Campeones del ring [Champions of the Ring]

(Víctor Films, 1972?) Prod: Juan Manuel Herrera; Dir: José A. Vanegas; Scr: no credit; Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera; Music: Albert Levy; Film Ed: no credit; Decor: Jorge Mazupier; Makeup: María Orozco; Union: STIC

CAST: Rosa de Castilla (Rita Sandoval), Fernando Soto "Mantequilla" (Iglesias), Amadee Chabot (Cristina), César del Campo (Jorge Alarcón), "Rayo de Plata," Fernando Osés (Capt. Quintero), Frank Braña (Lt. Plata), Angel Melendez [sic = Menéndez] (Dr. Lesseps), Guillermo Gálvez** (don Alberto), Antonio Pantoja, Mara Cruz** (blonde), Antonio Pica** (Alfredo), El Cuervo (wrestler), La Sombra* (wrestler), Johana Aloha** (belly dancer), Bárbara Loy, Luciano Martín, Brenda

*[this character is called "La Sombra Vengadora" once during the film, but he does not wear a mask and is not related to the wrestling hero of that name from the 1950s and '60s]

**[Pica, Cruz, Gálvez and Aloha appear only in footage from other films]

NOTES: this is a terrible paste-up job, making heavy use of footage from Santo frente a la muerte and also containing footage from Santo en el misterio de la perla negra and El tesoro de Morgan (the former allegedly "produced" after Campeones del ring). While Campeones is usually listed as a 1972 film, most of it was obviously shot in 1969 (although it was probably not "assembled" until 1972, since some of the final sequence was taken from 1971's El tesoro de Morgan). The most extraordinary fact is that the film even got a theatrical release (which it did, in 1978), since it is pretty terrible.

A few specific comments about the bits and pieces which make up Campeones del ring: a large portion of the movie is recycled from Santo frente a la muerte. There are even some shots which could be "out-takes" from Frente, like an unusual, animated graphic of a large emerald and a splash of blood--which doesn't appear in the print of Frente I have seen, but was clearly made for that film, since its plot revolves around the theft of a giant emerald. While Angel Menéndez appears in at least one scene in Campeones that is not in Frente, most of his footage is from the Santo feature, including his death scene, which has been trimmed to eliminate Santo! Braña and Osés, who were villains in Frente, are sympathetic characters here, while César del Campo goes from hero to bad guy.

Guillermo Gálvez, despite his rather prominent billing on the credits of Campeones, only shows up in a couple of scenes, all lifted from Perla negra (although his character is given a different name in the voiceover). And there is a final battle on a beach between some soldiers and gun-runners which is lifted from El tesoro de Morgan (the battle in Morgan is longer and that film was actually reasonably coherent).

There is "new" (or rather, unique) footage in Campeones, featuring Frank Braña, Amedee Chabot, Fernando Osés, Fernando Soto "Mantequilla," César del Campo, and Rosa de Castilla. While Frente and Perla negra were mostly shot in Colombia and Morgan was filmed in Panama, where the new footage for Campeones was made isn't clear. While Campeones is narratively and logically a mess, there is no great mismatching between "old" and "new" footage, probably because it was all shot around the same time by Juan Manuel Herrera (Perla negra is much worse in this regard).

If there is any saving grace about Campeones, it is the presence of Amedee Chabot. Looking a bit thinner than she had in some of her Mexican-made films, Chabot is still quite attractive, albeit in a supporting role (however, she has about as much "dramatic" footage as Rosa de Castilla, although the latter does get to sing three songs). In one sequence, a bikini-clad Chabot dances on a table at a pool party, then--jealous of César del Campo's attentions to Rosa de Castilla--goes inside and packs to leave. Clad only in a towel, she eventually drops this covering (off-screen) and clinches with del Campo (in a big closeup with a lot of lip wrestling). The dramatic logic of this sequence is undercut by the fact that Chabot is allegedly being forced to remain with del Campo as his mistress to guarantee the safety of her uncle, who is being held prisoner, and thus her jealousy and subsequent passion are difficult to understand.

