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Johnny Riggs, a con man on the lam, finds himself in a Latin-American country named Patria. There, he overhears a convent-bred rich girl praying to her guardian angel for help in managing her tangled business affairs. Riggs decides to materialize as the girl's "angel", gains her unquestioning confidence, and helps himself to the deluded girl's millions. Just as he and his partner are about to flee Patria with their booty, Riggs realizes he has fallen in love with the girl and returns the money, together with a note that is part confession and part love letter. But the larcenous duo's escape from Patria turns out to be more difficult than they could ever have imagined.Written by
Dan Navarro <email@example.com>
It's impossible to hate any film with Fred Astaire, Frank Morgan and Mildred Natwick giving their considerable all, but it's awfully hard to like any film with such forgettable songs (out of Harry Warren's bottom drawer), forgettable dances inspired by them from choreographer Eugene Loring (except for the promising percussive *introduction* to an ultimately dreary number called "Coffee Time") and a script that never pays off on a single one of its satiric possibilities.
At it's best, the old "studio system" of production by second guessing and committee could produce masterpieces. At its muddled worst, it produced things like YOLANDA AND THE THIEF and blamed them on the cast. Coming at about the middle of Fred Astaire's long film career, and early in Lucille Bremer's four year one, it couldn't ultimately hurt Astaire who would be back on top in three years with EASTER PARADE (interesting that his brief "retirement" in response to this turkey is not remembered in the same way Bette Davis's similarly motivated walkout from another studio is for his being "difficult"), but it did nothing to promote Bremer's career despite what looked like acceptable dancing and at least minimal acting skills and a certain homogenized beauty.
Chief blame would appear to lie with Irving Brecher's script from Ludwig Bemelmans & Jacques Thery's nasty little fairy tale of a story. Trading on the worst stereotypes of the evils of a Convent education (not that a too sheltered education isn't a bad thing), Bremer's "Yolanda" is too naive to be believed and a victim looking for a crime. Only those ALMOST as naive in the audience will not recognize Leon Ames's "Mr. Candle" character immediately for what he turns out to be, and the simple (even expected) plot twists which could make his character and Mildred Natwick's "Aunt Amarilla" interesting are never forthcoming.
Only Natwick's self centered monologue when Bremer returns to her home from the convent rises above the rest of the script and is very funny - creating hopes for what follows that never pay off. The final scene of the film is so perfunctory you get the impression the studio told Minnelli to wrap up filming regardless of what was left to do - but fans of the British sci-fi sitcom "Red Dwarf" may be amused to note that the central gimmick of the scene (and the film's only moment of misdirection or real irony) was stolen years later as the basis for a Red Dwarf episode in its first season.
Among things which ARE of interest in the film: the man who went on to become the great Broadway dancer and choreographer, Matt Mattox, is buried somewhere in the innocuous mess as an unbilled "featured dancer." One wonders if the (uncredited) "Dilettante" played by an actor calling himself "Andre Charlot" is any relation to the great British producer who introduced Gertrude Lawrence and Beatrice Lillie to U.S. shores for the first time in the 1920's?
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