Saturday, June 07, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Mystery in Mexico (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

When I first saw a friend's copy of MYSTERY IN MEXICO (1948) back in 2011, I found it very entertaining. I commented at the time that it would be wonderful if the movie would be released by the Warner Archive.

Needless to say, I was really delighted when I learned that the Warner Archive had released the film a little earlier this year in its Film Noir Archive Collection. This kind of lesser-known but really interesting release is one of the reasons I most appreciate the Warner Archive. It's terrific that this model "B" film is now widely available to anyone interested in seeing it.

The Archive DVD is a fine print of this most enjoyable 66-minute film. The movie may have been a relatively minor effort from RKO, but it's distinguished by playful repartee between leads William Lundigan and Jacqueline White, as well as the fact it was filmed entirely on location in Mexico City and Cuernavaca. The film also happens to have been an early credit in the career of future two-time Oscar winner Robert Wise.

Lundigan plays Steve Hastings, an insurance investigator who follows Victoria Ames (White) to Mexico City. He's hoping Victoria will lead him to her brother, fellow investigator Glenn Ames (Walter Reed), who's gone missing with a $200,000 diamond necklace. The company doesn't know if Glenn went rogue and stole the necklace or is in trouble and needs help.

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this fast-paced little film, which mixes romantic comedy, a touch of film noir, location atmosphere, and even a bit of music, as Victoria sings a song in a nightclub. (I'd love to know for sure whether White did her own singing.) Lundigan and White have believable, bubbly chemistry and make a most appealing team.

It was particularly special for me to have the chance to see the film again as since first seeing it I had the wonderful experience of seeing Jacqueline White speak in person. White was so positive and charming, recounting her happy life in the movies and beyond -- she and her husband had five children -- that it only increased my admiration for her.

MYSTERY IN MEXICO is one of a couple especially good film noir "B" films William Lundigan starred in at RKO in the late '40s. Soon after MYSTERY IN MEXICO Lundigan appeared in FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), costarring Dorothy Patrick and directed by Richard Fleischer (THE NARROW MARGIN). FOLLOW ME QUIETLY is also available from the Warner Archive.

The supporting cast of MYSTERY IN MEXICO includes pre-Code heartthrob Ricardo Cortez as a nightclub owner and Jacqueline Dalya in a fun role as a nightclub performer putting the moves on Lundigan. Tony Barrett plays Carlos, a helpful driver who could be friend or foe.

Former editor Wise had directed a handful of films by this point in his career; MYSTERY IN MEXICO was immediately preceded by BORN TO KILL (1947) with Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor. Wise was asked by RKO to shoot the film on location to help the studio determine if movies could be made more inexpensively in Mexico; the answer was no.

Wise would, of course, go on to direct WEST SIDE STORY (1961) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), as well as many other fine films.

MYSTERY IN MEXICO was shot by Jack Draper, who was born in Indiana but spent his career working in the Mexican film industry. His daughter Thalia appears in the movie. It might be a "B" film, but there are some very attractive shots, notably the insurance company's name reflected from the window onto the wall in the opening sequence.

For another good review of this film, visit Geek New Wave.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

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