedy, ¡Asegure a su mujer! also features a healthy dose of 1930s sexism built in to the very core of its story. At the same time, however, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride at the women so vehemently fighting back – and having such fun with it. But that gratification became muted again at the very end, when a barrage of love in self-portrait form from Ricardo – an act that started on a comical note but would definitely qualify as creepy today – results in him winning the girl, the same one he basically strung along the entire time. Fun fact: Roulien’s onscreen allure must have spilled over into real life as well; the woman he ‘charmed’ during those final scenes, Camelia (Conchita Montenegro), became his wife the same year this film came out.
Don't act so surprised, Ricardo (Raul Roulien).
Despite the 1935 date, ¡Asegure a su mujer! zips about wickedly like a pre-Code, which led me to question whether the Production Code Administration (PCA) previewed Spanish-language scripts or movies; as I know this film was definitely released in the US, I’m going to go with no. (But that is a true research project for another day…)
No dejes la puerta abierta (Don’t Leave the Door Open, 1933, US)
During the evening’s introduction, it was revealed that No dejes la puerta abierta is the Spanish-language version of Pleasure Cruise (1933)! Now Pleasure Cruise is a film readers of this site may have heard of once, twice… or ten times before, because I obsessed over it going into TCMFF 2016, gripped over missing it at the festival, and slightly flipped out when it wasn’t scheduled as a TBD on Sunday. I also failed to catch an airing on TCM in December 2016, and it wasn’t available afterwards on demand. So it really seemed like I just wasn’t destined to see Pleasure Cruise. But the classic movie gods must have relented and settled on surprising me with the Spanish-language adaptation.
Rosa (Rosita Moreno) doll-flirting with a man who is definitely not her husband.
It all begins with Rosa (Rosita Moreno) and Raul (Raul Roulien) celebrating their one year anniversary, which goes well – until Raul gets called in to “work” on a portrait of a lingerie-clad model. As you’d expect to happen, an entire party shows up at his door, then Rosa unexpectedly drops in, and the drunken revelers fail miserably at staying hidden and quiet. Assuming her husband is cheating on her, Rosa books passage on a pleasure cruise. Naturally, Raul clandestinely hops aboard disguised as a barber to watch her every move, and eventually, Rosa hooks up with her own husband, unbeknownst to her, because #precode. (That part reminded me, in a way, of 1930’s Madam Satan, another absolutely bonkers film from this era, though in English.)
Way to hide, Raul (Raul Roulien).
Though I enjoyed No dejes la puerta abierta, I’m now doubly keen to get my hands on Pleasure Cruise one day, mainly to compare the two versions. For instance, I never heard “musical” and Pleasure Cruise in the same sentence or description, but No dejes la puerta abierta incorporates several musical interludes, perhaps due to star Roulien’s melodic skills; he also possessed decent comedy chops, as exhibited here and in ¡Asegure a su mujer! Luckily, the tunes fit soundly within the wacky, brisk story.
As anticipated with the 1933 production date, No dejes la puerta abierta contains some risqué dialogue, one of my favorite lines involving a character who admits that she fancies black lingerie because it makes her feel like she’s being unfaithful. That probably would have raised red flags with the censor boards. Oh, and then there’s a whole song about getting drunk, complete with an entire chorus advocating listeners to drink to forget their woes. Keeping it pre-Code, No dejes la puerta abierta. I like that.
This is how obscure Castillos en el aire is: I couldn't find any posters or stills online, only this rental ad.
Castillos en el aire (Castles in the Air, 1938, US)
Castillos en el aire screened after No dejes la puerta abierta, keeping in line with the evening’s cruise theme. This independently made B-picture stars two dreamers, Lolita (Cristina Téllez) and Alberto (Rafael Alcayde), who work in the same bank but on different floors. Lolita wins a trip to Hollywood – cause that was a real thing – and Alberto gets sent to the US for work, aka sightseeing and partying. As fate would have it, the two meet by chance on the boat to America, but not as themselves: Lolita and her overbearing aunt Gertrudis (Pilar Arcos) mistake Alberto for a prince, while Lolita presents herself as a millionaire. All lies, but of course they fall in love and everything works out in the end.
I’ve watched countless Hollywood B-movies in English, and as Castillos en el aire was made in America, it’s not far off from the ones I’ve seen. The script was rather weak, seemingly written to utilize the boat and bank sets only; I mean, just how long is the journey to America? I thought we’d actually get to see some of Hollywood, but save for an achingly long montage, which calendar pages informed us was about a month long, we get nothing! (And that medley mainly covered Alberto’s “business” trip, in which exactly zero business was conducted.) In my opinion, 10-15 minutes could have been cut from the picture – 2-3 in the montage alone – and the film would have fared just as well.
Then come the performances, which were way over the top – looking at you, Téllez and Alcayde – but I’ll begrudgingly give that a pass, because this was the debut of both stars AND writer/director Jaime Salvador (not to mention, it was the only film Téllez ever appeared in). Téllez and Alcayde’s characters on paper didn’t help matters either; both dream big, crave adventure, and want the opportunity to see the world – all good so far – but, to put it plainly, they both bordered on irritating in the film. Alberto’s egotistical and forceful nature, somehow passed off as being gallant, was in reality grating, while Lolita’s perpetual naiveté and growing obsession with her fantasy prince grew vexatious very quickly. Honestly, I much rather preferred the second string, Aunt Gertrudis and Alberto’s meek co-worker Feliciano (José Peña), masquerading as his secretary. Their modest love story shifted Castillos en el aire into comedy territory, from their tour of the ship’s machinery (which ended in an epic fall down the stairs) to their first dance (neither of them dance) to sharing several spiked coffees (coffee, rum, anisette, cognac, etc.).
Considering the production's flaws, the quality of the print sadly didn't help matters much. Chiefly, the sound quality was terribly distorted. Dialogue was barely audible in certain sections, and the soundtrack faded in, out, and somehow sounded like screeching in a few parts; in one scene, thunderous applause actually reverberated like nonstop deafening thunder. It was a bit brutal, but I'm assuming there aren't many prints of Castillos en el aire that have survived, so I'll take what I can get. Even though it wasn't my favorite, I'm happy I had the chance to see this incredibly rare picture. Thank you, UCLA!
I hope you enjoyed my coverage of UCLA Film and Television Archive’s series Recuerdos de un cine en español: Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles, 1930-1960 over the last three weeks. Thanks for reading!