Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Carnival in Costa Rica (1947)

CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA is one of those "hidden gems" which is sure to delight fans of '40s Fox musicals. This relatively unheralded film is a treat which had me smiling from start to finish.

Luisa (Vera-Ellen) has recently returned home to Costa Rica after finishing school. Luisa's parents (J. Carrol Naish and Anne Revere) have arranged Luisa's engagement to Pepe (Cesar Romero), the son of old friends.

Luisa and Pepe have not met since they were children, and it turns out Pepe is already secretly engaged to an American (Celeste Holm), while Luisa is soon smitten with Jeff (Dick Haymes), an American she meets at a fiesta.

The plot may be fairly standard, but it's depicted with charm and energy, and the film's 97 minutes pass quickly. A special nod goes to Anne Revere as Luisa's knowing, bemused American-born mother, who came to Costa Rica as a teacher and found love. Sweet young Vera-Ellen dances up a storm, Romero and Holm handle the comedy, and Haymes may look a bit geeky in a sombrero, but he sure can sing.

This film is bursting with color, beginning with the festive opening credits sequence and continuing in multiple fiesta and dance scenes. The costumes are dazzling, and there is also some excellent use of location photography. (According to IMDb scenes were actually filmed in Costa Rica; I don't believe they included principal cast members, but there is only one painfully obvious back projection scene, and the film has great atmosphere.) A New Year's scene which begins with the screen filled with colorful balloons is just one example of the film's visual appeal. The Technicolor cinematography was by Harry Jackson.

The exuberant music arrangements also deserve special mention. The musical directors were Emil Newman (brother of Alfred and Lionel) and Charles Henderson, and the orchestrations were by Herbert Spencer.

The choreographer was Leonide Massine, who also dances with Vera-Ellen early in the film. Massine also worked on THE RED SHOES (1948). A flower girl in a dream sequence dance was played by Tatiana Massine, whom I assume to be a relative. Chorus dancer Norman Borine writes a bit about working with Massine on this film in his book DANCING WITH THE STARS, which I reviewed last fall.

The supporting cast includes Barbara Whiting and Tommy Ivo as Vera-Ellen's younger siblings. Fritz Feld, Nestor Paiva, and Pedro de Cordoba are also in the cast.

CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA was directed by Gregory Ratoff, whose films DAY-TIME WIFE (1939) and ADAM HAD FOUR SONS (1941) have been reviewed here previously. Ratoff was also an actor.

(A side note: if anyone happens to look up this film in Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide, the plot description bears no resemblance to the film, nor does the rating...)

CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA has not had a DVD or video release, but it is part of the library of cable's Fox Movie Channel.

2013 Update: This movie is now available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.


Blogger Emanuel J. M. M. said...

Do you know how I can see it? :(

11:56 PM  

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