Friday, November 4, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Mision Suicida (1973)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Mexico City, during the Cold War. A Soviet spy ring - as we later learn under the leadership of Nazis with fitting names like Otto and Elke - kidnaps the Nazi war criminal and expert in brainwashing techniques Doctor Müller (Juan Gallardo). They need him to prepare the unsuspecting women populating their secret spy training camp in Santo Domingo for their real work. These women, you see, think they are just training (for who knows what?) at a very special gym that just happens to have a lot of swastikas in some of its rooms. In truth, they are meant to be the Soviet Unions new elite spies who are supposed to start an awesome series of sabotage missions in the USA in the near future. They just need to be convinced, and that's where Müller will fit in.

Alas, he really shouldn't be seen in public with his face, so the Nazi Soviets first need to kidnap the daughter (Elsa Cardenas) of famous cosmetic surgeon Dr. Thomas. This act will in turn provide them with the opportunity to press the good doctor into their services. Surely, there are no cosmetic surgeons in need of money anywhere to be found.

The bad guys' kidnapping spree doesn't escape the attention of that most spyhunting of all international police organizations, Interpol. Interpol's big shot Topaz (Cesar Del Campo) decides that this difficult Nazi Soviet/Soviet Nazi problem can only be solved by the premiere example of manliness we worship as El Santo (El Santo!).

Together with Interpol agent/nightclub singer Ana Silva (Lorena Velazquez), Santo puts his incredible physique and utterly brilliant intellect to work against the fiendish plan of destroying the Free World through a lot of girls in bikinis. But where to start? Oh, right, probably with one of the masses of henchmen piling onto Ana and Santo wherever they go.

Mision Suicida is one of the finer movies that the idol of the masses did during the 70s. It's not always a good sign in a Santo movie when our hero has no supernatural threat to wrestle with, but a combination effort of Soviets and Nazis (which seem to be just about the same in the confused mind of scriptwriter Fernando Oses)is nearly as effective an attack on all the is good and decent (or a night club) as a team-up of Dracula and the Wolfman. That the the weirdly stylish Santo of the early 70s is an excellent hero for a cheap-skate spy movie in the Eurospy vein is self-evident.

At this point in his career, Santo's films had already begun to sprout carcinogenic growths of filler as if they were characters in a body horror film, and were therefore always at risk of being buried by nightclub sequences, painful comic relief and random archival footage - at times even all three things at the same time - so it comes as something of a surprise that I can report Mision Suicida contains only two nightclub sequences, no comic relief and barely a hint of archival footage. The nightclub sequences themselves are also some of the less painful found in Santo films. Although the music in them certainly isn't great shakes, the pain is somewhat alleviated by ye olde "shake some (clothed) tits into the camera" gambit; it's not high-brow, but it is a lot less painful than a horde of moustached guys wearing large sombreros, or whatever that thing during the Mummies of Guanajuato was.

There's just no time for filler here, because what Mision Suicida lacks in budget it tries to make up for with lots and lots of action scenes, especially brawls in a classic serial style, two or three car chases (mildly paced), an explosion, and Santo kinda-sorta wrestling a shark in one of the lesser shark wrestling scenes of the sort of cinema which features shark wrestling scenes. The film's break with the often stately tempo of lucha cinema in this period at times reminds of Turkish pop and pulp cinema. Mision Suicida and something like Deathless Devil are obvious brethren in spirit, both films going for a not necessarily artful yet breathless style of narrative that replaces actual plot through one damn, hopefully exciting, thing after the other and tries to drive the audience into a state of excitement by their sheer determination to entertain with the little they have in their possession.

Lucha director veteran Federico Curiel (director of some of my best loved and of my worst loved Mexican genre movies) seems to put a lot of energy into the brawls, ramping up the excitement level through use of (often quite shaky) handheld camera work to replace the more typical static shots used for fights in a lucha film. Curiel's gamble of risking something slightly new pays off quite well and the fights are some of the more exciting ones to be found in the genre.

It's also nice to have a Santo movie in which the female lead is shown to be vaguely competent too, and though Velaquez (who every right-minded person loves for her part in the Wrestling Women/Las Luchadoras films) isn't allowed to get all Emma Peel on Santo, she is doing a bit more than just filling out her clothes. Which, by the way, are often of that matter-of-course 70s bizarreness that alone can make films of the time worth visiting.

The whole string of minor nightclubbing, major fighting and evil moustache-twirling of the moustacheless is held together by a soundtrack that is the tackier little brother of spy movie funk. For once, a lucha movie of this era and its soundtrack have something to do with each other. Well, if you ignore the women judoing to a bit of easy listening, that is.

Apart from all this, Mision Suicida is of course also full of the little bits and pieces of weirdness every lucha film needs to contain. And yeah, a masked wrestler working for Interpol just isn't enough of the "weird" for a film like this. Honestly, if Santo can build a time machine, he can also work for Interpol,  so scenes like the utterly puzzling (that is, filmed so that you don't have the slightest clue what's going on) shark wrestling sequence between Santo and something that might be rubber or a dead shark in a swimming pool or the over-complicated plans of our bad guys (who seem to have quite enough ready agents without needing the brain-washing at all) are absolutely needed to truly put the movie into lucha land, where it will forevermore proudly cavort among the other adventures of sharply dressed wearers of masks.

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