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-Established 1997-

page added: 6/27/11

The Spin Sheet

DVD-R review by Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits

The Mexican Spitfire Collection (DVD-R)

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The Mexican Spitfire Collection
1939-1943 (2011) - RKO (Warner Archive)
Released on DVD-R on May 3rd, 2011

Dolby Digital

Film Ratings: B+ (collective average for the 8 films)
Video (1-10): 7.5
Audio (1-10): 7
Extras: E

Movie series were a staple of both minor and major studios in classic Hollywood. Columbia was probably the most prolific of any in this regard with the likes of Ellery Queen, Boston Blackie, The Lone Wolf, Blondie, and The Whistler, but others were active too. For example, MGM had Andy Hardy, Maisie, Thin Man, and Dr. Kildare.

Universal had Sherlock Holmes, Ma and Pa Kettle, and Francis the Taking Mule. Paramount had Henry Aldrich. 20th Century Fox had the Cisco Kid, Charlie Chan, Michael Shayne, and Mr. Moto. RKO had Hildegarde Withers, The Falcon, The Saint, and Mexican Spitfire. The studio system was ideal for such fare. It had a requirement for shorter second features to fill the lower half of theatre double bills and it had the means to turn them out efficiently due to its need to keep contract players busy as well as provide opportunities for breaking in newly-signed performers. Standing sets for major productions were also handy for use in the B series productions too.

RKO's Mexican Spitfire films did not begin with the thought of a series. The initial entry was 1939's The Girl from Mexico, a B comedy intended to showcase the talents of fiery Mexican beauty Lupe Velez. In it she is discovered in Mexico by Donald Woods who is searching for talent for a client of his advertising agency. The two eventually fall in love when she returns to New York with him. That complicates matters as Woods is already engaged to be married. Playing Woods' uncle Matt is the veteran funnyman Leon Errol. Lupe finds in him a kindred spirit and the two manage to get into several complicated situations while on the town. The film was a big success due to both Velez's personality and the film's farcical aspects involving Errol, and the result in typical Hollywood fashion was the sequel Mexican Spitfire that appeared later the same year. That film really marked the beginning of the series as such.

In Mexican Spitfire, an additional opportunity to showcase Leon Errol's talents was introduced in the character of Lord Epping. Epping was a British aristocrat fond of his scotch and intent on marketing his personal brand in America through Woods' agency. Much of the film's plot revolved around Errol who played effectively three characters - Epping, uncle Matt, and uncle Matt pretending to be Epping. The complications are obvious and well realized by the film. Otherwise the plot centred on Matt's wife (Elizabeth Risdon) attempting to break up Woods marriage to Carmelita. These shenanigans pretty much set the template for the rest of the series. The Woods character decreased in importance (with Woods being replaced by Charles Buddy Rogers and Walter Reed as Carmelita's husband in later entries). Focus increasingly centred on Velez and Errol, with the Lord Epping character always around to stir the plot. There were six more films in total: Mexican Spitfire Out West (1940), Mexican Spitfire's Baby (1941), Mexican Spitfire at Sea (1942), Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942), Mexican Spitfire's Elephant (1942), and Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event (1943). All are entertaining little films although it's not recommended to watch more than one at a sitting as the plots and the Lord Epping contrivances tend to resemble one another after the first couple of entries. Every film though has several bits of great comic ingenuity from Errol that are usually laugh-out-loud funny. Mexican Spitfire Out West (Carmelita goes to Reno for a divorce), Mexican Spitfire's Baby (a French war orphan arranged by uncle Matt as a diversion for Carmelita proves to be a little older than expected), and Mexican Spitfire's Elephant (Matt is unwittingly the pawn of some smugglers on a ship) are marginally the best of the last six entries in the series.

The eight films are available in a very welcome release from the Warner Archive of MOD discs. It's a four disc set with each DVD-R containing two films. Though the films have not been restored, the image quality (full frame as originally released) is very good and uniformly so across the eight films. Blacks are quite deep, contrast is above average, and only some speckles and the odd scratch intrude. Image sharpness and detail should be pleasing to most viewers. The mono sound is also in good shape, with hiss and distortion minimal. Dialogue is consistently clear. There are no subtitles. Technically, there are no supplements either, but then who needs them when you're getting eight films.

It's great to see Warner Bros. delivering the B series films in its Archive. Recently we had a set of Tim Holt westerns released and now The Mexican Spitfire Collection has arrived, to much appreciation. Highly recommended.

Barrie Maxwell
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