Cast & Crew
At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Harry Quirt tells his buddies that he is quitting the Marines to become a comedian. After he loses a ten dollar bet to his rival, Jim Flagg, who accuses him of trying to steal every girl he has chased, Quirt bets him double-or-nothing on a roll of dice and wins when Flagg insists that they use dice belonging to Olsen, a not-too-intelligent Swede. Unknown to Flagg, Olsen has just received the dice as a gift from Quirt. Three years later, Olsen, while driving Flagg's limousine, knocks down Quirt as he tries to cross the street. As Flagg talks with their buddy, ex-Marine Joe Eagan, who is now a policeman, Quirt gets into the limo and flirts with Flagg's two women friends, Hortense Rhinelander and Lily Reed. They go to one of the twenty-eight clubs Flagg now owns, and Quirt shows Flagg a badge that identifies himself as an investigator for the Federal Prohibition Service. After Quirt accepts a $10,000 payoff, he exits with the girls and leaves Flagg his badge, which was made by a novelty company. The girls take Quirt to a poker game, where he is fleeced of all his money by Trigger Thorne, who is in cahoots with Hortense. Quirt, however, impersonates a special investigator from the district attorney and "allows" Thorne to pay him twice the amount he lost to avoid arrest. Meanwhile, Flagg finds the crew on his rum-running boat terrorized by a knife-wielding female stowaway from South America. Afraid of the jail sentence he could receive for smuggling her in, Flagg locks her in a closet. The woman, who calls herself "Pepper," entices Olsen to hide her in a gunnysack and carry her to shore. At Flagg's home, Pepper locks Olsen in a closet and then confronts Flagg. When he tries to put her out, she takes off her skirt, then throws her underwear in his face and removes her brassiere. She dares him to put her out like that and then crawls into his bed. As she wriggles, he warms to her, but she escapes his grasp just as his henchmen bring in Quirt. After Pepper tells Quirt that Flagg smuggled her in, Quirt threatens to turn him in unless he pays him $5,000. Thorne then visits, and while he talks to Flagg, Pepper romances Quirt and begs him to protect her. They escape in Flagg's car, and when Flagg pursues them in Thorne's car, Quirt convinces a motorcycle cop that Flagg stole his wallet, and Flagg is arrested. A month later, Flagg attends the gala opening of Quirt's new club where Pepper, billed as "Hot Pepper," is the singing attraction. Eagan, now a detective, warns Quirt that the club is on a list to be raided. Flagg begins a flirtation with Pepper, but Quirt then proposes to Pepper that they go to South America and open a nightclub there. The idea is agreeable to Pepper, but she wants to bring Flagg. After Flagg and Quirt toss a coin to see who gets to marry her, Quirt wins, using a two-headed coin, but Pepper becomes very indignant that they don't fight for her. Thorne then arrives with his gang, and when they start to rough Quirt up, Flagg begins a brawl. They wreck the club, and after the police break up the fight, Quirt thanks Flagg and offers to sell him the club, but Flagg knows about the planned raid. Flagg then asks Pepper to choose between them, but she leaves for South America where, she says, men don't toss a coin for a woman's heart. Because they know that bootlegging will soon be over, Quirt and Flagg decide to go someplace else to find excitement. In China, during a battle, Flagg, the new commanding officer, tries in vain to communicate with his Chinese troops. The general who arrives for inspection turns out to be Quirt, who explains that he learned the language in night school with two Chinese girls, one of whom wears a Distinguished Service medal manufactured by a novelty company. Quirt and Flagg then harangue each other as their troops march off.
Charles [g.] Clarke
R. L. Hough
Hot Pepper (1933)
Velez began her Hollywood career in 1927 at the Hal Roach studios, where she was cast in comedy shorts, including those with Laurel and Hardy. Her break came when she was spotted by swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks and selected to costar in The Gaucho (1927). The film launched the first phase of her career, which can be loosely divided into three parts. At first, Velez was cast in dramas in which she played a variety of ethnic roles, including Cuban, Greek, Chinese, Caribbean and Native American characters. Most of the films were high-profile features by prominent directors with big-name male costars, including Gary Cooper, Lew Ayres and Walter Huston. These roles established Velez's image as an exotic woman who was passionate and sensual but also sympathetic and caring. Also, early sound films, such as Hell Harbor (1930), reveal that her voice was not as heavily accented as it would be in later movies.
A role in The Half-Naked Truth in 1932 steered Velez toward comedy, marking the second phase in her career. It was followed by Hot Pepper, described in reviews of the day as a "rip-roaring comedy." Historians and movie lovers praise her comedic abilities in the films from this period, particularly her timing and physicality. However, Velez's switch to comedy resulted in a narrowing of her image. Her characters tended to be Latin American, mostly Mexican. Often, they were show-business performers who were tempestuous, hot-blooded, even threatening. The more this star image was honed in films from 1934, such as Palooka, Laughing Boy and Hollywood Party, the more her characters became stereotyped, complete with heavy accents.
During this same time, Velez's off-screen life generated as much interest as her films. In the year Hot Pepper was released, she married Olympic swimmer and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller. Their relationship was notoriously tumultuous with repeated public altercations, followed by splits and then reunions. Her fiery temper off screen was referenced onscreen and vice versa, so that gossip and scandal orbited her career and image.
