Cast & Crew
At the annual horse auction at the Hacienda Vista Hermosa in Mexico, actors Greer Garson and Edward G. Robinson are among the bidders for a beautiful white stallion named Don Juan owned by Senor Rodriguez. Don Juan has been brought up by Rodriguez' foreman Pepe, who considers the horse his "son" and instructs him to "act sick" to discourage prospective buyers. Also at the auction is down-and-out movie director Ted Holt, who has followed Robinson to Mexico in hopes of convincing him to invest in his next film, which he hopes to produce in Mexico. When Robinson refuses Ted's request, the director decides to bid on Don Juan, hoping that he can use the horse as a bargaining tool with Robinson. Although Pepe offers the contents of his piggy bank for Don Juan, Ted outbids him and leads the sad-eyed horse away. Feeling sorry for Pepe, Garson suggests he follow his horse to Hollywood and gives him the address of Ted's studio and tickets to travel there. At the entrance to the studio, Pepe is told that although Ted no longer works there, he has stopped by to get a haircut. As Pepe waits for Ted, he meets Suzie Murphy, a disillusioned actress who cloaks her longing for a film career by expressing disdain for show business. Suzie mistakes Pepe for a shoeshine boy, and after he patches a hole in her shoe, she invites him for a drink at Kelly's Café, where she works as a dancer and waitress. After Pepe spots Ted in the studio parking lot, Ted tells him that Don Juan has lost all interest in mating and invites him to his mansion in Beverly Hills, where the horse sleeps on the billiard table. Upon seeing Pepe, the depressed horse perks up and Ted, feeling sorry for Pepe and "his son," invites Pepe to stay. Later, Pepe goes to Kelly's Café, where he costs Suzie her job by interrupting a gangland rumble dance she is performing because he thinks she is in danger. When Pepe invites the now jobless Suzie to come home with him, she is offended until she learns that he is staying with Ted, whose name she recognizes as a once well-regarded director. At the house, Pepe tries to convince Ted to hire Suzie to appear in his film, prompting Ted to conclude that Suzie is using Pepe to break into the movies. When Ted ridicules her unkempt appearance, she calls him a "drunken has-been" and storms out in tears. Experiencing remorse for his unkind words, Ted sends Pepe after her, and Pepe encourages Suzie to envision herself as a beautiful and successful dancer. Finding himself drawn to Suzie, Ted agrees to consider casting her in his picture. The following day, Ted visits Robinson at his office and offers Don Juan's stud service in exchange for financing the film. Although Ted swears that he has stopped gambling and drinking, Robinson turns him down when Ted insists on directing the project. With money he has earned from Don Juan's stud service, Ted puts Suzie under contract and announces that he is going to Las Vegas to try and interest investors in his project. Worried about his friend, Pepe hitchhikes to Las Vegas where he finds Ted drunk after being rejected for a loan. When Ted explains that he needs $250,000, Pepe pulls out his lucky bull's ear and offers him the contents of his piggy bank as a gambling stake in return for partnership in the picture. After Ted passes out, however, Pepe cashes in his savings and makes the rounds of the casino, winning at the slot machines, roulette, blackjack and craps table, then quitting only when he has raised $250,000. As promised, Ted makes Pepe his producer, but upon arriving home, Ted begins to worry that Suzie may not be able to carry the film. Soon after, filming begins in Acapulco, Mexico, where Suzie, Pepe and Ted attend a charity benefit hosted by French singer Maurice Chevalier. Suzie becomes upset when Ted begins dancing with an attractive woman, and when Pepe tries to comfort her, Suzie, out of gratitude, tells Pepe she loves him. Believing that Suzie harbors romantic feelings for him, Pepe consults Chevalier about love, and the singer advises him to wait "until bells ring out" to be sure she truly loves him. Soon after, Ted runs out of money and travels to Hollywood to raise additional funds. Suzie, who is angry at Ted because he continually insults Pepe's attempts to be helpful, again tells Pepe that she loves him, and when he hears the cathedral bells ring, he thinks of Chevalier's words and hurries to Mexico City to buy an engagement ring. When Ted returns, he regretfully informs Pepe that he had to sell Don Juan to Robinson to finance the picture. Pepe then reassures Ted that he will not be lonely because he is going to marry Suzie. Once Ted completes the picture, Robinson comes to Mexico to screen it and Suzie overhears him tell Ted that he was wrong to question Suzie's ability as a star. Suzie then realizes that Don Juan was the price Robinson exacted for allowing her to star in the film and reconciles with Ted. In the theater lobby, Pepe tells Robinson that he is going to marry Suzie and Robinson replies that Suzie is in love with Ted. Heartbroken, Pepe hands the ring to Robinson and asks him to give it to Suzie and Ted as a wedding present. When Robinson presents the ring to Suzie and Ted, Suzie realizes that Pepe has misunderstood her feelings, and Ted refuses to sell Robinson control of the film unless he returns Don Juan to Pepe. All ends happily when the picture is a success and Don Juan makes Pepe a "grandfather."
