Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From the Lucha Diaries Vaults: Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias (Mexico, 1965)

Judging from the costume worn by the titular hero of Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias, I'd have to guess that Rocambole is Spanish for "check out my junk". You can make your own call based on the picture that accompanies this review, but to me that emblem on his chest looks like an arrow showing us the direct route downtown.

For this and many, many other reasons, las Mujeres Arpias is a truly silly movie, one that I'm sure will provide lots of amusement for those who can put aside -- or revel in -- its backward gender politics. How could you expect any less from a film whose super hero sports a uniform incorporating a truckstop novelty tee-shirt? I only wish that Rocambole's sidekick wore a costume as well, so that he could have one of those sex position zodiac symbols on it.

Anyway, you've got to wonder what's up with this war between the sexes we see playing out in lucha films. We've so far seen masked wrestlers set upon by female vampires (both women and girls), witches, mini-skirted femaliens, just plain diabolical women, and now... harpies? In keeping with this spirit, Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias taps into female villainy at its very root, giving us bad guys who make a group of chorus girls literal slaves to their vanity by injecting them with a fugly-making drug and then bribing them to commit crimes with the promise of a temporary antidote.

Of course, not a one among these women -- even Rocambole's trusty girl friday -- is willing to sacrifice her beauty for the moral high ground, and so the harpies are born. To be fair, we're not just talking about run of the mill, every day fuglitude here, but rather the kind of full bore, mirror cracking, oatmeal-faced fugilaciousness that makes adults and babies alike cry in terror and confuses dogs into thinking they should bury the one afflicted. (Not to put too fine a point on it.)

Entrenched in the Wrestlers vs. Women film cycle as it is, contra las Mujeres Arpias sets itself apart from the pack by not providing male henchman for the physical tussles with the hero and instead has Rocambole actually slugging it out with the women themselves (or, in most cases, obvious male doubles in bad drag). These fights are actually quite brutal, and Rocambole -- not the nicest of masked Mexican movie heroes -- actually seems to be getting off on it a little bit. He just really likes to hit people, it seems, and it's a testament to just how thick the cheese is sliced here that this never manages to come off as repellent as it probably should.

Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias is one of those movies that skirts the margins of what can really be considered lucha cinema, and, to be honest, I'm mainly including it to mix things up. Rocambole, like Neutron, is a fictional character (loosely based on a 19th century French pulp hero, it seems), and, while his look and fighting style are similar to those of a luchadore, he's not presented as a professional wrestler. Instead, he's essentially a traditional super hero who, when he's not in his ridiculous costume, wows nightclub crowds as a stage magician who's sort of a one man Ed Sullivan show, punctuating the pulling of bouquets from his sleeve by exhibiting his skills as a ventriloquist, knife thrower and escape artist. It may just be a function of his troubling resemblance to Bob Saget that makes actor Julio Aleman's suave take on this alter ego come off as more smarmy than was probably intended. But it just makes it all the more enjoyable when he has to put on that stupid looking costume. It's like his punishment for being creepy.

Do I recommend Rocambole contra las Mujeres Arpias? Well, yes; just as I implicitly recommend any film that I don't specifically say should be avoided. Like a lot of these movies, it clearly has issues, but if there's a cry for help in there somewhere, I wasn't able to hear it over the sound of my own laughter.


Check out more of my reviews of classic lucha movies at The Lucha Diaries!

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