Friday, July 31, 2015

MACHETE (1958)

Luis (Albert Dekker), middle-aged owner of a sugar cane plantation in Puerto Rico, comes back from a New York City business trip with a bride, the blond, buxom and much younger Jean (Mari Blanchard). He seems besotted with her, but our first hint that it might not be true love on her part comes when she runs into an old acquaintance during their San Juan honeymoon and it becomes clear she had a past as a grifter. At the plantation, she meets the house residents: Bernado, the taciturn house manager; Carlos (Carlos Rivas), the handsome plantation manager whom Luis treats as a son; Rita, the housemaid who clearly has a thing for Carlos; and Miguel (Lee Van Cleef), a misanthropic cousin of Luis's who oversees the workers and who seems to resent Carlos' position. Everyone except Luis catches on to the fact that Jean is basically a gold-digger; a good-natured one, perhaps, but she's clearly not in love. Their wedding night is interrupted when a drunken Miguel picks a machete fight with Carlos. Dekker gets involved and winds up with a machete wound. While he's being treated, Carlos kicks the shit out of Miguel, and Jean, watching from the house, seems to get excited. The next morning, Luis kicks Miguel off the property, but he hides out in an unused sugar mill, hanging around to cause mischief and to try and put himself back in Luis's good graces. Meanwhile, Jean finally puts the moves on a very conflicted Carlos, and when they are caught kissing, everything falls apart, ending with a cane field fire which claims a couple of lives, as does another machete.

This B-melodrama with a lot of plot could have been interesting, but it's done in by poor acting on almost everyone's part. Blanchard is a low-rent Mamie Van Doren (herself a B-budget Marilyn Monroe); she looks the part but gives an artificial performance. That's the same problem the rest of the cast has; they look right but the acting is wrong. This is especially a problem with Rivas who is theoretically the hero but whom I just didn't care about at all since he comes off so cold and stiff. Dekker is an old pro and he's OK, if a bit sluggish, but the reason to watch, if you choose to, is Van Cleef (pictured) who stands tall as the villain. You almost wish for him to get away with his wicked plans just because you appreciate his performance. Largely due to the weak acting, the tension level isn't very high except during the machete fights. This was filmed on a real sugar plantation in Puerto Rico, so every so often, the action stops for some brief documentary-like snippets of real workers in the fields and at the machines. [Amazon Instant]

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