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Pepe [Cantiflas]

Pepe (1960) starring Cantiflas, Dan Dailey, Shirley Jones

Pepe is a cameo-filled comedy about a Mexican ranch hand who heads to Hollywood when his beloved prize stallion is sold to a director.

Synopsis

Dan Dailey and Cantiflas in Pepe
Dan Dailey and Cantiflas in Pepe

At its’ heart, Pepe is the story of a Mexican ranch hand (Cantiflas). He’s raised a beautiful white stallion, which he considers to be his “son”. A not-very-nice Hollywood director (Dan Dailey) buys the stallion for a movie that he plans to shoot in Mexico. So, Pepe goes to Hollywood in hopes of getting his “son” back. Something the director notices: Pepe brings out the best in the stallion. And in the leading lady (Shirley Jones). So he pretends to make Pepe a producer, to keep him working his magic on them. And Pepe begins falling in love with the actress …

Review

Dan Dailey, Cantiflas, and Shirley Jones in Pepe
Dan Dailey, Cantiflas, and Shirley Jones in Pepe

Somewhere in Pepe, there’s an entertaining comedy that’s struggling to get out. I frankly hate having to say that, but it’s true. After Cantiflas’ success in Around the World in 80 Days, Hollywood tried to use the exact same formula again. Cramming a multitude of Hollywood stars and starlets into this film. Which, had it been restrained, might have worked. As it was, it bloated the running time to over 3 hours, and resulted in a box office flop. It’s failure was so bad that Cantiflas wouldn’t appear in another Hollywood movie. And that’s a crying shame.

Cantiflas is very funny when he’s on screen — and has a lovable, vulnerable character as well. The idea of him falling in love with Shirley Jones is very believable. Which makes the inevitable heartache more poignant.

Cast of characters

Cantiflas as Pepe
  • Pepe (Cantiflas, Around the World in 80 Days). A very sweet, kind, babe-in-the-woods character. His motivation at first is simply to be reunited with his “son”. Along the way, he falls in love with:
  • Suzie Murphy (Shirley Jones, The Music Man). An attractive, kind young actress. Pepe helps bring out her best performances, and she likes him as well. Unfortunately, when she tells him she “loves” him, she’s thinking like a brother. But Pepe thinks it’s more …
  • Ted Holt (Dan Dailey, There’s No Business Like Show Business). The gruff, hard-drinking producer. It’s because of his hard drinking that his current movie is his last chance to restart his career. He’s gruff, and borderline nasty, to both Pepe and Suzie. Although he tends to kiss up to the various stars in their cameos, in hopes of getting them to appear in his movie.
  • Maurice Chevalier (Gigi). After Ted Holt tricks him into agreeing to perform a song for his movie, Maurice Cchevalier returns the favor, and has Dan and Pepe perform in his closing numbeer, Mimi. It’s entertaining, but more crucial to the story is the romantic advice that he gives Pepe afterward.

Cameos

  • The scene with Maurice Chevalier, both the trio dancing and afterward giving Pepe romantic advice, is very well done. And, his interaction with Pepe afterward, on how to tell if a woman is truly in love with you, is essential.
  • The scene with Tony Curtis & Janet Leigh starts out funny, goes on too long, and is superfluous. Were it edited out of the movie, nobody would have noticed. Although the scene of the drunken Cantiflas dancing with a pillar is almost worth watching the segment.
  • The scene with Kim Novak, where Pepe is trying to buy an engagement ring with his life savings, is very sweet.
  • The scene towards the end with Edward G. Robinson is nice, touching, and well-done. Where Edward has bought Pepe’s “son” … And Pepe has lost Shirley Jones as well.
  • The scene with Bing Crosby is cute — but should have been edited out. It doesn’t move the story forward.
  • Bobby Darin – sings well, but the entire scene was unnecessary.

Songs

  • That’s How It Went, All Right, Lyrics by Dory Previn, Music by André Previn, Performed by Bobby Darin
  • Faraway Part of Town, Lyrics by Dory Previn, Music by André Previn, Sung by Judy Garland on the radio and danced by Shirley Jones and Dan Dailey
  • Pepe, Music by Hans Wittstatt, Lyrics by Dory Previn, Performed by Shirley Jones – one of the highlights of the movie
  • The Rumble, Music by André Previn, Performed by André Previn
  • Lovely Day (Concha Nacar), Music by Agustín Lara, Lyrics by Maria Teresa Lara, English Lyrics by Dory Previn
  • Tequila, Written by Chuck Río
  • Mimi, Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart, Special Material and Routines by Roger Edens, Performed by Maurice Chevalier, Cantinflas and Dan Dailey
  • September Song, Music by Kurt Weill, Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, Performed by Maurice Chevalier
  • Hooray for Hollywood, Lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Music by Richard A. Whiting, Special Material by Sammy Cahn
  • Let’s Fall In Love, Written by Cole Porter, Performed by Bing Crosby
  • South of the Border, Written by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr, Performed by Bing Crosby
  • Pennies from Heaven, Music by Arthur Johnston and lyrics by Johnny Burke, Performed by Bing Crosby

Editorial review of Pepe courtesy of Amazon.com

In the wake of Mexican clown Cantinflas‘ winning performance in the film Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Columbia Pictures built a big musical comedy film around him. The gimmick behind Pepe, released for the 1960 Christmas season, was that it included “35 guest stars!,” performing in cameos. Maybe that was why it ran a stunning three hours and 15 minutes in its initial, disastrous run.

The soundtrack album, on the other hand, ran 34 minutes, typical of LPs of the day. That was enough time for Sammy Davis, Jr. to build a typically bravura six-minute act around “Hooray for Hollywood,” complete with impressions and special lyrics; for Maurice Chevalier to sing his signature song, “Mimi,” as well as “September Song“; and for Bing Crosby to do a brief medley of standards with Cantinflas. There was also an excerpt from Johnny Green’s score (“Suzy’s Theme”), though the main composer associated with the film was André Previn (the pianist on “The Rumble” and the songwriter); along with Previn’s lyricist wife, Dory Langdon (later known as ’70s singer/songwriter Dory Previn), of “That’s How It Went, All Right,” sung by Bobby Darin; and the Oscar-nominated “The Far Away Part of Town,” sung by Judy Garland (who did not actually appear in the picture).

Langdon also contributed English lyrics to two Spanish songs to create “Pepe” and “Lovely Day,” both sung by Shirley Jones. Though craftsman-like, none of the new material was particularly distinguished. But completist fans of any of the songwriters and performers should know about this album. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi

About

Computer nerd by day, professional clown on evenings and weekends (Raynbow), who combines the two by maintaining a bunch of websites dedicated to the history and performances of clowning, such as Free Clown Skits, and comedy such as Best Clean Funny Jokes.

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