Sammy Davis Jr.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Edward G. Robinson
Ann B. "schultzy" Davis
Col. E. E. Fogelson
"big" Jack Entratter
Robert B. Williams
Kenner G. Kemp
La Perla Divers
James Z. Flaster
James Z. Flaster
Maria Terese Lara
Charles J. Rice
Richard A. Whiting
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Sidney had actually wanted to bring the beloved Mexican clown into U.S. movies since 1940, but it took the success of the Cantinflas' first U.S. film, Around the World in Eighty Days, to convince Columbia Pictures to pony up the $5 million budget. For a plot, Sidney unearthed an obscure Austrian play from 1935 called Broadway Zauber. He briefly considered calling the film Broadway Magic before moving the story, about a farmhand (Cantinflas) in search of a beloved race horse sold to a producer (Dan Dailey), to Hollywood.
Everything about Pepe was done on a grand scale, befitting a director who had made his name with lavish MGM musicals like Anchors Aweigh (1945) and the all-star Thousands Cheer (1943). Sidney shot the film over the course of six months, including a five-week location shoot in Mexico. He also filmed it in five languages at once, hoping the Cantinflas name would draw big international crowds. And he secured cameo appearances from an impressive list of stars.
Those cameos provided Pepe with some of its brightest moments. Some critics have even suggested that the film's use of its all-star cast actually improves on Around the World in Eighty Days. Whereas the earlier film used its celebrities as a gimmick, with the actors cast in fictional roles often so fleeting as to be unrecognizable, in Pepe most of the guest stars played themselves in scenes that traded on their screen images. Jack Lemmon appears entirely in drag as his female character, Daphne, from Some Like It Hot (1959). Maurice Chevalier joins Cantinflas and Dailey for a rendition of one of his trademark songs, "Mimi." And Kim Novak appears in a variation of a scene from Sidney's The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), in which she played an heiress who helped the financially embarrassed Duchin (Tyrone Power) without his knowing it. In Pepe, she plays herself, secretly paying for the engagement ring Cantinflas hopes to give the woman he loves (Shirley Jones).
The best of the cameos went to Janet Leigh, who sends up her performances in Psycho (1960) and Touch of Evil (1958) before joining Cantinflas and off-screen husband Tony Curtis for a mistaken identity scene similar to the plot of her previous picture with Sidney and Curtis, Who Was That Lady? (1960). She was so effective in her brief bit that Photoplay magazine gave her its Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance.
That award and the Laurel for Top Musical represented the best Pepe would fare. It lost all seven of its Oscar® bids and three Golden Globe nominations (Best Motion Picture-Musical, Best Motion Picture Actor-Musical/Comedy for Cantinflas and Best Original Score). Variety gave the film a favorable review as "a honey of a show, done up in showmanly style," but most critics echoed the New York Herald Tribune, which complained that "the film has the shape of three Ed Sullivan shows strung end to end." Historians with access to Cantinflas' Mexican films have complained that rather than capturing the comic mayhem that made him a star, particularly the verbal nonsense hailed as "Cantinfleada" by his fans, the film poured on the pathos in an effort to make him another Charles Chaplin. Ultimately, moviegoers weighed in with the most crushing blow. Pepe only earned $4.8 million at the box office, not even making back its original cost. Cantinflas never made another U.S. film, returning to his native Mexico where he continued to be a top star and an inspiration for his extensive charity work. Sidney would redeem himself at the box office with his next film, Bye Bye Birdie (1963), while leading lady Shirley Jones would actually walk off with a 1960 Oscar®, although for another film, Elmer Gantry.
Producer-Director: George Sidney
Screenplay: Claude Binyon, Dorothy Kingsley
Based on a story by Sonya Levien and Leonard Spigelgass and the play Broadway Zauber by Ladislas Bush-Fekete
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Art Director: Ted Haworth, Gunther Gerszo
Music: Johnny Green
Cast: Cantinflas (Pepe), Dan Dailey (Ted Holt), Shirley Jones (Suzie Murphy), William Demarest (Movie Studio Gateman), Ernie Kovacs (Immigration Inspector), Maurice Chevalier, Bing Crosby, Richard Conte, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jimmy Durante, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Greer Garson, Hedda Hopper, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Jay North, Kim Novak, Andre Previn, Donna Reed, Debbie Reynolds, Edward G. Robinson, Cesar Romero, Frank Sinatra, Billie Burke, Ann B. Davis, Charles Coburn, Dean Martin, Tony Curtis (Cameos), Judy Garland (Voice Only).
by Frank Miller
Onscreen credits contain the following written acknowledgment: "With grateful appreciation to the members of the Motion Picture Production Worker's Union of the Republic of Mexico for their splendid cooperation." Onscreen song credits read: "Maurice Chevalier recordings of "September Song" and "Mimi" courtesy of M-G-M Records." According to publicity materials in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, Posa Films Internacional was owned by Cantinflas (whose real name was Mario Moreno) and Jacques Gelman, who is listed as the associate producer of Pepe. Cantinflas' success in the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days led to his starring role in Pepe^.
