CINECON DAY 1: DOWN ARGENTINE WAY (1940)

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Hello readers, I have had a very full day at Cinecon and am back with the latest returns! I have decided that this year I will do things a bit differently. Normally when I cover festivals, I give a brief rundown of the experience and a bit about each movie I watched. This year, since I am seeing close to 10 movies a day at Cinecon, I will pick one movie from the day that made an impact on me and discuss and dissect it on the blog. I feel that with 10 movies each day, trying to cover all of them would be respecting none of them, and I would rather pick one each day and give it the attention it deserves.

The movie I chose today is one with which I am very familiar and was excited to see on the program. I first saw Down Argentine Way when I was still a young teenager, and it has always been a delight to watch. Sporting a combination of a young Betty Grable, the lively and seductive Carmen Miranda, and the spectacular dance routines of the Nicholas Brothers, Down Argentine Way is a relatively undiscovered treasure that merits a viewing.


The film begins with Carmen Miranda, still unknown to American audiences, singing “South American Way” in her trademark Brazilian garb, full of charisma and spark. Though already a major star in her native Brazil, Down Argentine Way marks Carmen Miranda’s American film debut, introducing her to American audiences and securing her meteoric rise to international fame. Carmen Miranda soon became a major star for 20th Century Fox and quickly became one of the most widely imitated stars of the day.

Carmen Miranda singing “Mamae eu quero” in Down Argentine Way.

Lucille Ball doing the number on “I Love Lucy.”

Another star on the rise in the film is Betty Grable, also making her first feature under contract at 20th Century Fox. Grable would go on to be a huge box-office draw, her lithe figure and especially legendary legs leading her to become a pin-up girl and a major booster to American morale during World War II.

With Don Ameche in Down Argentine Way.

Grable’s famous pin-up shot.

Don Ameche plays Ricardo Quintana, a young man from an Argentinian horse racing family who falls in love with Glenda Crawford (Grable), an American who wants to purchase one of his racehorses. Complicating matters is that Ricardo’s father has a vendetta against a man named Crawford, Glenda’s uncle, so Ricardo tells his father that Glenda’s last name is actually Cunningham so that they may continue their relationship. Ricardo’s father takes a liking to Glenda, but when he finds out that her last name is actually Crawford, trouble ensues. After a miscommunication and ultimate resolution regarding Ricardo’s racehorse and his chances of winning a championship, all is resolved and the film ends on a happy note. Truthfully, I couldn’t really tell you how Ricardo’s father forgot his vendetta so quickly and easily after a decades-long feud with the Crawford family. But in 1940’s musicals, dwelling on minor plot points will often just result in more confusion. These movies are designed to be taken lightly!

Probably the highlight of the movie for me was the inclusion of a very elaborate dance sequence by the Nicholas Brothers (Harold and Fayard). At the screening today, we were lucky enough to have the son of Fayard Nicholas there to introduce the film. He told a lovely story of how Darryl Zanuck stood up for the Nicholas Brothers at the “whites only” entrance to the 20th Century Fox commissary, and greatly respected them for their talent. And talented they are. Just take a look at this number they performed in the movie.

This type of acrobatic dancing and especially the move with the sliding splits is characteristic of the Nicholas Brothers. They performed, often uncredited, in many musical movies during Hollywood’s Golden Age, securing huge amounts of respect within the industry.

The Nicholas Brothers performing the “Jumpin’ Jive” in Stormy Weather. Fred Astaire once referred to this sequence as the greatest dance number ever filmed.

If you haven’t seen Down Argentine Way, I would highly recommend it. It’s a fun story, and packs a terrific punch of star power.

See you tomorrow for more Cinecon coverage!

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