Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pulgarcito (Mexico, 1958)

Given it is a companion to Roberto Rodriguez’s scarifying Little Red Riding Hood films and was directed by Rene Cardona, who would later give us Night of the Bloody Apes and Survive!, Pulgarcito is surprisingly lightweight. Gone are the bizarre creatures, animal costumes and grotesque humor of the Riding Hood films, replaced by lots of child friendly capering to and fro. Of course, I watched the Spanish language version of the film, so I was spared the tone deaf dubbing and squalling musical numbers of K. Gordon Murray’s American release version.

Tom Thumb has received numerous literary treatments over the centuries, probably the most well-known being Charles Perrault’s Le Petit Poucet, upon which Pulgarcito (which no one ever has referred to as “Mexican Tom Thumb”) is based. Long a fixture of English folklore, the character first saw print in the late seventeenth century, with the publication of Henry Fielding’s The Tragedy of Tragedies, or the History of Tom Thumb the Great. This was purportedly a tome rife with crude scatological humor, as tiny Tom Thumb is repeatedly consumed—either by accident of design—by a variety of beasts and humans before being shat or vomited out.

Disappointingly, Cardona’s Pulgarcito chooses not to follow this path and instead bases its shenanigans on the more kid-friendly versions of Tom Thumb that have emerged in the years since Fielding’s treatment. True, the threat of Tom being eaten does inspire much of the aforementioned capering to and fro that takes place, but Cardona always pulls short of actually having this happen. Rodriguez’s La Caperucita Rojas, by contrast, pulled no punches in depicting the wolf’s fantasy of a gruesomely roasted Little Red Riding Hood laid out on a platter before him.

The story here sees Tom and his six normal sized brothers (is it okay to say “normal” in this context, or will I be accused of harboring some kind of stature-phobia?) fall afoul of an ogre played by Santa Claus’ Jose Elias Moreno. The ogre chases them all over the forest, brandishing a nasty looking knife and presumably saying something along the lines of “Get in my belly!” Finally they seek shelter with a sympathetic crone who turns out to be the ogre’s wife (the heavily made-up Maria Elena Marques). They are in the ogre’s house, and upon his return find themselves hanging from the kitchen wall like so many plucked chickens.

Tom Thumb/Pulgarcito is played by Cesareo Quezadas, a diminutive child actor who, from this point on, was doomed to have ‘Pulgarcito’ affixed to his name in the credits of whatever film he appeared in—including this film’s synergy happy follow-up Caperucita y Pulgarcito contra los Monstruos. In depicting his small size, the makers of the film admirably eschew the process shots used by so many in their stead and instead use a series of forced perspective compositions that are impressive as long as you don’t care about the relative sizes of Quezadas and his co-stars remaining consistent throughout the film. The same can be said for the numerous oversized props and set elements. All in all, Tom’s size fluctuates from that of a large hamster to something I’ll call “approximate Weng Weng” from shot to shot.

Eventually Tom and his bros devise to defeat the ogre by cleaning his house while he is out and introducing his seven filthy daughters to a bar of soap--in other words, attacking his very ogre way of life. In the course of tidying up, the ogre’s wife finds her old magic wand and, in a glittery climax, transforms herself back into the beautiful fairy princess she once was (Maria Elena Marques again, but heavily made up in a different way.) Amazingly, this works, and the ogre, surrounded by so much cleanliness and beauty, finds the ice on his glacial heart summarily melting away. True, he may have consumed many terrified human beings in his day, but he is now nice, allowing us all to dance in celebration as the curtain falls. (Er, SPOILER)

And I, too, can dance. Because Pulgarcito is the last of these Mexican fairy tale movies that I have to watch, freeing me to move on to other sources of grotesque kiddie fare for your esteemed delectation. Of course, I wish that it had been more gross and disturbing, but you can’t have everything.

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