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It's pretty lightweight, but "La Cucaracha" is fun to watch, and it is
not without a couple of clever touches to go with the colorful setting,
the likable characters, and the simple story. The early Technicolor
still looks pretty good, and it has held up better than the sound (as
the other reviewers here have mentioned, the sound is sometimes a bit
muddled). It also has a good energy level and an upbeat feel to it.
Steffi Duna stars as a café singer in love with the dancer who also performs there. She becomes worried when a visiting impresario considers taking the dancer to the city to give him his big break, so she makes plans to disrupt his visit. Duna works well in the part, since she is attractive in a mischievous sort of way, and she makes the simple character believable. Paul Porcasi, so often cast in tiny parts, gets a chance to play a larger role here, and he is well cast as Martinez.
The story is somewhat predictable, but pleasant, and it has some funny moments. The whole movie works pretty well for a short feature of its era and genre.
... even if the film is rather pointless. Made by RKO to show off the
sumptuous three-strip Technicolor process for the first time (after several
two-strip bits and full-length features had been made through the period of
1929-1933), La Cucaracha is very thin on story - it is mostly set in a bar
with dancing, singing (the title song, obviously), and a bit of
The sound quality wasn't brilliant but the visual quality can't be faulted. This movie is on DVD as an extra to RKO's Dixiana (itself boasting beautiful two-strip colour in the final sequences) but is really on worth a look for historical interest.
Well worth finding a copy; the first live-action 3-strip Technicolor film is very pretty to watch (note in particular the beautiful blues in some of the costumes), is well-timed, and has a funny set piece in which the pompous theatre owner gets a well-deserved commupance from the fiery lady. The only problem is that the sound quality of the Roan DVD, which I have, was not very good, and made it very difficult to understand some of the dialogue. I probably would have given this a higher rating than the 7 I gave it, if the sound quality had been better. All the same, I recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Singer Chatita (Steffi Duna) does not want her dancer lover Pancho (Don Alvarado) to get an offer from theater producer Esteban Martinez (Paul Porcasi). So she pretends to serve Martinez food and insults him at various times. After she sings the short's title song, Pancho then does a dance with his partner as Chatita tries to sabotage it by reprising her song. Martinez, seeing the results, offers them both a job just before the rest of the dancers with the leads close the show. Historical because of the first use of three-strip Technicolor in live action, I found myself entertained by all the Hispanic surroundings and amused by the deep red face that resulted when the producer customer ate his Tabasco filled food! The plot was slight but great music throughout makes this one of the most entertaining shorts I've ever seen. Worth a look for any film enthusiasts.
This famous experimental short apparently was the first 20 minute film released in full three strip Technicolor in August 1934. However there are two other shorts possibly filmed earlier but released a month later which are equally gorgeous: GOOD MORNING EVE and SERVICE WITH A SMILE both made for Warner Bros Vitaphone. The notion that these other two were filmed earlier can be confirmed by the fact that they are Hayes code risqué whereas LA CUCARACHA made for Pioneer Pictures at RKO is a lot more tame, even though it got into cinemas a bit ahead. LA CUCARACHA is the least bouncy of the three but has a Technicolor image dripping with oil-painting richness. It is very much like DUEL IN THE SUN made in 1946. LA CUCARACHA is completely Mexican-Spanish and as a breathtaking visual depiction of a Cantina dinner/dance it makes for truly beautiful viewing. It clearly was also made to test the thoroughness of the Technicolor palette in preparation for the full length feature BECKY SHARP produced at RKO few months later. The WB pair are more fun to watch because of their snazzy vaudeville style and art deco madness. LA CUCARACHA is more serious in tone but ha equally astounding use of color. If you can see all three shorts in quick succession and in excellent DVD clarity you will quickly become a dedicated fan of 30s Technicolor. Each are a revelation. This one has studio lit greens and orange hues in a Spanish style that will have you gasping out loud.
"La Cucaracha" is a short that features lots of singing and
dancing....and about a billion choruses of the song! Yes, THAT
song...the one about cockroaches. Señor Martinez comes to the cantina
looking for talent for his shows. Conchita is afraid that Martinez will
take away Pancho, so she spends most of the film annoying Martinez--to
drive him off!
"La Cucaracha" is a film that would have been completely forgotten over the years except for one thing--it's the first color film made using true color. Let me explain. In the early part of the 20th century, a few films actually were hand-painted--and the results were color...or sorts. Later, two-color processed (such as Two Color Technicolor and Cinecolor) were developed and the results were fair. The problem was that the films looked very orange and very green and a true spectrum of colors was absent. So, for example, true blues were not possible with the films. Now when you see "La Cucaracha", you might not be very impressed with the color. It looks garish--and a lot like it's been colorized but with much more vibrant colors (particularly blues and yellows). I am not sure if this ugly look is because of the effects of time and degradation on the film stock, the quality of the new Three Color Technicolor or because the 'experts' just didn't know what they were doing since it was such a new thing. But, regardless, the film is mega-important from a historical perspective. And, by the way, some might think "Becky Sharp" was the first full-color film. It's actually the first full-color FULL-LENGTH film--"La Cucaracha" was a short. Overall, the film is mildly entertaining and moderately funny--but nothing more. It's only fair entertainment but for film buffs it's a must-see.
La Cucaracha (1934)
** (out of 4)
This Oscar-nominated film is rather short on story, which takes a backseat to the studio's use of Technicolor. The film tells the story of a Spanish singer (Steffi Duna) who is worried that her lover/dancer (Don Alvarado) is about to be taken away for a bigger gig so she goes out of her way to ruin his meeting with the producer (Paul Porcasi). This short is certainly very hit and miss because while the story is rather bland, the performances and look of the movie are top notch. I really enjoyed the visual look of the film and the print quality is still strong enough to show off the rather good looking colors. Just take a look early in the film at a greenish colored cape, which just looks marvelous. I also enjoyed all three of the main characters due in large part to the fun performances with Duna really sticking out with her beauty and charm. With that said, the story is pretty weak and the movie goes by at a snail's pace.
I sought this out because I'm on a quest to understand the influence of
Spanish-speaking filmmakers. I'm really impressed with the current crop
wherever they live. Surely there's a literary tradition of folding
behind this: Cervantes, Borges, Cortazar...
Now this isn't quite a Spanish film, it is by gringos and only references Spanish idioms. But it is interesting nonetheless.
It is the first film made with the three strip Technicolor process, so it is an audition of sorts. And the audition is for color and spice, if you will.
So the story centers on an audition and on spice, both wrapped in Spanish trappings. That allows our performers in the show within the show to be colorful, especially with greens and blues. Very nice.
The fellow that has to be pleased has an encounter with the girl who we are to receive as sexy. He blushes and a subtle red light is used on his face. Pretty good. The folding here is that the judge in the on screen audience likes the "color." And we are meant to as well.
Then there's a bit with two warring numbers, one the title song that mentions marijuana.
Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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