Although various reviews list the film's length as 190 or 195 minutes, studio records reveal that the actual running time was 180 minutes 29 seconds. It is possible that the running time in the reviews included the film's intermission. The viewed print ran approximately 157 minutes. According to a February 10, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were to create a "Don Quixote" dream sequence. A studio synopsis dated March 21, 1960 in the film's production file includes the sequence, in which "Pepe" dreams he is Don Quixote, protecting his lady from harm. This scene was not in the viewed print.
In onscreen credits, Frank Sinatra's name is followed by "And ? ?," referring to the guest stars who are not credited onscreen. Some of the film's cameo's appearances, which sometimes involved the stars playing minor roles that advanced the plot, and other times merely had them briefly portraying themselves, include the following: Ernie Kovacs portrays a customs official as Pepe crosses the border. As Pepe waits for "Ted Holt" at the studio, he encounters Bing Crosby, who sings a few bars from his popular songs "Pennies from Heaven" and "South of the Border Down Mexico Way" to him. Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jay North, known as "Dennis the Menace" because of a popular television show in which he starred, and Jack Lemmon (wearing his costume from Some Like It Hot, see below) also appear in the studio sequence, but Pepe fails to recognize any of them as celebrities.
Bobby Darin sings "That's How It Went, Alright" at Kelly's Cafe, where André Previn plays the piano and Michael Callan dances with "Suzie Murphy." Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Richard Conte, Dean Martin and "Big" Jack Entratter, president of the Sands Hotel, appear in the Las Vegas sequence, in which Sammy Davis, Jr. also sings "Hooray for Hollywood." In another sequence, miniature figures of Pepe and Debbie Reynolds dance to the music of the hit instrumental "Tequila" while Ted considers taking a swig from his tequila jug. Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, who were married at the time, appear in the scene at an Acapulco resort in which Leigh mistakes Pepe for an official from the censorship board, and Kim Novak helps Pepe pick out an engagement ring in a Mexico City jewelry shop. Cast member Col. E. E. "Buddy" Fogelson was married to Greer Garson, who also appeared in the film.
A March 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item in the "Rambling Reporter" column noted that Columbia wanted Fred Astaire and Judy Garland to star in the film. Although Garland did not appear in the film, her voice is heard singing "Faraway Part of Town." January 1960 Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Natalie Wood, who was originally to play Suzie, pulled out of the film. The studio then considered Barrie Chase and Sandra Church as her replacement. Although various 1960 Hollywood Reporter news items listed Anthony Redondo, George Ford, Roger Ferry, Phil Hartman, Eddie Edell, Barbara Chrysler, Shep Houghton, Mark Lambert and Pedro Galvan in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Although February 1960 Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Robert Young was to make a cameo in the film and Columbia studio head Sam Briskin was to appear in a walk on, neither appeared in the viewed print.
Onscreen credits note that the Las Vegas sequences were photographed at the Sands and Tropicana Hotels in Las Vegas, NV, and the bullfight and fiesta scenes were photographed at Hacienda Vista Hermosa in Mexico. Other Hollywood Reporter news items noted that location filming was also done in Taxco and Acapulco, Mexico, and interiors were filmed at the Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City and the Columbia studios lot in Los Angeles. In the Acapulco sequence, the famed troupe of divers known as the La Perla Divers are shown plunging from steep cliffs into the sea water below.
Modern sources note that location filming was also done in Puebla and Oaxaca, Mexico. According to a June 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, as part of the promotion of the picture, Cantinflas sent out a chronicle of events describing the activities of the company while they were on location. An August 1961 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film was to open with Spanish subtitles at two theaters in Los Angeles. Although a February 1961 Los Angeles Times news item noted that producer-director George Sidney was planning to make a sequel titled Pepe in Paris, that film was never made and consequently, Pepe marked Cantinflas' last American film.
Pepe was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Musical Score; Best Art Direction (Color); Best Costume Design (Color); Best Film Editing; Best Cinematography (Color); and Best Sound. "Faraway Part of Town" was nominated for Best Song.
Released in United States Winter December 1960
Released in United States Winter December 1960