Otherwise, Campeones is really a waste of time. Frank Braña's character has a masked-wrestler alter ego, Rayo de Plata, (not to be confused with Gaston Santos' horse from the 1950s), but Rayo doesn't really function as a superhero crimefighter (he hardly shows up at all--there's also a black-masked wrestler called "Huracán García" who is a subsidiary character), and Braña himself doesn't get to do much, what with all of the extraneous footage floating around. The 95-minute running time is padded with 2 boxing matches, 4 wrestling matches, and three songs by Rosa de Castilla. The plot is even less coherent than Frente and Perla negra, requiring large doses of explanatory voice-over narration to keep things even partially straight. The dialogue is all post-dubbed and an aged and unfunny Mantequilla is further harmed by the annoying voice he's given on the soundtrack. Overall, this is a shoddy piece of work with little or no entertainment value.

The film opens with a military parade (the march music sounds like variations on "Blow the Man Down"--later, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is used). Lt. Plata is detached from the army to help policeman Quintero catch some spies, but first he participates in the regimental boxing championship. Plata and his sidekick Iglesias suspect wrestling promoter Alarcón is part of the spy ring, so Plata dons a mask and poses as a professional wrestler, Rayo de Plata. Later, Plata and Iglesias break into Alarcón's office to search his files, and spot Cristina, the promoter's secretary, ransacking the desk. They all agree not to mention they saw each other there. A scientist named Lesseps says he was threatened by the spies, but later turns out to be the head of the gang which is trying to develop a laser weapon (or something). Cristina's uncle is being forced to work on the device and she is being held hostage to force him to cooperate (or she's agreed to be Alarcón's mistress to keep her uncle alive; although this sounds like a story Alarcón made up to get Cristina into bed, since the spies aren't going to kill her uncle if he's working for them).

Singer Rita Sandoval's brother is wrestler Huracán García, who is threatened by Alarcón's men, and later murdered (for no reason other than, as one character states late in the film, he knew "too much" about Alarcón). A belly dancer in the nightclub where all the principal characters hang out is also killed, for no apparent reason (except that she's also killed in Santo frente a la muerte, where this footage comes from). Plata, Rita, and Iglesias are captured by Alarcón's men but escape. As Rayo de Plata, Lt. Plata wrestlers the fat Cuervo, Alarcón's chief henchmen; Rayo de Plata makes Cuervo confess. Alarcón flees, and is cornered by Plata, Iglesias, and Cristina on the edge of a cliff; the villain falls to his death.

Lesseps and his blonde associate--in footage from Santo frente a la muerte--flee in a small boat, then transfer to a bigger one to escape. A helicopter hovers over the boat; somebody apparently drops to the deck (we don't see this, just a brief shot of the back of their legs when they confront Lesseps), and Lesseps charges them with a sword-cane. Two shots of a pistol are intercut, Lesseps falls off the boat into the river and drowns. (just as in Santo frente a la muerte, except all shots of Santo have been removed)

Lt. Plata is congratulated by his commanding officer on his sterling performance. Cristina and Iglesias watch him leave. The end, at last!

While Campeones del ring would have been bad enough if the (reasonably) linear plot described above had been all there was, the filmmakers also included random scenes from other films in what almost seems like a deliberate attempt to confuse the audience! Guillermo Gálvez's character (strictly "stock" footage) shows up and is murdered in the space of about 30 seconds; the scene from Perla negra where Mara Cruz murders Antonio Pica with a speargun after he retrieves some jewels from an underwater stash has nothing to do with any sort of "plot" in Campeones del ring, but it's here too! A planeload of Colombian army paratroopers is dropped and battles some gun-runners, who have only the most tenuous (even in the voiceover narration) connection to the spy ring.

Certainly a slipshod excuse for a feature film, although the filmmakers' audacity and ingenuity must inspire at least a little admiration.

Posted 31 May 99 by