Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)
Review: In 1931, a skinny 20 year old Mario Moreno (Oscar Jaenada) in Mexico is scuffling around trying to make a few pesos to keep from starving. He tries becoming a boxer, but spends most of his time in the ring dancing around on defense without actually hitting the opponent. He tries bull fighting, but the bull wins. So he resorts to working as a gofer of sorts at a third rate theater in Vera Cruz. When an act got booed off the stage, he unintentionally gets in front of the audience and does an impromptu comedy monologue, and the idea is planted that maybe he can make money as an entertainer.
It’s off to Mexico City to find work in a tent show. There he meets up with a woman and her brother to form a comedy act, and they slowly attain popularity. But because of Moreno’s Everyman appeal, and a genius for comic improvisation, he quickly becomes the star attraction. The theater marquis has his character “Cantinflas” in bright light lights, a moniker that he would ride to fame and fortune.
The movie quickly moves through the 1940s and 1950s, briefly touching on Cantinflas as a star in Mexican movies, as well as an advocate against corruption in the Mexican film actors guild. But the remainder of the film centers on the actions of Hollywood producer Michael Todd (Michael Imperioli) who was desperately trying to woo name actors to appear in his movie Around The World In Eighty Days. Todd nearly lost the backing of the studio, but signing Cantinflass to play the role of Passepartout saved the day. And as they say, the rest was history. Around The World In Eighty Days won the Oscar for best picture, and Cantinflas won the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy motion picture.
The movie Cantinflas works very well as a character study of a young man who started with nothing and made it to the pinnacle of his profession. His ability to improvise and make everyone laugh was very reminiscent of America’s Robin Williams. It felt like there were some decades that were glossed over to get to the making of his Hollywood star vehicle. No mention was made of his other two Hollywood movies, one of which (Pepe) earned him a second Golden Globe nomination. Overall, one of the better bio pic movies you will see.
Huh? What the ….: In the 1930s tent shows, the performers were supposedly paid two pesos a show, which equated to fourteen cents. Hard to believe you could live on that!
Cantinflas was a huge star in Mexico, but an unknown in the United States. It was never explained why Mike Todd was so desperate to get Cantinflas signed for the movie, as opposed to David Niven, the big international star.
Dialogue Nuggets: Mike Todd – “This will be the biggest most entertaining movie in the history of the world!”
Charlie Chaplin – “To Cantinflas, the best and most beloved comedian in the world.”
Girlfriend – “Was that Spanish? I didn’t understand a word!” Cantinflas – “No, that was pure Mexican.”
Drunken tent patron – “Bring back the Fatties!”