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The Great Madcap (1949)
"El gran calavera" (original title)

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Buñuel's first "comeback" film since "L'Age d'Or" in 1930 (he made only a few musicals in the interim), "El Gran Calavera" concerns a family's attempts to change the patriarch's somewhat ... See full summary »



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Title: The Great Madcap (1949)

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Cast overview:
Fernando Soler ...
Ramiro de la Mata
Rosario Granados ...
Virginia de la Mata
Andrés Soler ...
Ladislao de la Mata
Rubén Rojo ...
Gustavo Rojo ...
Eduardo de la Mata
Maruja Grifell ...
Francisco Jambrina ...
Gregorio de la Mata
Luis Alcoriza ...
Antonio Bravo ...
Antonio Monsell ...
Juan, mayordomo
María Luisa Serrano ...
Mamá de Alfredo


Buñuel's first "comeback" film since "L'Age d'Or" in 1930 (he made only a few musicals in the interim), "El Gran Calavera" concerns a family's attempts to change the patriarch's somewhat indulgent and hedonistic ways by fooling him into thinking his large fortune is gone. They assume a life of poverty in Mexico in an attempt to teach him a lesson. However, he discovers it's a ruse, but continues to perpetuate the facade of ignorance while sneaking off during the day to conduct his thriving business. Why? To teach his family a lesson - they are all lazy, worthless leeches! Written by Mark Toscano <>

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Release Date:

25 November 1949 (Mexico)  »

Also Known As:

The Great Madcap  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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User Reviews

THE GREAT MADCAP (Luis Bunuel, 1949) **1/2
19 October 2010 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

The first film I caught (on the very same night of my arrival in London) from the Luis Bunuel retrospective – held in January 2007 at the National Film Theatre – was this modest but pleasant character comedy, his second film in Mexico and his (official) fifth overall. The humorous opening shot – of a burly man looking for his itching foot among a pile of limbs belonging to a bunch of closely confined sleeping jailbirds – is a memorable one and immediately plunges you into the hedonistic life of the protagonist. Fernando Soler – later also the star of Bunuel's SUSANA and DAIGHTER OF DECEIT (both 1951) – is a wealthy patriarch in constant alcoholic reverie: a state which his loafing, leeching relatives (daughter, son, an older brother and his wife) have no qualms with since it allows them to effortlessly cajole him on a daily basis into financing their every whim. However, the man's younger psychiatrist brother and his attorney decide to drastically put a stop to this shameful lifestyle that is speedily sending the man's business affairs careening towards bankruptcy. To this end, they devise a shrewd charade which, however, works only too well for all concerned…

As a matter of fact, while the original intention was to scare Soler into sobriety by making him believe that his relatives had been driven into abject poverty by his reckless ways (a realization which almost costs the man his life!), subsequently he decides to keep up (or rather down) the appearances so that he teaches them all a lesson in recognizing the worth of having a useful occupation in life. Therefore, the son (reduced to polishing shoes) is gleefully announcing his intention to enroll at the University by the end of the film; the cantankerous older brother – after much grumbling and role-playing – not only takes a real liking to his new job as a carpenter but even goes so far as to ask that his brother finance a furniture factory for him; and his hypochondriac, pill-popping wife becomes a proper cook…besides washing tonnes of dirty laundry! On the other hand, the lovely daughter (played by a blonde Rosario Granados, later of 1952's A WOMAN WITHOUT LOVE), who was always the most decent of the lot to begin with, falls for her handsome 'traveling salesman' of a new neighbor (Ruben Rojo, who was also in DAUGHTER OF DECEIT). But even this one bright spot in their miserable lives is fraught with bumpy rides as her former intended (played by Bunuel's frequent screen writing collaborator on his Mexican films, Luis Alcoriza), seemingly distraught by their unfortunate predicament, comes to reclaim her. But saner minds prevail at the climactic wedding which is, first disturbed by the still hopeful salesman plying his trade on the loudspeaker of his van parked right outside the church and, finally, by the father's outburst inside at the mother-in-law's whiskers (an amusing running gag)!!

While the director's previous movie, GRAN CASINO (1947), was a largely impersonal (and highly atypical) work within the Musical genre, Bunuel still inserted some unheralded and jarringly surreal elements into the mix which did not go do well with audiences and prompted another two year hiatus for him (who was already coming from fifteen years of fruitless exile)! Consequently, in the film under review, he readily submitted to the conventions of Mexican comedy and to the specific expectations of Soler's considerable fan base. Even so, it still emerges as a recognizably Bunuelian effort: the finale, in particular, with the aforementioned church disturbances, the fleeing bride – chronologically, the film falls approximately in between the Oscar-winning Hollywood classics IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and THE GRADUATE (1967) – and, in its very last shot of Soler's family walking triumphantly hand-in-hand with their back to the camera, it clear prefigures the virtually identical one that closes Bunuel's own Oscar-winning chef d'oeuvre THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972). Having said that. Bunuel's recurring stylistic staples of foot fetishism and dream states had already been touched upon much earlier: respectively, in the very opening shot and Soler's incredulous awakening into his new impoverished existence; indeed, the latter might well be the most sympathetic bourgeois character the director ever depicted. Ultimately, it seems that we owe Bunuel's increasingly burgeoning career and the future cinematic milestones it spawned to the box office success of THE GREAT MADCAP – which might explain the film's availability on DVD in the U.K.

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