Friday, November 12, 2010

El Santo y La Tigresa (1973): or, the Mystery of the Giant Hobo

The more lucha libre movies I watch, the more I wonder how these guys ever found time to, you know, wrestle. There was just so much else going on! I bet El Santo and Blue Demon couldn't drive their shiny shiny sports cars down the street without running over a couple of alien invaders bent on world domination, or a just-resurrected werewolf and vampire plotting to complete a plan of vengeance 400 years in the making. Add to that the mad scientists, serial killers, and gangsters running rampant in the District Federale all throughout the 70s, and it's amazing they ever got the chance even to launder their turtlenecks and sports jackets, let alone lace up the boots and go bouncing around el círculo cuadrado.

As arguably the greatest, but certainly the most famous, of the masked heroes of Mexican wrestling, El Santo (aka "El Enmascarado de Plata") was a very, very busy man. Even visits to old friends were crap shoots, as likely to end up in the underground lair of some crazed supervillain as in front of the television doing tequila shots while watching the night's fútbol match. That's not quite what happens in El Santo y La Tigresa (aka Santo y el aguila real, or Santo and the Royal Eagle, 1973), but it's almost as wild.

"No, BD, I can't. I'm with someone. And didn't I ask you never to call me here?"

In this one, Irma Morales (played by Irma Serrano, about whom more in a moment), the daughter of one of Santo's deceased friends, calls the luchador to her palatial ranch to seek his help with some problems she's having. It seems there are strange goings on around the hacienda--her older brother was killed when his horse inexplicably tumbled down a cliff, and there have been two separate attempts on Irma's life, one involving a cut brake line and another an unseen sniper. Convinced that her neighboring land barons want to split up her ranch between them, she's called in El Santo (rather than the local police) to get the evidence she needs to confront them.

But things aren't usually what they seem in cases like this. Santo finds some odd strands of hair at the scenes of the assasination attempts, and sends them to a friend in the city for analysis. As romance blooms between the luchador and the lady of the house, Santo must also fight off a murderously jealous suitor of Irma's who may or may not be the true culprit. A mysterious locked room at the hacienda, ordered closed forever upon Señor Morales's death, thickens the plot, and attacks by the rival ranchers' throw suspicion back their way. Then things go completely pear-shaped when the Man in the Silver Mask is attacked by a giant, tatter-clothed hobo with the strength of ten men and just barely manages to escape with his life!

"All right, all right! ONE autograph!"

It was interesting for me to see Santo removed from his monster-fighting superhero mode and instead cast in the role of a Holmesian (or at least Scooby-Dooby Dooosian) amateur detective. Of course his horseback-riding dalliances with Señorita Morales would never pass muster with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle--but hey, that ain't the only Holmes Santo shares some moves with, if you know what I'm sayin'. Unfortunately Santo's esteemed cinematic partner Blue Demon is not on hand to play the Dr. Watson role; instead he has as his foil Carlito (frequent Santo co-star Carlos Suárez), a cowardly, bald-headed sidekick who serves as extremely broad comic relief.

But the luchador has a more-than-able fighting partner in the person of Irma Morales herself, played with downright Tura Satana-style ferocity by Irma "La Tigresa" Serrano. Boastful, proud, and unwilling to suffer the slightest disrespect from anyone, Irma is a dominatrix dynamo. Always accompanied by her faithful pet La Serrana--a FUCKING FALCON--she is an excellent markswoman (as evidenced when she shoots a cigarette from the mouth of a terrified girl to "save" her from her drunken beau's attempt to do the same) and extremely handy with the short riding whip she always wears around her wrist! She also knows how to rock the leather pants and knee-high boots, which can only be counted in her favor.

(Nota bene: Morales is never called "La Tigresa" in the movie--that is Serrano's real-world nickname. A well-known singer and actress, she was infamous for many political and sexual scandals, including a rumored short-lived affair with President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz of Mexico. Judging from her brief but entertaining Wikipedia entry, she's more or less playing herself here.)

"Wanna 'rassle?"

