El Aguila Descalza
The Barefoot Eagle
(Prods. Jaguar, 1969)
Prod: Juan A[busaíd] Rios; Assoc Prod: Heriberto Méndez Pons, Lucas Haces Gil; Dir: [Alfonso] Arau; Scr: Emilio Carballido, Héctor Ortega, Francisco Córdova, [Alfonso] Arau; Orig. Comic Book: Héctor Ortega, [Alfonso] Arau; Photo: Alex Phillips Jr.; Music: Gustavo C. Carrión; Songs: Rafael Elizondo,Homero Aguilar, Javier Bátiz; Prod Chief: Armando Espinosa; Sub-Dir: Valerio Olivo; Asst to Dir: Héctor Ortega, Francisco Córdova, Giovanni Korporaal; Film Ed: Eufemio Rivera y R.; Prod Des: Víctor Rosado; Art Dir: Salvador Lozano; Decor: Carlos Arjona; Art Advisor: Horacio Durán; Camera Op: Manuel Santaella; Makeup: Elda Loza; Choreog: Farnesio de Bernal; Sound Rec: Eduardo Arjona; Sound Ed: Abraham Cruz; Union: STPC; Eastmancolor
CAST: [Alfonso] Arau (Poncho; Jonathan Eaglepass aka Mascalzzone), Ofelia Medina (Chona), Christa Linder (Sirene Martínez), José Gálvez (don Carlos Martínez), Eva Muller ("Chinese" showgirl), Virma González ("Adelita," mental patient), Roberto Cobo ("apostle," mental patient), Tamara Garina (Brigitte, mental patient), Víctor Eberg (tall gangster), Héctor Ortega (worker; masked dress designer; transit cop), Alfonso Munguía (factory engineer), María Luisa Serrano (tía Chofi), Eduardo López Rojas (worker), Ernesto Gómez Cruz (worker), Francisco Córdova (head of asylum; night watchman), Omar Jasso (drunk man in court), Nacho Contla (judge), La Fufurufa [Margot Narváez] (drunk woman), Celia Viveros (drunk woman), Beto el Boticario [Roberto Ramírez] (cop), Willy Wilhemy ("Olympic walker," mental patient), Florencio Castelló (don Alejo), Victorio Blanco (timekeeper), José Du Peyront [sic] (Chavita, worker); workers: Armando Acosta, Martha Aura, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Salvador Zea, Alvaro Calcaño, Juan Gabriel Moreno, Adán Guevara, Juan Manuel Díaz, Adrián Ramos, Luis Torner; La Loba and La Tapatía (female wrestlers), Isabel Larios (soprano), José María Cora (cmdte. of police), Joe Carson (gangster), René Barrera (gangster on telephone), Arturo Alegro ("lion," mental patient), Rodrigo Puebla ("Moctezuma," mental patient), Abel Cureño (glass worker), Cecila Leger (doña Tencha), Clara Osollo (neighbor); asylum attendants: Gerardo Zepeda, N. León "Frankestein," Guillermo Ayala, Jorge Allende, Tomás Fernández; Queta Carrasco ("La Llorona," mental patient), Giovanni Korporaal ("El Cosmonauta," mental patient), Carlos "Che" Quintero ("Drácula," mental patient), Carlos Castañon ("hippie," mental patient), David Benítez ("bird," mental patient), Susana Gamboa, Malafacha (torturer with electric shocks), Daniel Albertos [Daniel Alberto Mancilla] (Sirene's brother); Gilberto Chacón
NOTES: after the comedy/dance team he had formed with Sergio Corona broke up, Alfonso Arau spent time in Cuba and France, worked in TV and on the stage. He returned to movies in the late '60s, mostly in comic supporting roles. In 1968, Arau and Héctor Ortega collaborated on a new comic book, "El Aguila Descalza," which ran for somewhat less than a year (on a weekly schedule). The working-class barrio superhero was translated to the screen in 1969, with Arau making his feature directorial debut (in addition to playing the hero and the villain, and collaborating on the script).
El Aguila Descalza is an entertaining comedy with a huge cast of familiar faces, several large-scale slapstick sequences, and a fair amount of social and political commentary. The film isn't perfect: there are some continuity bloopers, and some rough edits and abrupt transitions, but these are overshadowed by some truly odd and inspired bits. El Aguila Descalza isn't a comedy classic, but it is a lot of fun to watch.
