Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Santo en el misterio de la perla negra [Santo in the Mystery of the Black Pearl] (1974)*

Santo en el misterio de la perla negra [Santo in the Mystery of the Black Pearl] (1974)*
"Juan J. Ortega presents a film by Luisa María Fernández" Dir/Scr: Fernando Orozco; Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera; Music: G. C. Carreón [sic]; Prod Mgr: Pedro Rivera; Prod Chief: Luciano Mercahn; Asst Dir: Javier Carreño; Film Ed: Reynaldo Portillo; Camera Op: Enrique de la Rosa; Lighting: Miguel Rincón; Union: STPC and Sindicato de Cine de Colombia "Sinatra" (really!)
CAST: Santo (himself), María Eugenia San Martín (Wu-Li), Guillermo Gálvez ("Che" Dávila), Fernando Osés (diamond buyer), Carlos Suárez (police official in Puerto Rico), Mara Cruz (Andrés' girlfriend), Antonio Pica (Andrés Cortés), Frank Braña (Julio), Orlando Vélez, Juan Garza (henchman)
Mexico City release: February 1976; 2 week run; Authorization: A

*A note about the date of this film: although Mexican reference books show that this film was produced in 1974 and released in 1976, Spanish reference books indicate that this was made in 1971 and released in Spain in that same year, under the title Misión secreta en el CaribeSPANISH DATAauthorization date: 17 July 1971; total spectators: 373,044; running date: 77 minutes; Production companies: TUSI S.A and Cin. Fermont; Director: Enrique Eguiluz; Screenplay: Manuel Bengoa; Photography: Juan Srinach; Music: José Espeita
Additional note: scenes of Guillermo Gálvez from Perla also appear in the non-Santo Campeones del ring ("1972"), although he is given a new character name.Campeones also uses a lot of footage from Santo frente a la muerte.