One thing that surprised me about this movie was how intricate the plot is compared to other Santo flicks I've seen, which tend more toward the episodic. (There are episodic tangents--such as a long segment at the county fair that's actually quite interesting in a National Geographic "traditional celebrations" kinda way--but the whodunnit through-story is a lot more solid.) The mystery is really pretty well-constructed, with many red herrings and shocking revelations. In fact the story is so convoluted that the in-ring action--a staple of the Lucha film--is limited to a single match rather than the usual two or three. Which is not to say the film skimps on the grappling: Santo gets to practice his knee-lifts and forearm smashes on some of the evil ranchers' thugs (with La Tigresa fighting right alongside him, clocking their jaws and whipping them silly with her leather lash!), and later rescues Carlitos from a lynching for horse-thievery by flattening a half-dozen ranch-hands.

The centerpiece battles, though, are his two fights with the mysterious, primitive-seeming Giant (Domingo Bazán)--both of which have rather startling conclusions. The first takes place in an abandoned bullfighting ring, and Santo gets to perform his patented frog splash off an adobe wall, from a rather dangerous-looking height. However, the caveman-cum-hobo is (amazingly) too strong for Santo, and leaves him unconscious in the sand! Later they have a rematch in the cobweb-covered catacombs beneath the hacienda (what, you thought things wouldn't get all Gothic up in here?), and Santo seems to get the upper hand before being waylaid by a shorter caveman/hobo who seems to be the Giant's keeper, left unconscious and presumed dead! Two battles, two losses--unheard of in Santo Cinema!

El Enmascarado Volidor

Of course he's not dead, but the final confrontation in Irma's room, where secrets are revealed and motives explicated, is notable for its pointed LACK of Santo's presence. He comes in after the dust is already settling, shaking off his concussion and in need of a change of shirt. Who's the hero here, anyway? This makes me believe the producers saw this not so much as a Santo vehicle, but a Serrano one--kind of a Brigitte Nielsen/Red Sonja situation, with Santo along in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role. (In one memorable exchange, Irma claims "never to have tasted fear," while Santo admits that he has--his courage is not bravado, but perseverance even in the face of fear.)

Serrano is a powerful screen presence, however, and in addition to the fight scenes gets to shine in a couple of musical numbers--notably when she takes Santo and Carlitos to a cock fight where her prized rooster is set to do battle, and trades musical boasts with the rival ranchers. (These are sadly untranslated on the disc I have--I can only assume it's a Beowulf-style taunting before the poultry-centric main event.) She also gets to show off her voluptuous figure in that excellent leather pants/boots ensemble, and a couple of groovy negligees. No complaints from me.

Santo came back from his tour of Japan with some...interesting ideas for the bedroom.
About that cockfight--I admit I found it a little rough to watch the animals being set upon one another for sport, and one of them actually killed by the other on camera. Yes, I know, it's a different time, a different culture from my own, and nothing most people in Mexico in 1973 would have batted an eye at. But still, it's real animal death, really onscreen, and modern viewers may well be taken aback. And that's not the only instance of animal snuff in the film. Later we also see Santo and Irma hunting, and she shoots a rabbit; we get to see the effects in detail, as the running bunny is hit and tumbles feet-over-destroyed-cranium. Finally, there is a flashback to Irma's brother's death, wherein a human-shaped dummy is sent down the cliff on the back of an ACTUAL horse. I rather hope the nag was dead before they rolled her down the cliff, but I can by no means be certain. (Also, a kitten is used to test a poisoned dish of soup, and fails the test, though one hopes the cat was not actually poisoned.) Animal lovers, be warned.

(Irma's falcon La Serrana fares slightly better than the other animals--in fact, the hawk even flies to Santo's rescue during his first fight with the giant, and then saves her owner from a poisonous snake in her bed! The cavemen don't take kindly to this, and later stuff the bird in a canvas bag and smack it against a wall several times; however, since the falcon appears safe and sound in the final scenes, hopefully this was merely cinema magic.)

"That wasn't *quite* what I was asking for, Maria, but thanks all the same."
Also of note is some rather salty language--lots of "assholes" and "bitches" bandied about, at least in translation--which together with the animal snuff and Carlitos's "comedic" lynching scene (to say nothing of the decidedly PG-13 Dark Family Secrets that hold the key to the mystery) give the film a much darker tone that I had grown to expect from a Santo film.

