Cast & Crew
When Dennis Lindsay returns home from Mexico with his new bride Carmelita, his marriage is met with consternation by his aunt Della and his former sweetheart, Elizabeth Price. Consequently, Aunt Della, who would have preferred Elizabeth and her Plymouth Rock ancestry for a niece, schemes with Elizabeth to break up Dennis's marriage. Dennis has cut short his honeymoon to consumate an important contract with Lord Epping, and when Dennis invites his client to dinner, Elizabeth insists that she would be a better hostess than Carmelita, who Epping thinks is Dennis's secretary. Consequently, she pretends to be Dennis's wife at dinner. To thwart Elizabeth, Carmelita persuades Della's husband Matt to impersonate Lord Basil Epping. Complications arise when the real Epping arrives for dinner, and in the confusion, he is insulted and leaves without signing the contract. Carmelita, feeling responsible for the disaster, decides to leave Dennis and is joined by Uncle Matt, who thinks that he is wanted by the police for false impersonation. The pair seek refuge in Mexico, where they both file for divorce. Matt, still thinking that he is being pursued by the police, dons his Lord Epping disguise and meets Chumley, Epping's associate. Chumley, believing that Matt is Epping, tells him that he must sign the contract. The phony Epping agrees and tells Chumley to turn the signed contract over to Uncle Matt for delivery. Thus, Uncle Matt and Carmelita return to New York with contract in hand. They arrive on the eve of Dennis' marriage to Elizabeth, and Dennis, meeting Carmelita again, realizes that he still loves her. A telegram from the Mexican police notifies Carmelita that her divorce is invalid, and the next day at Elizabeth's wedding, Carmelita announces that she and Dennis are still married. Carmelita's announcement starts a food fight between the man-stealing Elizabeth and Carmelita.
Joseph A. Fields
Joseph A. Fields
Van Nest Polglase
Charles E. Roberts
When Lupe arrived in Hollywood (after first having been turned back across the border by immigrations officials), the fifty-something Bennett was alarmed to discover she was just 17 years old and not sufficiently trained for the demands of the production. (The role went instead to Dorothy Mackaye, while Norma Talmadge starred in Roland West's film adaptation later that year.) Undaunted by the disappointment, Lupe (by this time she was using her mother's maiden name as her stage name) finagled her way into a spot in a Hollywood benefit revue, which won her a dancing job in a show at the Music Box Theatre. When he saw her frolicking in Music Box Revue, film producer Hal Roach invited Lupe to join his stable of pretty young things, whose number included Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow and later Paulette Goddard. Lupe appeared in several comic two-reelers, including the Laurel and Hardy short Sailors Beware (1927), in which Oliver Hardy first performed his trademark "tie twiddle." Lupe's athleticism won her a fan in Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., who bought out her contract from Roach for $50,000 and made a place for her as the second female lead in his lavish, part-Technicolor costumer The Gaucho (1927). Cast by Fairbanks as his hot-tempered Latin lover, Lupe allowed the template for her Hollywood career to be stamped in the mold of the hot tamale nonpareil. In his review of The Gaucho, the critic for Variety raved that "this kid has a great sense of comedy value to go with her athletic prowess" and declared Lupe Velez "a feminine Fairbanks."
Lupe Velez worked steadily through the next decade (most memorably, as Lon Chaney's half-caste daughter in Where East Is East in 1929 and in the title role of Hot Pepper in 1933) but it was her love affairs that earned her the most press clippings. She weathered a tempestuous love affair with Gary Cooper (on the rebound from Clara Bow) and might have married the lanky, laconic actor were it not for the disapproval of his domineering mother. In 1933, Lupe did marry Johnny Weissmuller, the Romanian émigré and Olympic gold medalist who had parlayed his swimming prowess into a rolling paycheck as cinema's first talking Tarzan. Not surprisingly, the union of Weissmuller and Velez was stormy, marked by public fights, allegations of physical abuse and occasional separations. The year the marriage was dissolved, Lupe starred in the first installment of what would become a popular film series tailor-made to her talents. Mexican Spitfire (1940) came about due to the box office bonanza reaped by RKO's lowbrow comedy The Girl from Mexico (1939), in which Lupe played a Chicana singer groomed for stardom as a radio star. The fish out of water formula seemed so sure-fire that RKO studio head George Schaefer negotiated a deal with Lupe for the modest but steady salary of $1,500 a week and ordered an immediate follow-up of more of the same.
