El Gran Calavera (Mexico, 1949):
(The Great Madcap)

By all accounts synthetic time-marking before the Los Olvidados international breakthrough of the following year, this Luis Buñuel commercial jaunt is a film of a hundred small delights, many of them not as conventional as they may appear. Fernando Soler is the director's most sympathetic bourgeois, virtually a facsimile for Walter Connolly in a Gregory La Cava comedy, for which Buñuel shares the behavior-oriented plan americain middle-distances, given his own twist -- soused millionaire Soler is introduced in a crowded jail cell, feet and legs mingled in a mass of limbs. The drunken carousing is comic but pathetic, the result of a wife's death that renders him defenseless during a morning routine where everybody in his ticlike family, from valet to offspring, takes turns mooching money off him. The road to disaster is interrupted by psychiatrist brother Francisco Jambrina, who wants to bring him back to his senses via shock therapy -- namely, making him think the whole brood has been reduced to poverty because of him. The loafers play their roles in the masquerade, though, once clued in, the patriarch has the last laugh by turning the tables on his clan and feigning ruin, so that their make-believe slums stay threatens to turn permanent. Of course, the brush with poverty enlivens these folks: hypochondriac sister-in-law Maruja Griffel stops reaching for the pills, lazy brother Andrés Soler learns the joys of carpentry, moochy son Gustavo Rojo finds his way back to school through a shoeshine box, and ingenue-daughter Rosario Granados finds romance with proudly proletarian neighbor Rubén Rojo. Crammed with Hollywood screwball tropes (a mustached society matron gag, a love proposal unwittingly broadcast over loudspeaker, a last-minute dash from the altar), although the capping link between holy matrimony and blowhard advertising could only be forged by Buñuel. With Luis Alcoriza. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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