Still, it all really worked for me. I was involved in the story, amazed by the plot twists, excited by the dangers and thrilled by the fights. A more "adult" Santo perhaps, though it still manages to bring in the Gothic trappings and superhuman enemies required by such a larger-than-life hero. I give El Santo y La Tigresa 2.5 thumbs. It's available from Netflix on DVD, so check it out!

¡Viva el Santo!

A few more images from El Santo y La Tigresa (1973): 

So lifelike

Eyes Up, Santo

Now THAT'S comedy!

"Grovel before the awesome might of the muumuu, slave!"


Knight in Shining Headgear

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine..."

"Well, shucks, Irma, I never thought about it before...but yeah, I guess I could put it there..."


The Duke of DVD said...

You had me hooked at "Giant Hobo", sir! Any movie that features a hobo with the strength of 10 men instantly jumps to the top of my "must watch" list.

I confess, I've only watched a few Santo movies, but do you also get the feeling that, like our beloved Naschy, El Santo brought a certain aplomb to his performances that simply exudes off-screen? The guy seems to love his work, and to throw himself into any role!

("Scooby Dooby Doosian" now enters my everyday vernacular)

The Vicar of VHS said...

I would hesitate to compare Santo to Naschy, Duke--whether because he doesn't have the acting chops, or the mask limits his ability to convey emotion via facial expressions, Santo often comes off as a bit stiff, and just doesn't have the same charisma for me. Actually, I much prefer Blue Demon as an actor--he's scrappier, quicker to fly off the handle, and more likely to leap before he looks than the comparitively calm and meticulous El Santo. It's more entertaining for me.

However, looking down Santo's filmography, you can definitely see similarities with the ideas that fascinated Naschy...but who influenced whom? For instance, Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (Santo vs. the Vampire Women) was made in 1962, nearly a decade before WWvVW! There's also Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy (1971), which predates Paul's The Mummy's Revenge by two years. I haven't seen the Santo flicks, so maybe they have nothing but titles in common. Still, there might be a dissertation to be written there! ;)

Prof. Grewbeard said...

Irma Serrano made a film called "La Tigressa" which is worth checking out if you can find it. she has her pet tiger along for that one and a live-in witch too! i have a cd of Irma's "hits" and it's great, lots of melodramatic singing and that 60s organ sound...

The Duke of DVD said...

Come to think of it, I maybe thinking of the Blue Demon more than El Santo. It's been so long since I've watched them. Well, suffice to say, however either of those gentlemen conduct themselves on screen, it is a flickering candle in the darkness compared to the brilliant sun that is Paul Naschy. He has more machismo in one pectoral than all of Mexico and Spain combined.

I need to research it somewhat, but the El Santo movie that had me thinking he was lovin' his job involved some horror-based elements. I shake my fist at my own bad memory but I believe it must have been the mummy-related flick.

To the Ducal horror vault!

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Prof. Grewbeard--Interesting info, thanks! Looking at the imdb page for "La Tigresa" (link), it looks like it was made the same year, also stars Santo, and from the sound of the synopsis might in fact share a set (and quite possibly a lot of footage!) with this flick! They were really churnin' 'em out at that time South of the border, so I can see the desire for re-use of lucrative footage...

Also interesting stuff from imdb commenter "insomniac rod":

"[Irma Serrano] was a very popular actress in Mèxico's trashy cinema era; then she tried to pursue a more serious acting career. Not so long after that, she became a senator for Mèxico...She's widely known in Mèxico for her scandals, and for her adoration for Lucifer. In her HUGE mansion she has big statues of Lucifer and she openly says she sold her soul to him. Hmmm."

I think I need to see more! :)

Armando H. said...

I've seen "La Tigresa", that movie is awesome! Not to mention we get to see a lot of La Tigresa's nipples ;]

Armando H. said...

Btw, "La Tigresa" doesn't star Santo. Some moron must of mixed that movie up with El Santo y La Tigresa.

Prof. Grewbeard said...

i can back up ruculfright's statement, Santo does not appear in La Tigressa. that's just a stubborn bit of misinformation that's been attached to that movie for years...

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks raculfright_13 and Professor! Knowledge is power, and half the battle, so I'm given to understand. ;)

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