"This entry might be better termed a well-pastried bit of buffoonery," wrote New York Times critic Frank S. Nugent of Mexican Spitfire, which had its premiere just six months after the release of The Girl from Mexico. Truth be told, Lupe's shtick as Carmelita Fuentes-Lindsay was nothing new: the facial contortions, malapropisms, double entendres, and pratfalls were all pulled unapologetically from the shallow bag of tricks the actress had been carrying since her time with Hal Roach. Nevertheless, the public ate it up. Men seemed to love Lupe's unpredictability and undeniable sex appeal while women found a role model in this libertine loose cannon. While her fiery Carmelita Lindsay was a married woman (her mixed marriage was highly unusual for Hollywood at this time), she retained a separate life as a singer, one that (at least initially) she was not going to forsake by having children. (Mexican critics were of an opposite mindset and derided the sexually adventurous and frequently profane Velez's influence on young Mexican women.) Although Mexican Spitfire and its eight sequels (all directed by Leslie Goodwins) were vehicles for Lupe Velez, the films were carried in part by the participation of her Australian costar Leon Errol. A former Vaudevillian and Ziegfeld rep player, Errol's métier in Hollywood was the two-reel comedy but he stayed with the Mexican Spitfire series until the very end. (Mexican Spitfire's Baby, released in 1941, was intended to be the final film in the series until box office receipts again encouraged additional installments; in New York the programmer was the B-film accompaniment to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, 1941.) The series grinded to a halt with Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event in 1943.
That year Lupe announced her retirement from the Hollywood scene. Returning to Mexico City, she played the lead in Nana (1944), a Spanish language adaptation of Émile Zola's 1880 novel directed by Celestino Gorostiza and Roberto Gavaldón. While Mexican critics were kind to Lupe, they panned the production as an obvious star vehicle which compromised Zola's naturalism. Lupe soon returned to California. After ending a relationship with actor Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, she began dating expatriate Austrian Harald Ramand (aka Harald Maresch). In December of 1944, Lupe discovered she was pregnant but a proposal of marriage was not forthcoming from Ramand. Exhibiting symptoms of what would now be called manic depression, Lupe hosted a lavish celebration of her patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, on December 12, 1943. On December 13th, at the Hollywood premiere of Nana, she told friend Estelle Taylor "I am just weary with the whole world...I'm so tired of it all." The next day Lupe Velez committed suicide by swallowing Seconal tablets. She was thirty-five years old. Many years later, Kenneth Anger alleged that Lupe died not from the overdose but from drowning in her own toilet after vomiting up the pills. Despite glaring inaccuracies in Anger's account of the death of Lupe Velez, his version persisted. The macabre death scenario was reenacted by Edie Sedgwick in Andy Warhol's Lupe (1966) and became a pop culture punchline for such sitcoms as The Simpsons and Frasier. Meanwhile, film critics, scholars and "Velezians" have been laboring to reclaim Lupe's legacy. "I now consider Lupe Vélez to be the Chicana Queen of the B's," wrote Rosa Linda Fregoso in 2007. "She is rarely considered as important as Katharine Hepburn or Irene Dunne, but she was one of the most accomplished and popular screwball comediennes of the time."
Producer: Cliff Reid
Director: Leslie Goodwins
Screenplay: Joseph Fields, Charles E. Roberts
Cinematography: Jack MacKenzie
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: Desmond Marquette
Cast: Lupe Velez (Carmelita Lindsay), Leon Errol (Uncle Matt/Lord Basil), Donald Woods (Dennis Lindsay), Linda Hayes (Elizabeth Price), Elisabeth Risdon (Aunt Della), Cecil Kellaway (Mr. Chumley), Ward Bond (policeman).
by Richard Harland Smith
Twinkle, Twinkle, Movie Star! by Harry T. Brundidge
Lupe Velez and Her Lovers by Floyd Conner
"Lupe Vélez, Queen of the B's by Rosa Linda Fregoso, From Banana to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture, Myra Mendible (editor)
The RKO Gals by James Robert Parish
Immortals of the Screen by Ray Stuart
Dishing Hollywood: The Real Scoop on Tinseltown's Most Notorious Scandals by Laurie Jacobson
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
This picture, inspired by the success of RKO's The Girl from Mexico, was the first in the Mexican Spitfire series. Including The Girl from Mexico, Lupe Velez starred as "Carmelita" and Leon Errol as "Uncle Matt" in eight Mexican Spitfire films for RKO, from 1939-1943. In addition to his role as "Uncle Matt", Errol also impersonated a member of British nobility in these films. The last film in the series was 1943 film Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event. For additional information about the series, consult the Series Index. A Hollywood Reporter production chart lists Ward Bond in the cast, but his participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Lester Dorr to the cast.