I'm amazed that there are no comments on this movie, which is one of the best musicals I have ever seen in a lifetime of watching a lot of movie musicals.
It is a film version of the stage show Le Chanteur de Mexico, which was one of the great hits of the French musical theater in the years immediately after WWII. I haven't seen the stage version, so I can't speak to how closely the movie follows it. I can say, however, that the movie shows the influence of the 1950s Technicolor musicals that Hollywood was making in an effort to lure new television buyers away from their sets and back into movie theaters, which they had deserted. In addition, you can see the influence of some earlier French movie musicals, like Le Marriage de Ramuntcho (1946), the first French full-color feature-length film, which also made use of Basque local color.
Indeed, local color is big in this movie, as it was in the travelogues that also filled theaters in the US and France in the 1950s, something else that television couldn't yet offer. The movie starts off with scenes in the Basque region (that very much recall similar scenes in the Marriage of Ramuntcho), then moves on to Paris with views from high up on the Eiffel Tower, carriage rides through the streets of the city, etc., that recall Gigi. Then we're off to Mexico, with lots of scenes of festivals and more local color, Alcapulco, etc.
In the end, however, what counts here is not the Eastmancolor or the glimpses of the world American tourists were just starting to discover. It's the music, which is wonderful and very memorable, and the performances.
The star is the tenor, Luis Moriano, who was sort of a French equivalent of Mario Lanza. He had a powerful, beautiful voice, capable of very impressive high notes (and a better technique for handling soft passages and fioritura; he had actually sung opera in the theater and studied it seriously). He wasn't a great actor, and he wasn't as handsome as Lanza (when the later kept his weight under control), but his looks and acting didn't detract from the very real excitement that his singing awakened. His delivery of the title song is riveting.
Every bit his equal is Bourvil, a great actor (and a very good singer, though with no voice to speak of) who was good in pretty much everything he did. You have to speak French to appreciate him; he's good at physical comedy, and there's lots of it for him in this movie, but it's his way of delivering lines that made him a great actor in comedy as well as drama. His two numbers in this film are true masterpieces.
Annie Cordy is good in a Jane Powell-meets-Edith-Piaf sort of way. The rest of the cast is fine.
The only thing that is below par in this movie is the choreography. Compared to what Hollywood had been doing for two decades, the dance numbers here are strictly amateur.
In short, a truly great movie musical, and one that anyone who loves the genre should definitely see.
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