Tuesday, March 06, 2007
cinema obscura: George Sidney's "Pepe" (1960), Columbia and Turner Classics
It was a missed opportunity that left a lot of die-hard movie buffs scratching their heads. Turner Classics had quietly scheduled the difficult-to-see, full-length, 195-minute roadshow version of George Sidney's "Pepe" in a made-to-fit three-hour-and-fifteen-minute slot, set for February 19th - starting at 9:45 a.m. (6:45 a.m., pst), running until 1 p.m. (10 a.m.)
Actually, originally, the movie was listed on the Turner web site in a 10-to-1 slot. However, when that was changed to 9:45 on Turner's site, that pretty much assured everyone that the uncut version would indeed be presented.
But when the film opened sans the usual roadshow overture, matters did not look hopeful. Things grew even less promising when the intermission break, following a dance number to "Tequila" featuring star Cantinflas and guest star Debbie Reynolds was elminated. This was not what was promised but the usual truncated 157-minute version of the Columbia movie, albeit in wide screen (a TV first). It was a video/DVD-alert moment that never happened.
OK, I should have noted at the outset that I doubt if anyone thinks of "Pepe" as an even remotely good movie. I'm not sure it could be called a movie at all. What it is in an amiable, shambling hodge-podge of cameo appearances - with co-star Dan Dailey bumping into a lot of celebs, mostly the stars of Columbia's TV shows at the time, such as Donna Reed and Jay "Dennis the Menace" North. The strained dialogue in such moments had Dailey congratulating Reed on her family-oriented show and wishing her family his best. "Which one?," she coyly asks.
The ostensible star of the film is the remarkable Mexican clown Cantinflas, but he had been encouraged by Sidney to (1) behave like child, (2) agree to be shunted aside and insulted by Dailey in scene after scene and (3) be generally condescended to by the array of guest stars, most of whom call him Poncho - as in Poncho Villa. You know - good, old, harmless, all-American racist fun. Sidney was a hit-or-miss filmmaker if there every was one, just as capable of ruining "Bye, Bye Birdie" for the sake of showcasing the grotesquely miscast Ann-Margret as he was of making a perfect film version of Cole Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate" or a good melodrama like "The Eddie Duchin Story." Here is squanders the talents of a star who he clearly wanted to celebrate.
That was the general feeling when the film premiered as a roadshow attraction in New York, Los Angeles and Miami during the Christmas 1960 holiday, as evidenced the The New York Times' scathing review by Bosley Crowther. (Click once and then again to read archive review.) By the time the film got to other cities, "Pepe" had been trimmed from 195 minutes back to 157 minutes, which seemed to be the only version in existence.
Among the trimmed bits was a much-publicized animated "Don Quixote" dream sequence, prepared by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, in which the title character dreams that he is Quixote. Vicki Trickett, a popular Columbia starlet at the time, played Lupita, Pepe's girlfriend in the sequence. Even though she was cut entirely out of the film, her name still remains in the credits.
"Pepe" is a likable bad film which may explain why so many film buffs have been obsessed with seeing the long-lost full version. Needless to say, when Turner aired the usual short version, the disappointment was palpable.
Turner apologized for the mix-up, running the following explanation: "We requested the longer version, and Sony originally told us they had it (in fact they said that was the only version they had). However, last week they told us that the longer version was in bad condition and hadn't yet been trasnferred to video. So we ended up with the shorter one."
This is probably true, although the long version of "Pepe" was part of a 4-track mag stereo festival, put together by film restorer/historian Jeff Joseph, for Los Angeless' Egyptian Theater in November and December of 2002. "Pepe" was screened at 5 p.m. on Sunday, December 8 of that year and was listed as: "'PEPE,' 1960, Columbia, 195 min. Dir. George Sidney. Uncut Technicolor print!"
Joseph is pretty fastidious, so I can only assume that what he screened looked fine, but there's always the possibility that he took advantage of the opportunity to show a rare print of "Pepe," regardless of its condition.
Finally, the Turner web site offers the following notes about that long version of "Pepe": "Although various reviews list the film's length as 190 or 195 minutes, studio records reveal that the actual running time was 180 minutes 29 seconds. It is possible that the running time in the reviews included the film's intermission."
Oh, well, maybe another time...
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Still shot of Cantinflas in the missing animated sequence prepared by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for Columbia's "Pepe")
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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com
Posted by joe baltake at 11:08 AM