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.

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.


Anonymous Professor Echo said...

Laura, as with all your stellar reviews, this one is learned, admirably concise and very accessibly entertaining. After decades of working as a film historian, reviewer and teacher, I find that I’ve been inundated with film critics who either never knew or have just simply forgotten how to have fun. Your writing style, and the immense pleasure it echoes from your attention and affection for film as both art and pastime, is wonderfully sincere. I often turn to your reviews not just to weigh purchasing options, which you are more than capable of influencing, but also for pure reading entertainment. The only other online critic I enjoy as much is Cinesavant, Glenn Erickson, but he rarely delves as deep as you do for his choices in what titles to review. I’ve been an ardent follower of yours for the past year and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to publicly acknowledge and celebrate your skills and talents, but please know I am a fan.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Professor Echo, thank you so much for your exceptionally kind words. I may frame this as encouragement! :) I very much appreciate you taking the time to share that you've been enjoying my site and hope you will continue to do so in the future. I am in great company being mentioned alongside Glenn Erickson, as he's perhaps the critic I enjoy reading most myself.

I do love to dig deep to watch and write about lesser-known titles! It's wonderful to know others also enjoy exploring the "nooks and crannies" of classic-era cinema.

With thanks and best wishes,

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Professor Echo said...

You’re more than welcome, Laura. Please keep writing and bestowing upon us your vast knowledge of, unbridled pleasure in, and inherent sense for sharing the joys of film in all its incarnations. With the plethora of alleged “critics” everywhere these days, it’s such a wonderful discovery finding one who can bring forth the immense and pure bliss of both watching and living movies! Keep writing! —-Glen

1:54 PM  

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