Cast & Crew
When Mexican bandit Braganza and his men watch an American gangster movie, Braganza urges them to behave like the tough Americans, and a brawl starts in the theater, causing Chivo, a theater employee, to pacify the crowd with his mellifluous singing. Braganza recruits Chivo as his permanent entertainer, dressing him up as a bandit and forcing him to hold up an American couple, Bill Shay and Jane, who are crossing the border to get married. When Braganza learns the young man is the son of the wealthy B. Warden Shay, he holds the couple for ransom at his hacienda and leaves to contact American gangster Butch. The next morning, Bill, concerned only for his own safety, begs Jane to befriend Chivo, and with their help, Bill escapes. Chivo and Jane then spend the day falling in love. When Braganza returns, Chivo confesses his love for Jane and his part in Bill's escape, and Braganza stages a court-martial. The bandit Diego, however, breaks a self-imposed ten-year silence to protest Braganza's brute American behavior, and Braganza postpones Chivo's execution. Chivo and Jane then escape in her car and pick up Bill. He then drives off with Jane, leaving behind Chivo, who assumes the couple is already married. Butch hi-jacks Bill and Jane and returns them to the hacienda, hoping to collect Shay's ransom for himself. In town, Chivo gives himself up to the police, then sings to Braganza over the radio, begging him to return Jane to him and release Bill. Braganza defeats Butch and denounces the American gangster way, returning to a Mexican code of honor by offering the police the couple in exchange for Chivo and a fifteen-minute head start for himself. Back at the hacienda, Chivo and Jane are reunited, and Braganza, having kept his word, escapes from the police.
George Du Count
The Trovadores Chinacos
Manuel Alvarez Maciste
J. J. Espinosa
Frank La Forge
Jesse L. Lasky
Sidney D. Mitchell
Walter G. Samuels
The Gay Desperado
Like many Hollywood films of the Golden Age, The Gay Desperado draws on the stereotype of the Mexican bandit, a supposedly childlike figure with little understanding of the real world (yet, paradoxically, enough to elude being captured). And in true Hollywood fashion, only a handful of true Latinos played the Mexican characters. Other roles went to such all-purpose ethnic types as New Yorker Harold Huber (of Russian-Jewish heritage), Pennsylvanian Stanley Fields, Russian Mischa Auer and Italian Frank Puglia. Only U.S. born Leo Carrillo (descended from one of the first Spanish families to settle California) and Chris-Pin Martin, an Arizona native, came by their Spanish-speaking roles naturally.
Yet The Gay Desperado also plays with ethnic stereotypes with its tale of a Mexican bandit chief (Carrillo) trying to recreate himself as an American-style gangster. When he kidnaps a wealthy heiress (Ida Lupino), he is soon torn between his desire for ransom and his affection for a Mexican singer (Italian-born opera star Nino Martini) who has fallen in love with her. Ultimately, he realizes that the American gangsters he has been emulating are too bloodthirsty and returns to a Mexican code of honor deemed superior to American ethics.
The Gay Desperado was the second and last co-production for former screen star Mary Pickford and film pioneer Jesse L. Lasky. They had first teamed for the romantic comedy One Rainy Afternoon (1936), starring Lupino and Francis Lederer. Eventually, Pickford's growing reclusiveness and descent into alcoholism led her to dissolve the partnership with her former boss.
For The Gay Desperado, they very wisely hired Mamoulian, one of the talkies' first great pioneers and theatrical giant, to helm the picture. He had been one of the first directors to move the camera after the arrival of talking pictures, when most films were shot with stationary cameras housed in soundproof booths to keep microphones from picking up camera noises. His early musicals, Applause (1929) and Love Me Tonight (1932) integrated song and dialogue creatively, while he experimented with Expressionistic point of view shots in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). Ever the innovator, he had also directed the first three-color Technicolor feature, Becky Sharp (1935), using color effectively to enhance the story's effectiveness.
The Gay Desperado seemed a simpler production, but he hardly sloughed off the assignment. He worked with writer Wallace Smith to flesh out Leo Birinsky's original story, adding comic details and character touches to give the paper-thin tale more depth. He also worked with cinematographer Lucien N. Andriot to create amazing black-and-white exteriors, isolating his characters against the sky to often startling effect.
