Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yolanda and the Thievery of American Idealism

I don't often write reviews of films I dislike because I wouldn't want to trample all over some soul who loves it with the grace of an elephant on roller skates. It often comes down to a why, why, why does a film push all the wrong buttons? How can the likes of Fred Astaire and Vincente Minnelli be reduced to sultry six year olds swiping their sticky fingers across all 36 floors? I take Yolanda and the Thief (1945) as a challenge. On the surface it's a candy coated Brother's Grimm, but its core is mid-40s America. While film noir and the notorious femme fatale are often terms most associated with post-war angst, Yolanda and the Thief indicates ways the post-war musical also bears witness to fear of the independent woman.

The film is set in the mythical land of Patria, somewhere between South America and Burbank. As in, it's South America, clearly set in Burbank.

Save the drama for your llama.

After some villagers sing and a group of girls in a convent shower together (because who doesn't think 'wet t-shirt contest' whenever they pass their local church...) Johnny (Fred Astaire) and Victor (Frank Morgan) come rumbling and grumbling in on a train, two con men out for some quick dough. Their plight provides the major plot line for the film. Other characters include:


Yolanda (Lucille Bremer) in a get up enforcing the notion that a woman's only worth is her ability to look like a pre-teen milkmaid.


Overly precocious loud-mouthed child


Man with fake mustache

Johnny and Victor find out that the heir to a large fortune is none other than young and unassuming Yolanda, prime for the picking. After determining the girl's religious nature Astaire decides to pretend to be her guardian angel. In gaining her complete trust he is able to force her to give up her millions. But I'm sure you can guess what happens instead, so I'm not even going to waste the type.

What is of note in the film is the one of these things is not like the other cherry picked social statements which don't seem to fit in with the otherworldly surroundings.

Yolanda's economic circumstances are introduced through a series of billboards that pass the train windows at the beginning of the film reading Aquaviva Gasoline fuels the nation [sic], Fly Pan Aquaviva Airways, Aquaviva Beef feeds the world,  adding an unexpected commercial aspect and comment on the modern corporation.

"This Aquaviva's got the country by the throat!"

More importantly, these interests are not initially introduced in relation to Yolanda.


Victor: Must be awfully rich, eh? Millionaire, would you say?
Steward: Very rich, seƱor, as you Americans say, "filthy."
Victor: Yes... Well what sort of a man is this filthy Aquaviva? I mean how does one contact him? Has he got any vices? Hobbies? Does he play gin rummy?
Johnny: Don't worry, Junior, Mr. Aquaviva will probably meet you at the station and hand you a blank check.
Steward: Mr. Aquaviva is not Mr. Aquaviva, Mr. Aquaviva is Miss Aquaviva!
A woman running a company? Shocking. Which is why Johnny has to come in to save the day. Not as the traditional lead, but as a 'fake guardian angel,' a bizarre position that conflates romance with religion. It takes 'worship your man' to a whole new level.

More than that, the resultant marriage has to be on Johnny's terms ("Women are bad business"). His initial fears about being roped into matrimony are only satiated when the traditional Hollywood ending saves the day. And in this the very notion that something once assured has to be saved.


Am I taking this too far? Quite possibly. Would pointing out the resemblance of Patria (spanish for homeland) to Patriarchy be too much? Oh yes. And yet...

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