Monday, February 1, 2010

Conquistador de la Luna (Mexico, 1960)


Nothing is more hilarious than people going to the Moon by accident. Whether it's Alice Kramden being sent hurtling onto the lunar surface by the force of her husband's intemperate fists (a scenario which I must point out combines that already winning concept with the innate hilariousness of domestic violence) or reluctant Egyptian astronauts raiding their rocket ship's minibar to comic effect, the idea always pays off in comic gold. By contrast, the project of going to the moon on purpose has become so boring that we don't even bother to do it anymore. Perhaps, in order to get the American public behind the space program again, we should forget about trained astronauts and instead send up some hapless NASA handymen or janitors in those rockets. I understand it's just a matter of leaning on the wrong lever.

In the case of the 1960 Mexican production Conquistador de la Luna, our chief astro-not is played by Antonio Espino, aka "Clavillazo", one of the top Mexican screen comedians of the late 50s. Here Espino plays Bartolo, an eccentric electrician whose home is rigged with all kinds of Rube Goldberg style contraptions for the purpose of performing even the least labor-intensive domestic tasks. It's a charming and amusing introduction that generates a lot of goodwill toward the somewhat rote but inoffensive space travel anti-epic that follows. In fact Conquistador so closely follows the same, Three Stooges-inspired template as the earlier reviewed Egyptian Ismail Yasin vehicle A Trip to the Moon -- made just a year earlier -- that the two films could have been separated at birth.

Once Ismail -- oops, sorry! -- I mean, Bartolo is called to the home of an irascible rocket scientist to deal with a routine electrical issue, things pretty much fall into lockstep. Our hero wanders onto the launch site of said scientist's moon-bound rocket ship, and then onto the vessel itself, where also can be found the scientist's attractive young daughter, Estela (Ana Luisa Pelufo), who is in the process of doing some kind of routine pre-launch check -- and at which point the remainder of the film flashes before our mind's eye like our lives might upon taking an unfortunate misstep off a steep cliff. The fateful lever is leaned upon, and we are soon treated to a rushed accounting of the perils peculiar to space travel as depicted in 1950s movies -- the unflattering effects of g-force on the human face, the copious yuks afforded by anti-gravity -- before the couple's transport touches down upon the Moon's surface a couple of minutes later. Interestingly, we do not get the narrowly-avoided meteor shower that other such movies have made us feel entitled to, but I imagine this is only because Conquistador director Rogelio A. Gonzales couldn't find the appropriate stock footage.

Conquistador de la Luna is the product of Producciones Sotomayor, the same outfit that was later responsible for teaming up Santo and Blue Demon for the first time -- and who are thus due the same heartfelt gratitude as the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup people. Like a lot of Mexican films of the 50s and early 60s, its set-bound sequences boast a slick look and high level of technical execution that seem to defy somewhat the constraints of what must have been a fairly tiny budget. Where that budget seems to have cut deep, however, is in the area of the film's special effects, which are largely accomplished by simply splicing in mismatched footage from a bunch of other movies. This is a fairly standard aspect of the old school Mexican approach to sci-fi, of course, as exhibited in films like the Blue Demon effort Aranas Infernales, which gave second life to Plan 9 From Outer Space's hubcap flying saucers, and the heavily Eiji Tsuburaya-indebted Santo contra Blue Demon en la Atlantida. I couldn't tick off every movie that Conquistador borrows special effects shots from -- mostly what I recognized was from either Warning From Space or Devil Girl From Mars -- but a real sci-fi buff could have a field day, perhaps even inventing some kind of drinking game around the movie. As fun as that might be, however, this cut-and-paste approach ends up undermining the good works done by the film's actual crew, giving the end product a pretty uneven feel.

That said, it's not as if Conquistador, thanks to its make-up and costuming departments, doesn't have some low rent visual thrills of its own up its sleeve. Very shortly after their arrival on the moon, Bartolo and Estela, true to form, are captured by some of its inhabitants -- in this case a band of menacing critters who look not unlike Sleestaks -- who take them to their home far beneath the lunar surface. Once this has happened, it's not long before a four-armed, female member of the Moon Sleestak community by the name of Warm has taken a shine to Bartolo.


And it seems like an equal shine has been taken to Estrela by the Sleestak's ruler, a giant disembodied brain with his own built-in sprinkler system and a giant eyeball on a tentacle-like stalk.

(The eyeball is an especially nice creation for how, in addition to undulating queasily on the end of its stalk, it constantly oozes slime. Nice touch!)


Soon the brain has Estrela dressed for marriage in a sparkly showgirl outfit and is regaling her with the details of his plan to destroy the Earth with some kind of super-weapon that will unleash all kinds of stock footage of famine and natural disasters (among which are some seriously mellow-harshing shots of dying animals). Of course, supervillain plans are made to be broken, and so Bartolo, somehow suddenly endowed with the power of invisibility (sorry, no subtitles), is soon putting paid to this scheme and returning to Earth with Estela on his arm to receive the well-earned gratitude of the Mexican people.

Conquistador de la Luna ends up being an enjoyable if utterly inessential watch, mainly because Clavillazo's comedy seems to be rooted more in being cheeky and resourceful than in being cowardly and shrill like so many of his comic peers. I think it also helped that I couldn't understand what was being said. Without such distractions I was left to take it all in a state similar to that of the ship that deposits our hero at his lunar destination: on auto pilot.

10 comments:

cheap sdhc karte said...

So, 5 stars is pretty grateful, because I HATED Kristens acting, but on the other hand I LOVED the acting of the other characters (Edward was better than in the 1st part, and Billy Burke and Dakota fanning really lighted up this movie with their amazing acting)

Todd said...

Scary. The spam-bots are developing a sense of humor. I don't even want to delete that one.

Todd said...

Unless it was written by a Cylon. Are you a Cylon?

houseinrlyeh said...

Well, it seems to have a plan.

memsaab said...

Sleestaks! I forgot about them! I loved them!

And I ADORE the last two screen shots.

Tars Tarkas said...

What the heck is Judge Doom doing on the Moon? Watch out for the dip, moon toons!

iZombie said...

looks like sausages around their space suit necks!

Katherine Esperanza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katherine Esperanza said...

I'm watching this on a classic Mexican movie channel. After Bartolo offers Warm a shot (the effects on him can be seen in your last screen grab), telling her that it's magic, she states that it's just alcohol which Martian kids drink. Oh, did I not mention that the aliens are actually Martians with a base on our moon? Well, they are. Anywho, Warm drops a silver ball which Bartolo picks up and makes him invisible.

Todd said...

Thank you, Katherine! Your translation helps me appreciate this film on a whole new level.