NOTES: This isn't a very good film technically, but some entertainment value may be derived from spotting the stock footage, doubles, mis-matched shots and other aspects of this patchwork picture. Another positive point is the fight scenes, where are somewhat better than usual (there are only two arena wrestling scenes: one features a tag-team of masked female wrestlers and is pure padding, the other pits Santo against a black-masked wrestler and appears to be the same match that was included in La venganza de las mujeres vampiro and Las bestias del terror). The end credits indicate that Santo en el misterio de la perla negra was shot in Cartagena, Panama, Maracaibo, San Juan de Puerto Rico, and Barcelona, although the only location which is utilized extensively is Cartagena (including a long sequence in a colonial-era fort).
But back to the trivia for a moment. Among the things to think about and watch for: (1) despite the title, the film is about smuggling diamonds, and while pearls do make an appearance towards the end, no reference is made to a specific black one; (2) the film opens with an extended sequence from Shark (aka Arma de dos filos, 1967), and the sharp-eyed viewer can spot Burt Reynolds and René Barrera in this footage; (3) there is also an extended musical production number taken from a much earlier (1950s-60s vintage) film, with two or three closeups of María Eugenia San Martín inserted to make her seem like she's "performing"; (4) Mara Cruz (who, although a major character, has no name in the film) is doubled in some early shipboard scenes by a woman whose face is (clumsily) never shown, and whose hair is longer and darker than Cruz's; (5) Santo himself also appears to have been doubled in some scenes in the same sequence, inasmuch as there issomeone wearing a very odd-looking and ill-fitting Santo mask walking around; (6) in a later scene, Santo and Wu Li have a telephone conversation in which her face is not shown (just an arm, reaching from off-screen to hold the phone!); (7) although the poster for the film shows a huge shark and there are several dialogue references ("Watch out for the sharks"), no sharks appear in the film, not even their dorsal fins; and finally, (8) the opening credits say this is a Spanish-Colombian co-production, while the end credits claim it is a Mexican-Spanish film.
As noted above, the film opens with footage from Shark: a man tries to escape from the police by running his truck over a cliff (after he leaps out). They think he's dead, but he's hiding and he manages to pass the diamonds he is carrying to Andrés and Julio. They have the gems attached (in a metal box) to the hull of a ship leaving Spain for Mexico.
In Mexico (presumably), Wu Li is appearing in a nightclub. Her boyfriend (who has hair like Kramer on Seinfeld) is beaten up by several gangsters (he defends himself pretty well, but is out-numbered) and warned to stay away from her. Wu Li 's boss says she has to go to Panama on a job for him. There is also the afore-mentioned wrestling match featuring women wrestlers. These scenes, which are all irrelevant, take up almost 20 minutes of running time before Santo finally makes his appearance.
Santo is briefed on the smugglers' plan. However, the same gangsters that beat up Wu Li's boyfriend have bugged his room, and they waylay him as he drives to the port of Veracruz. Santo beats them up in a field, getting his white sport coat all dirty; however, by the time he boards the diamond-laden ship in Veracruz, he's managed to get it cleaned up. Also on the ship are Andrés, Julio, and Andrés' girlfriend (whom we'll call Mara, since she's played by Mara Cruz--except in these scenes, where's she's played by a faceless double). As Santo is searching their cabins, one of the original gangsters whacks him with a board. Santo wakes up on deck. Why didn't they throw him overboard? Maybe he was too heavy, who knows.
The ship docks in Panama. Santo is waylaid again, this time on the street, and tied to a wharf piling. The tide is rising and it looks like he'll be drowned, but somebody swims by and cuts him loose. Who? Why? Maybe it was one of his fans, who knows.
Santo goes to the restaurant where he startles Andrés, Julio, and Mara, who thought he was crab bait by now. As he's sitting down, a knife whizzes by his head. A note attached says to meet "Wu Ly" at a nightclub nearby; he manages to find it, even though her name is now spelled "Wu Li" on the poster outside. Wu Li does a fairly long dance number (which includes a giant closeup of her cleavage), then goes to her dressing room upstairs. Santo follows. Her dressing room is the size of a huge apartment and just as luxurious (it is bigger than the nightclub itself looked). Santo unwisely takes a sip of drugged tea and passes out. He wakes up the next day and Wu Li apologizes: she tells him she slipped him a mickey to keep him safe, or make him trust her, or something. Meanwhile, the ship has departed for Cartagena, so Santo follows in a light plane.
The sloppy, white-suited "Che" Dávila sends a man out to retrieve the diamonds from the hull. Several men pretend to attack Mara and then try to kill Santo when he "saves" her, but they fail. Julio shoots at Santo and misses. Santo pursues him through the streets of Cartagena; they run into an amusement park, and Julio is struck and killed by one of the rides.
Andrés and Dávila sell the diamonds to some guy (Fernando Osés, as it happens). Santo is spying on the transaction, but is caught and thrown in a cell in a colonial-era fortress. An old black guy is also in there, for no particular reason. When one of the guards comes in, Santo jumps him. They have a nicely-staged fight, inside and out, but the guard finally falls off a high wall into the sea. Santo does a pretty good high-dive himself, and is picked up by a passing boat.
Dávila takes the money he got for the diamonds and tries to buy pearls from a native chief (I think we're in Venezuela now). He shoots the chief and steals the pearls, but is caught by Santo and the local police when his jeep overheats. However, they let him escape so he'll lead them to Andrés and Mara. The police raid their meeting place, but Andrés and Mara escape, after Andrés kills Dávila.
Santo flies to Puerto Rico, the ship's next stop. The police search Andrés and Mara at customs, but they're clean. The pearls are back in the metal box attached to the hull of the ship. Wu Li turns up and tells Santo to meet her at the dock . They follow Andrés and Mara, who go out to the ship in a dinghy. Andrés swims over and gets the pearls, but when he hands them over, Mara shoots him with a speargun. Santo is left treading water in the middle of the bay when Wu Li takes off intheir boat.
Wu Li and Mara are celebrating in their cabin on the ship: they were in cahoots all along, and have disposed of their male partners. However, there is a knock at the door: it's Santo, with a bottle of champagne. He sends a telegram to his boss in Mexico, saying he's taking a vacation cruise, with two lovely women who will soon be taking long vacations at the government's expense. As they recline in deck chairs, he advises them: "Take advantage of the sun because a long time in the shade [sombra : slang for prison] awaits you."
Santo en el misterio de la perla negra isn't an awful film; despite it's choppiness and semi-coherence (or maybe because of these traits), it isn't dull. All of the padding is in the first 25 minutes, so the last hour or so moves right along , in a manner of speaking.

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