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Saturday, March 9, 2019

Down Argentine Way ( 1940 )

Betty Grable and Don Ameche head south of the border in one of the most delightful Fox musicals of the 1940s - Down Argentine Way. Sparkling Technicolor, musical melodies to tickle your fancy, an amusing script, and Carmen Miranda chica-chica-booming in her tutti-frutti way are just a few of the pleasures it offers.

"Where there are rhumbas and tangos
To tickle your spine
Moonlight and music and orchids and wine
You'll want to stay down Argentina Way"

Don plays Ricardo, an Argentinian who comes to New York to sell some horses. Glenda Crawford ( Betty Grable ) wants to buy one and they make a deal, but the moment Ricardo discovers her last name is Crawford, he calls the sale off! His padre ( Henry Stephenson ) has a long-standing feud with the Crawfords and will not sell horses to them at any cost. So, in a huff, Glenda takes a trip to Argentina with her Aunt Binnie ( Charlotte Greenwood ) to settle the score...under the guise of purchasing some fresh studs for their stable. Naturally, she finds sweet romance under the Pampas moon with Mr. Ameche instead.

Bedecked in eye-popping Travis Banton costumes, Betty Grable is a veritable feast for the eyes in this picture. She jiggles her way through the samba-inspired "Down Argentine Way" dance number wearing a gorgeous two-piece ensemble adorned with blue beads and looked equally radiant in a sheer puffy-sleeved white dress singing "Two Dreams Met" with Don Ameche.

Betty Grable had made nearly 50 films before she was cast as bubbly Glenda Crawford. Not knowing what to do with her, Fox had just decided to try Grable out as a dramatic actress with a lead opposite Tyrone Power in A Yank in the R.A.F when they discovered that Down Argentine Way, which was released one year prior, was raking in profits. Thank heavens! Betty may never have been a musical star if it wasn't for the success of this film. And Hollywood would have missed out on such a vibrant and adorable personality!

As critic Stephanie Zacharek so aptly described her, "Grable's appeal in Down Argentine Way...radiates from a place that has nothing to do with strict acting chops. She's a persistently warm, accessible presence; there's something kind and forthright about her." It is undoubtedly this quality - and her million dollar legs - that made Grable the pin-up gal favorite with the soldiers overseas during the war years.
The top attraction of the film, for me, was the presence of Don Ameche. Dapper Don, with his bright beady eyes, has such an infectiously happy personality and he even gets to sing two numbers in his pleasant tenor voice. Betty and Don were so well-suited to each other in Down Argentine Way that Fox studio teamed them up again the following year in Moon Over Miami. 

Down Argentine Way features a cast of excellent character players including Leonid Kinskey ( in a role originally intended for Cesar Romero ), Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carroll Naish, and Henry Stephenson. There is also an appearance by Carmen Miranda who was making her first US feature film. She got a chance to perform three upbeat tunes ( "Mamãe Yo Quero", "Bambu Bambu", and "South American Way" ). The movie is chock-full of musical and dance numbers and alongside Miranda, the Nicholas Brothers entertain with their tap-dance routines, Six Hits and a Miss perform the delightful "Two Dreams Met", and the Flores Brothers Trio gently croon "Nenita".
The film raked in nearly $2 million in profits, becoming 20th Century Fox's biggest hit of the year. It was originally made in response to President Franklin Roosevelt's request for Hollywood to make films to encourage the "Good Neighbor Policy" towards Latin America. Unfortunately, Argentina banned the picture during its initial release for its misrepresentation of the real culture of the country: inaccurate traditional costume designs and mixing rhumba and Spanish flamenco with the tango was a no-no. Even Miranda's presence was considered insulting because she was Brazilian, not Argentinian! 

Most Americans didn't recognize any of these errors and just enjoyed the film for what it offered - plenty of sunshine and merriment. And that alone probably boosted South American tourism and Good Neighbor relations!

13 comments:

  1. This is my first post on this blog. I became a big fan of Bettys in 1987-I watched a lot of her musicals on TV, especially AMC. I like MOON OVER MIAMI the best out of the two movies that she did with Don A. Bob Cummings, a very likable personality, was also in that movie. Bob was in Bettys last movie HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR. It also had Alice Pearce, Sheree North and Orson Bean.(Orson is one of the few actors that did a Grable movie that is still with us.)

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    1. Me again. Orson Bean might be the only one that is still with us. Thank you for a great post!

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    2. I want to mention that CHARLOTTE GREENWOOD was also in MOON OVER MIAMI with BETTY and DON. She played the aunt of Bettys character. She played AUNT ELLER in Oklahoma. I later remembered that MITZI GAYNOR, who is still living, did a movie with Betty-MY BLUE HEAVEN. It also starred DAN DAILEY who did four movies with Betty.

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    3. Dan Dailey and Betty made a great team, but I really enjoyed her with Don Ameche in this film. She also teamed up well with John Payne. :-) And Charlotte Greenwood is a delight to watch! She made so many good pictures.

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  2. How fascinating that one of the reasons for making it was to promote Latin culture...and then it was banned in Argentina! Also, I never knew that Betty Grable had starred in so many movies prior to making this one. Yes, Don Ameche and Betty Grable were to very affable stars.

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    1. With Betty finding her stardom after so many minor roles it makes you wonder how many other actresses could have been as popular as she if they were given that magical role that would have launched their careers.

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  3. I love Carmen Miranda she was a scene stealer!

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    1. She was indeed! For this film she didn't even have to set foot in Hollywood. The camera crew came to NYC to film her performances. I think Miranda's best roles were in "A Date with Judy" and "Weekend in Havana" where she really got to turn on her charm.

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    2. I agree about Weekend in Havana. I liked the four main stars in the movie-ALICE FAYE, JOHN PAYNE, CESAR ROMERO and CARMEN MIRANDA. Ive seen Alice Faye in at least 5 movies and Havana is my favorite one. I remember Alice singing a lovely song with an orange scarf around her head.(I saw it in 1987.

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    3. I thought the song was TROPICAL MAGIC so I looked it up and I was right.

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  4. Enjoyed many of Grable's films, but I was shocked by her behaviour as a parent in the book "Pin Up: The Tragedy of Betty Grable". The comments by Grable's children make Joan Crawford look like a cuddly pussycat in comparison to the abusive Grable. It's always tough when stars are much, much less than they appear. Don Ameche plays well opposite Grable and, in earlier films, opposite the actress Grable usurped, Alice Faye, as well.

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    1. How sad! She seems like such a carefree person it's hard to believe she could be cruel. I've only heard good things about Don though! He was a sweetheart in real-life.

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  5. Betty Grable was in THE DOLLY SISTERS with John Payne and June Haver. Ive seen Betty in 18 movies that are musicals. I like June too, Did you see June in very many movies? Two other movies Ive seen her in are THE GIRL NEXT DOOR with Dan Dailey and as his son, Billy Gray and one I especially liked-OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL with Mark Stevens. I think Charlotte Greenwood was in that one, too.

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