The film opens with the arrival in Mexico of Jonathan Eaglepass "alias Mascalzzone," a Chicago gangster (who really does have a violin in the suspicious violin case he carries). [Mascalzzone is played by Arau wearing a "bald wig" and a false nose; his voice appears to have been post-dubbed at least part of the time] Meanwhile, Poncho, who works in a factory and lives with his aunt in a humble working-class neighborhood, is secretly "El Aguila Descalza," who spends his nights righting wrongs. El Aguila surreptitiously (except for a dog that barks at and chases him) enters a huge mansion. He sneaks into a bedroom where a beautiful blonde is asleep, and leaves a flower in her hand; he then creeps into a young boy's bedroom, steals a pair of roller skates, and leaves a note. The boy awakes and starts to shout for help. El Aguila runs out; don Carlos, the boy's father, runs in, along with Sirene, the blonde (and the boy's sister). The note reads: "One should not steal roller skates from the poor." Don Carlos says: "So you won them in a lottery, eh?" and starts to chase his son around the room. But suddenly, a hearse pulls up outside. A gang of masked wrestlers (or men wearing wrestler masks), under the direction of Mascalzzone, opens fire on the house, then speeds away.
The next day, Poncho heads for work, accompanied by his friend Chona. On their way, Poncho has to run numerous errands for his neighbors; he tells Chona that he believes the world will be a better place if everyone helps everyone else. Chona says some people don't deserve help, and there are too many of those who do. Poncho and Chona work at the "La Malinche" factory . They test pogo sticks and stilts. Don Carlos, who owns the factory, and his daughter Sirene arrive. Don Carlos tells his foreman that the green pogo sticks are for "export only," and should not be touched.
That night, Sirene sneaks back into the factory, followed by El Aguila Descalza. Don Carlos is inside, with Mascalzzone and his henchmen. Despite the fact that Mexican law prohibits foreigners from owning a majority interest in the factory, La Malinche (the name should be a tip-off, since this refers to the Indian woman who translated for Hernan Cortés and thus is seen as having "betrayed" Mexico to the invading Spaniards) is actually owned by the Mafia with don Carlos as a front. Now Mascalzzone is going to take over; don Carlos wanted to put the factory in his daughter's name to protect it, and even after he is tortured with electric shocks, he refuses to sign it over to the gangster. But Sirene has been captured, and is tied up to a wall, then threatened by a forklift (with a menacing, phallic spike on the front). Mascalzzone rips open her blouse, and don Carlos agrees to cooperate. The gangsters leave, and don Carlos and Sirene console each other. El Aguila, who has had a difficult time even getting into the factory, and did nothing to help Sirene (whom he loves) says to himself, "fortunately I arrived in time."(!)
The next day, the workers are surprised to find don Carlos demoted to timekeeper. The new foremen are masked wrestlers with whips! They force the workers to speed up production. Mascalzzone is the new boss, and Sirene is his secretary (she types laboriously and excruciatingly slowly, with one finger). She writes "Poncho Socorro" (Poncho, Help) on a piece of paper, wraps it around a paperweight, and tosses it down to the factory floor, where it hits Poncho on the head. He reads it, and--during his lunch break--tells a friend that he thinks Sirene is jealous of him and some woman named "Socorro." Only much later does he finally figure out what she really meant.
That night, El Aguila climbs to the roof of the factory, where he can spy into the main office through a skylight. He runs into Chona there; she has a stack of leaflets which will rain down into the factory the next day, calling for a strike against the bad working conditions. They watch as Mascalzzone and his men take don Carlos down through a trap door in the office floor, and disappear. El Aguila tries to follow, but instead gets into a battle with four masked wrestlers; Chona helps him escape, and they go to the police station (before they leave, El Aguila discovers that the "export" pogo sticks are filled with drugs). However, their story is so fantastic that the judge has them committed to a mental hospital.
Meanwhile, Mascalzzone has taken don Carlos to a secret chamber under the factory. While a chorus line of beautiful women dance and sing "La rosa de Hong Kong," Mascalzzone tells don Carlos that the factory can be signed over to Sirene after all--because Mascalzzone is going to marry her! Don Carlos refuses again, but is forced to smoke opium and finally agrees to the gangster's plan.
