Gran Casino (1947, Luis Bunuel)

First movie Bunuel directed in 14 years, beginning his Mexican period with producer Oscar Dancigers.

Guitar guy in the prison in opening scene glances at the camera a couple times. Not on purpose, was it? Guess I’d have to hear the lyrics to know for sure. Damn cheap Lionsgate paid for an audio commentary but didn’t subtitle any of the songs. Why? It’s a musical. Lyrics might be meaningful. I can understand about half of the spoken Spanish dialogue but hardly any of the song lyrics. Wotever.

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Dreamy Gerardo and his mechanic friend Demetrio break out of prison and go looking for work… meet up with Heriberto, who introduces to Jose Enrique, owner of The National oil field, under siege from evil oil barons who threaten the workers. G & D are naive and need work so they recruit people easily and get the place running again. all is fine until baddie oilman Fabio has owner Jose Enrique killed.

Demetrio takes over the National next. The night before the oil is to start pumping, he goes to the casino and falls for Camelia, same girl J.E. was last seen with, and he too disappears courtesy of Fabio’s goons.

Well, Gerardo isn’t gonna take this anymore. When the beautiful Mercedes, J.E.’s sister, arrives from South America, she gets a job as a singer at the casino in order to find out more. Initially thinks G. is in on the plot, but belatedly teams up with him and helps foil Fabio. In the end she sells the National to the big big oilman, knowing that G has rigged the whole place to explode if he doesn’t make it back on time (and he doesn’t). Poor Heriberto and his kleptomaniac girlfriend Nanette are presumably left back in town with no work, as Mercedes and Gerardo ride the train outta town.

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A few, very few, possibly Bunuelian touches through psychologically meaningful shots… a drunk Gerardo stares at Nanette’s distorted, fading reflection in an ice bucket… a pane of breaking glass is superimposed on the image when G. knocks a guy out. Other than that, this is a very straightforward little studio movie. Looks awfully cheap for a musical, but not in a shoddy way, just in a non-Hollywood scaled-down way. We mustn’t blame Bunuel for the trite flicks he made in order to get by… it’s films like these that got him back in the director’s seat again, directly leading to Los Olvidados a few years later.

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