Barbara Stanwyck, Mexicali Rose, 1929.
I was able to watch a print of this early Stanwyck film last night at an Austin Film Society screening. It is laughably awful — the writing is practically all cliches, with characters saying stuff like, “My mother told me there’d be days like this” and “Put that under your hat” — you get the idea.
Stanwyck plays Rose, a young woman with no scruples. She’s mainly stuck in negligees, parading around with arms akimbo. She’s fun to watch, but unfortunately is only in about half the film. Her newness to film is evident in this one (her second or third movie, I think?), but she still glows on film.
The main guy (Sam Hardy), her ex-husband, is a boring older man called “Happy” who runs a gaming house. The audience is supposed to root for him, I guess, but he was so terrible acting-wise that it was impossible for me to do so.
He has a manservant called “Loco”, played by some white guy (Arthur Rankin) in brownface (ugh). Prof. Charles Ramirez Berg from UT told us after the film that Mexicali Rose was fairly progressive in its portrayal of Mexicans. A few characters speak Spanish with no translation or subtitles underneath, and Loco is the only non-Latino playing a Mexican.
The ending of the movie is so quick and ridiculous that I started giggling as soon as the guy ran into the bar (I’d say spoiler alert, but it’s not like this film is accessible enough to spoil) announcing Rose’s death. If I didn’t see her body onscreen, I don’t believe she’s really dead. I prefer to think she’s still out there somewhere, pulling a quick one on some lame semi-attractive fellow.