Wednesday, December 22, 2010

24th October 2010: Puss 'n Boots (1961)

Puss 'n Boots

Mexico 1961 colour

aka El Gato Con Botas

Directors Roberto Rodríguez, [uncredited] Manuel San Fernando Writer Ernesto Giménez Caballero

Cast El Enano Santanon (El Gato), Antonio Raxel (El Rey Serio), Humberto Dupeyrón (Juanito), Edmundo Benitez (El Gallo)

There are a number of rules for a children's film to succeed as a miserable failure, and thus reaching the hallowed “schlock” status. For one, the movie must patently stink as entertainment for its (by now alienated) primary audience. Secondly, it must disturb and unnerve – not in an obvious manner, but in a creepy, not-good-touch fashion. And thirdly, it must be shoddily dubbed, thereby hammering home its “unworldliness”. Musical numbers, unable to match the mouth movements with musical syncopation, subsequently crash and burn, and are reduced in minutes to smouldering ash. The agony! The ecstacy! And remember, kids, don't ever take ecstacy if you're feeling depressed or not in the care of an irresponsible adult.

Once these three simple rules are in place, it's a joy to uncover an entire industry of psychedelic pseudo-kiddie horrorshows which sticks desperately to the rules like a drowning fat kid to his donut. It ain't a life raft, Tubs, and Puss 'n Boots from 1961 is clearly not for twinkywinks. Originally titled El Gato Con Botas, it's just one of a series of Mexican fairy tales from the early Sixties produced and directed by Roberto Rodriguez, and then reworked for an American audience by the dubbing factory of Florida-based K. Gordon Murray. His successes repackaging Mexican wrestling and/or horror pictures was matched by his Saturday Matinee circuit; Murray's fabled double bills of weirdly-reworded German and Mexican programmers were augmented with live appearances of “your favourite characters brought to life” - men in animal costumes representing Stinky the Skunk and the Big Bad Wolf. Plush memories, I'm sure, buried by an entire generation of post-Baby Boomers only now coming to terms with the deep psychological scars.

Puss 'n Boots is set in a magical kingdom under the spell of a terrible ogre, the genetic result of Genghis Khan being raped by Vikings, who has bled the Royal Treasury dry and now demands the hand of the King's daughter for his oafish son. The Kingdom, it has been foretold, can only be saved by one who is pure of heart: into the forest prances Randy the Sheep Herder (thank you K. Gordon Murray for showing such restraint), and into the hidden sugar-cave of kindly old Mother Time. She hands Randy a miniature hat and boots, which fit his pet cat like a charm. Before you can say “aye chihuahua”, the puss is transformed into El Gato, a midget in a cat costume (and if you dig below the furline you'll find the hunchbacked dwarf from our previous film Santo & Blue Demon vs The Monsters!), an amphetamine howl on legs whose demented stream-of-consciousness babble is punctuated with a stabbing series of “mrow's” and “meowmeowmeow's”. The Prints (as in “Paw Prints”) and the Pauper team up with a talking chicken who claims to be of royal lineage – both Cat and Chicken become locked in a battle to see who has the most grating voice, and I suspect it's the same one! - and together they set out to save the kingdom AND the chastity of Princess Jane with cunning, lies, a pure (if somewhat deceitful) heart, and a full load of catnip.

“The mercy and charity of God is infinite,” says Mother Time, echoing the film's Catholic overtones and Inquisition-like intensity. For us, however, Puss 'n Boots offers no mercy, and is proof that God has left the cinema, leaving us perpetual five year olds trapped in an existential filmic Hell. For one we're subjected to one of the most excruciating musical scores in the K. Gordon Murray catalogue, a caterwaul of cat's claws on blackboards (“Who dares raise his voice in song?” asks the King, and no-one's willing to own up!). Then there's the scene of the Chicken pleading to the court not to be eaten, echoing the undercurrent of sadism in both Puss In Boots the fairy tale, and Puss 'n Boots the Mexican torture show. There are dwarves dressed as clowns, fat kids in puffy pants, and El Gato attempting to seduce a real-life pussy... “This pretending is grotesque”, the King so accurately puts it, and the sum effect is like having an injection – it stings like a motherfucker and the sight of steel penetrating the skin chills us to the soul, but we can't look away. Watching Puss 'n Boots from one set of credits to the other is like a whole series of injections that have perforated the skin all the way around your arm so you can tear it off like a postage stamp. Now take that arm and beat yourself to death with it.

Feeling better? Thought you might. Or, just record tonight's movie and watch it twice. Please enjoy the 1961 Puss 'n Boots.

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