For romantic leads, Lasky cast his protégée -- Italian-born operatic tenor Martini, who combined occasional films with seasons at the Metropolitan Opera and a popular radio show -- and Lupino. He and Pickford had been so impressed with her work in their first film, they had cast her again as soon as they saw the first preview. Made years before Lupino became one of the icons of film noir, The Gay Desperado represents one of the best performances she would give during her period as a blonde ingénue. The film is almost stolen, however, by Carrillo. Although raised in wealth to become a cultured, educated gentleman the actor excelled at playing simple Mexican stereotypes (like the sidekick in the early TV series The Cisco Kid), though rarely as effectively as in The Gay Desperado.
Helping sell The Gay Desperado was a major publicity push from United Artists. The producers held a national poll to name the film, with more than 25,000 fans voting for The Gay Desperado. They also announced that the gold-embroidered sombrero Carrillo wore had once belonged to Pancho Villa, whose widow had presented it to the actor. With several scenes shot on location in Arizona, the local government honored the company. Mamoulian was installed as an honorary police lieutenant by the officer who had arrested him for a traffic violation two years earlier. The Tucson police chief presented assistant director Robert Lee with the bulletproof vest John Dillinger had been wearing when arrested there. And the governor presented Carrillo with a 1,700-year-old cactus plant.
The Gay Desperado did well at the box office, but was viewed as a routine musical feature on its first release. In 2006, however, the UCLA Film and Television Archives restored it under the supervision of the Mary Pickford Foundation. The results won the film a new generation of champions and better reviews than it had received initially. Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thompson hailed it as "light-hearted fun" with special praise for the stars and for Andriot's "stunning black-and-white compositions...restored to their original razor-sharp definition."
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Producer: Jesse L. Lasky, Mary Pickford
Screenplay: Leo Birinsky, Wallace Smith
Cinematography: Lucien N. Andriot
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Alfred Newman
Principal Cast: Nino Martini (Chivo), Ida Lupino (Jane), Leo Carrillo (Pablo Braganza), Harold Huber (Juan Campo), Stanley Fields (Butch), Mischa Auer (Diego), Frank Puglia (Lopez), Chris-Pin Martin (Pancho). BW-85m.
by Frank Miller
The Gay Desperado
Actor Chris-Pin Martin is erroneously list in the onscreen credits as Chris King Martin. This film was the second and final production for Pickford-Lasky, and was shot in the Arizona desert on the Papago Indian Reservation near Tucson. According to Film Daily, Ida Lupino was signed for this film following the preview of One Rainy Afternoon, the first Pickford-Lasky production (see below). Members of the Trovadores Chinacos, who made their debut in this film, include Pedro Galindo, Rogue Castillo and Nicandro Castillo. The American gangster-film-within-the-film featured burlesques of Jack La Rue, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney. Pickford-Lasky conducted a nation-wide poll for this film's title; 21,000-25,000 people voted for "Gay Desperado." Press information claims the gold embroidered sombrero worn by Leo Carrillo in the film had been worn by Pancho Villa and was presented to Carrillo by Villa's widow. The fight scenes in this film were performed by former professional boxers and wrestlers including Sailor Vincent, Bert Colima, Ky Robinson, George Magrill, Jack Perry, Jimmie Dime, Harry Wilson, Jack Padgen, Bud Fine and George Du Count. According to press information, the state of Arizona was especially generous to the film crew: Rouben Mamoulian was made honorary lieutenant by a patrolman who had arrested him two years earlier for a traffic infraction when he was driving in the state with Greta Garbo; Tucson police chief Ben West gave assistant director Robert Lee the bullet-proof vest of famous gangster John Dillinger, who had been arrested two years earlier; and Governor B. B. Moeur gave Carrillo a 1,700-year-old cactus tree. Press materials claim that actor Alan Garcia, a former Madera revolutionist, narrowly escaped death in 1911 at the hands of a Corporal Mariano Valenzuela, who, in the film, ironically plays a rebel held captive by a federal officer, played by Garcia. About the time of this film's release, Nino Martini opened his fourth season on the air over the Columbia radio network with a performance of his hit song "The World Is Mine."
Released in United States 1936
Released in United States October 1990
Released in United States on Video August 30, 2000
Shown at Valladolid Film Festival, Spain October 19-28, 1990.
Released in United States 1936
Released in United States on Video August 30, 2000
Released in United States October 1990 (Shown at Valladolid Film Festival, Spain October 19-28, 1990.)