Discouraged, Velez left Hollywood to appear on Broadway in the mid-1930s. She also starred in a film in her native Mexico, La zandunga (1938). But, she was back in Hollywood by 1939 to star in The Girl from Mexico, the first of the Mexican Spitfire comedies, which dominated the third and last phase of her career. The Mexican Spitfire films exaggerated her fiery Latina persona, which deteriorated into stereotype as this B-movie series limped into the 1940s.
Hot Pepper showcased Velez near the beginning of her foray into movie comedy. Velez played the title character, a South American singer who lands a job in the night club of Harry Quirt during Prohibition. Pepper arrives in America by stowing away on the rum-running ship of Quirt's buddy, Jim Flagg. Quirt and Flagg are old friends from the Marines as well as arch-rivals for the affections of beautiful women from all over the world. The two compete for Pepper's affections, and she pits them against each other to get what she wants. As a pre-Code film, Hot Pepper includes scenes and lines that would not be allowed a year later after the Production Code was enforced. In one scene, Pepper ends up hiding in Flagg's house. When he tries to toss her out, she removes her clothing, including her brassiere, which she tosses in his face. She climbs into his bed but escapes his grasp just as Flagg's men drag in Quirt. In addition, certain lines would have been red-penciled by the Production Code Administration (PCA), including "I'm not feeling myself tonight," followed by, "Don't worry. I'll take care of that later." In 1937, Twentieth Century-Fox applied for the re-release of Hot Pepper, but the director suggested they withdraw the request from the PCA because it would never be granted a Code Seal due to the "sex elements" and "rough language."
In 1933, the biggest draw for Hot Pepper was neither the racy costar nor the bawdy atmosphere, but the two main male characters, Quirt and Flagg, played by Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen respectively. The actors had introduced the two rival Marines in the silent classic What Price Glory?, a comedy-drama based on the 1924 play by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings. Directed by Raoul Walsh, What Price Glory? was a unique balance of the horrors of war with the joyful bond of friendship between Quirt and Flagg. The pair brawled over the same women and played harsh tricks on each other but bonded over their bravery in battle. Lowe and McLaglen returned for the sequels The Cock-Eyed World in 1929 and Women of All Nations in 1931, also directed by Walsh.
Hot Pepper, the fourth and final sequel for Quirt and Flagg, differed from the previous films in that it was a straight comedy. None of the original drama about war or the bonds of friendship remained, and action director Walsh was replaced by John Blystone. Also, the pair were no longer in the Marines, reducing their identity as heroes. Quirt is little more than a con man, while Flagg is a rum-runner. Both end up operating nightclubs. Despite these changes, Fox Film Corp. wanted to remind audiences that the characters would be up to their old antics. An opening title declares: "Remember Quirt and Flagg? If not, What Price Glory in the Cock-Eyed World? They're leaving the Marines--still comrades--hands outstretched--for the same girl's knee!" In What Price Glory? , the knee had belonged to Dolores Del Rio; in The Cock-Eyed World, it was Lili Damita; in Women of All Nations, Greta Nissen. In keeping with casting an exotic costar for the male leads, Velez was tapped for Hot Pepper.
Velez gave the film a vitality that Lowe and McLaglen, who were perhaps better suited to action or drama, failed to muster. It seems fitting that Hot Pepper is better remembered as a Lupe Velez film rather than part of the Quirt and Flagg adventures.
Production Company: Fox Film Corp.
Director: John Blystone
Screenplay: Barry Conners and Philip Klein
Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke
Editor: Alex Troffey
Production Design: Joseph Wright
Cast: Harry Quirt (Edmund Lowe), Jim Flagg (Victor McLaglen), Pepper (Lupe Velez), Olsen (El Brendel), Hortense (Lilian Bond), Trigger Thorne (Boothe Howard), Lily (Gloria Roy)
By Susan Doll
Hot Pepper (1933)
The working title of this film was Hell to Pay. After the opening credits, the film begins with the following title, which makes reference to two previous films in the series, the 1926 What Price Glory and the 1929 The Cock-Eyed World, both of which were made by Fox, directed by Raoul Walsh and starred McLaglen and Lowe (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.6213 and F2.0940): "Remember Quirt and Flagg? If not, What Price Glory in the Cock-Eyed World? They're leaving the Marines-still comrades-hands outstretched-for the same girl's knee!" The Variety reviewer commented about the development of the series, "From a pair of powerfully dramatic characters in Laurence Stallings' and Maxwell Anderson's What Price Glory?, a preachment against war, Capt. Flagg and Sgt. Quirt have degenerated into a couple of slapstick clowns....The change started with The Cock-Eyed World, which happened to be a perfect combination of Glory and comedy, and then really got under way in Women of All Nations. In Hot Pepper, latest of the series, the transformation is complete. It carries the Flagg-Quirt exaggerations too far...."
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection in the AMPAS Library, James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Committee of the AMPP, after viewing this film, reported to Will H. Hays, President of the MPPDA, that "both the sex elements and the rough language, which hitherto have given unfortunate notoriety to this series, have been considerably toned down." Variety, however, noted that this film was "a little dirtier and a little rougher" than previous entries in the series, and other reviewers pointed out the rawness and vulgarity of some of the language and situations. In 1937, when Twentieth Century-Fox applied for certification for the film's reissue, Joseph I. Breen, Director of the PCA, suggested they withdraw their request. According to information in the Twentieth Century Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Victor Jory was originally scheduled to play the role of "Trigger Thorne," and Tom Dugan and Russ Clark were also cast in the film; however, no information has been located to determine if Dugan and Clark were in the finished film.