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Although this might be a minor genre movie from Luis Bunuel's Mexican period and, in fact, I had rated it half-a-star less upon first viewing three years ago at London's NFT retrospective, I found myself repeatedly laughing so hard this time around that I decided to boost my opinion of it from an "above-average" to a "good" one. But that is Bunuel for you and, actually, one of the main reasons why he is my all-time favorite film-maker bar none because, no matter how serious the themes he is rigorously treating in any particular work (poverty, adultery, prostitution, etc.), he never sentimentalizes them and takes care to entertain and enlighten his audience at one and the same time.
The storyline is pretty simple: a small-time businessman with perennially misfiring schemes dodges the constant nagging of his wife through his frequent traveling; however, when one night his train is delayed on account of a landslide, he returns home to find the latter in the arms of his best friend. In the ensuing fracas, so as not to take it away from her, she tells him that he is not the father of their child which leads the enraged man to vindictively dump the baby onto the doorstep of the town drunk! Cut to twenty years later (via the ingeniously economical transition of opening and closing a cupboard) and the girl who has blossomed into a good-looking woman seeks to escape the beatings of her foster parent and, inadvertently causing a traffic accident during one of her flights from home, proceeds to fall for her handsome 'road victim' (played by Ruben Rojo, in a similar role to the one he had had in Bunuel's 1949 comedy THE GREAT MADCAP). Her stepsister is a feisty girl with a mind to becoming first an actress and then a chanteuse in a cabaret; this desire eventually brings her into the businessman's locale (amusingly named "L'Infierno") cue a non-gratuitous musical number which not only brings the two siblings together again but also paves the way for the proverbial happy ending in store for everybody (once all the considerable and long-standing misunderstandings have been sorted out) as father and daughter are finally reunited once again. Indeed, in this movie, it is the home environment which breeds distress and pain while, contrary to the norm, it is within the confines of a nightclub that moral wrongs are righted.
What promises to be simply a routine and bland melodrama for women is transformed by Bunuel's deftness for comedy in a well-crafted, very entertaining and unpretentious little movie. Portraying the father as a larger-than-life figure the likes of which Anthony Quinn would virtually make a career out of in a few years, Fernando Soler already twice a star for Bunuel in THE GREAT MADCAP and SUSANA (1951) becomes a veritable nihilist with the passage of time, forever losing his temper with everybody at the slightest provocation To counter this boorish character, Bunuel gives a free hand to his two bumbling (but occasionally ingenious) henchmen perfectly essayed by Fernando "Mantequilla" Soto (who later co-starred in Bunuel's picaresque 1954 film, ILLUSION TRAVELS BY STREETCAR) and Nacho Contla (as a character named Jonron, a broken English rendition of his favorite catchphrase, "Home Run"!). While these two start out as antagonists the former a bouncer/croupier and the latter a gun-toting, shamelessly cheating gambler in a hilariously ineffective confrontation early on in the film, they eventually become buddies when hired (and, subsequently, slave-driven) by their anguished employer Soler to seek out his missing daughter. Before long, however, they start devising cleverly funny schemes with which to deceive their boss into believing that they had been "running across half of Mexico" in hot pursuit of their quarry...when actually they had been eating and drinking their time away!
Having said that, the dramatic stages of the movie a couple breaking up and the father unknowingly humiliating his daughter when they meet again many years later reminded me of two Josef von Sternberg movies respectively BLONDE VENUS (1932) and THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941); the gambling subtext here is also another connection to the latter. Even if Bunuel never really enjoyed the same reputation as a visual stylist like that Austrian émigré, I must say that I was impressed (and surprised) by how exceedingly well lit this film was. Speaking of Austrian auteurs, the fact that Bunuel had already been involved in adapting the same source novel "Don Quintin The Bitter" for the screen back in his native Spain in 1935 (there was even a 1925 Silent) and only got to make his own version long afterwards (shot in just 20 days and released on my own mother's sixth birthday!) equates it with a similar occurrence in his own cinematic idol's career i.e Fritz Lang's epic Indian diptych of 1958-59, which had already been filmed as THE Indian TOMB in 1921 (by Joe May), and further remade by other hands in the interim (in 1938)! Actually, the new title DAUGHTER OF DECEIT is a misnomer since the wife swears the girl is Soler's anyway; in fact, it would have done better to keep the original one since Don Quintin is clearly the protagonist of the piece.
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