The mental hospital is populated by a variety of unusual characters. Two of Poncho's friends visit him with an invitation to Sirene's marriage to Mascalzzone (there is also an enclosed card: "No reception"). Poncho goes wild, repeatedly ramming his head into the walls of the asylum. He and Chona foment an inmates' revolt, and they all escape, then burst into the factory where the wedding is underway. A slapstick brawl ensues between the workers, the escaped mental patients, and Mascalzzone's gangsters and masked wrestlers (the fight turns into a party after the drug stash is smashed and the white powder starts flying through the air). Mascalzzone tries to escape through the underground tunnel with Sirene (her dress gets ripped off, leaving Christa Linder in white gloves, bra, and panties), but El Aguila pursues. He eventually defeats the gangster, who nearly suffocates in a giant wedding cake.
Don Carlos has snapped out of his opium trance and he calls the police. They arrive and carry off the mental patients, including the unconscious Aguila (however, it is actually Mascalzzone dressed in the Aguila costume). Poncho is shocked to see Sirene run to and embrace the factory engineer; he is also surprised when don Carlos identifies him as the head gangster! As the film ends, Poncho and Chona flee.
El Aguila Descalza is filled with popular culture references, some of them obvious, and some a bit more obscure. Poncho has a stack of "Santo" comic books in his room, and in another scene a newsstand full of comics appears. During El Aguila's battle with Mascalzzone, the villain dumps a handful of tacks on the floor, causing the hero considerable distress. A printed inter-title reads: "Tacks are to the Aguila Descalza what kryptonite is to Superman." The character of Mascalzzone is based on traditional Hollywood gangsters (and the Mexican gangster epitomized by Juan Orol); in one scene, Mascalzzone tells his sad life story, accompanied by still shots from his past--he grew up in poverty, then fought his way to the top of the gangs. He went to prison, and when he got out he discovered that the Mafia had changed, gone legitimate. After Mascalzzone takes over the factory, he hangs a photo of Humphrey Bogart in his office.
The secret underground Chinese sequence is absolutely bizarre. Their guide is a Chinese man who repeatedly performs magic tricks, to the gangster's irritation. The troupe of scantily-clad chorus girls is equally surrealistic (the buxom lead villainess, in charge of addicting don Carlos to opium, later attends the wedding and has her clothes ripped off in the melee; trivia note: as don Carlos is forced to smoke opium, a photo of "Playboy" Playmate Gwen Wong is projected onto his face).
Similarly, the wrestling connection makes no logical sense. The masked henchmen could just be wearing wrestling masks to hide their identity, but then more masks start turning up: Sirene's two "bridesmaids" are masked women wrestlers, there is a midget masked wrestler ring-bearer, and even the "designer" who creates her wedding gown is a (gay) masked wrestler (his mask is purple with big red lips and a beauty mark).
As noted earlier, El Aguila Descalza has some political content. The "La Malinche" reference, the fact that Mascalzzone (whose real name is Jonathan Eaglepass) is from the United States and initially takes his orders from "Chicago," the comments about "prestanombres" (Mexicans who lend their names as fronts for foreign investors), are all not-so thinly-veiled attacks on foreign exploitation of Mexico. Early in the film, Poncho stops by the store owned by Spaniard don Alejo, to return some watered-down milk that one of his neighbors had purchased. Although less obvious, Poncho's infatuation with the blonde Sirene (although she's supposed to be Mexican) is not portrayed as having any future, while the dark-haired, working-class Chona (who has a crush on Poncho) is depicted as a better match.
The performances in El Aguilar Descalza are a mix of the very broad with some more naturalistic acting (Arau gets to do both types, since he plays two parts), even down to the minor roles. For example, the workers are mostly "straight," but the mental patients are given free reign to overact. Among the principals, Medina is quite sincere and good, Gálvez is also fine. Christa Linder (dubbed as usual) has a couple of good moments (the "typing" scene is great) but doesn't have a chance to do much except cry, act horrified, and so forth.
El Aguila Descalza was an auspicious beginning to Arau's directorial career, although as time went by he moved to a more naturalistic style of filmmaking, culminating with the glossy Hollywood production A Walk in the Clouds. Then again, El Aguila Descalza was a film of the Sixties, and shows it, but still retains its ability to entertain.
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Posted 5 March 2000, vidcap added 15 Nov 2000.