Juanito

Juanito: An early Spaghetti Western... with songs!
Juanito: An early Spaghetti Western... with songs!

Spanish title: Juanito
Country: Spain / West Germany
1960
Genre: Historical Adventure
Director: Fernando Palacios
Produced by Joaquin Vázquez for Dokumentar Color and Jesus Saiz
Story and screenplay: Wolf Neumister and Hans Bertram
Music: Augusto Alguero, the song ‘Pan, amor y beses’ is by Francisco del Val
Cinematographer: Ricardo Torres
Editor: Julio Peña
Art director: Román Calatayud
Cast: Hans von Borsody (Tom), Sabine Bethmann (Carmencita), Pilar Cansino (Luisa), George [Georg] Thomalla (Paddy), Antonio Casas (President Meza), José Marco Davó (General Vegas), Félix Fernández (Doctor Agapito), José Manuel Martín (Carras), Ángel Ortiz (Pedrillo), Ena Sedeno, Josefina Serratosa, Francis Bernal de Quiros, Maria Vico, Francisco Bernal, Anibal Vela, José María Prada (Dr. Ramiro), José Sepulveda, Juan Cazalilla, José Toledano, Alfredo Mayo (Colonel Cuesta), Tomás Blanco
Uncredited: Pablito Calvo (Juanito), Manuel Arbó, Ángel Álvarez

Synopsis

During the Mexican revolution the presidential palace is attacked and it is only thanks to the intervention of a sympathetic maid that the president’s son Jaunito (Pablito Calvo) is able to escape. After being mortally injured by an exploding bomb she is forced to ask the help of Tom (Hans Von Borsody), a German hunter who – unaware of the boy’s background – agrees to take him into his care. After escaping by train they head to his mountain hut where they meet with Tom’s friend and partner, Paddy (Georg Thomalla). In the meantime the head of the army, General Vegas (José Marco Davó) is desperate to find Jaunito and offers a substantial reward for any information that leads to his recapture. When Tom and Paddy discover the true identity of their charge they decide to do everything they can to keep him safe but, after being betrayed by a duplicitous Doctor, Juanito is recaptured and they are locked up in a seemingly impregnable prison.

Review

Juanito was a Spanish, German and Argentinian co-production which was financed by German producer Heinz Neubert, who was also behind En las ruinas de Babilonia (which was released in West Germany in October 1959) and the earlier Caravana de esclavos (1958). While both those films were based on works by Karl May, the notorious and hugely popular German writer of pulp novels set in America – most famously based around his protagonists Winnetou and Old Shatterhand – this was an original story. It’s fair to say that it was still ‘inspired’ by May, also being an adventure film set in the Wild West.  Both Caravana de esclavos and En las ruinas de Babilonia were co-directed by a Spaniard (Ramón Torrado) and a German (Georg Marischka and Johannes Kai respectively), but Juanito is solely accredited to the Spanish filmmaker Fernando Palacios.

Juanito
Juanito

Despite its Central American location Juanito is very obviously modeled on the American westerns, complete with bombastic music and a rather moralistic viewpoint. It shares its look, feel and attitude with the other Karl May adaptations, but it’s worth noting that this was made a good couple of years before the better known and hugely successful Winnetou films commenced with Treasure of Silver Lake (62). The Mexican setting also ties it into the Zorro movies which would prove popular in Spain over the following years and which featured a similar array of mustachioed officers, sun-bleached haciendas and hapless soldiers falling over each other rather than causing the protagonist any consternation.

Although undoubtedly creaky – it’s a very old fashioned adventure film where the good are good, and the bad are almost completely ignored – it’s nevertheless a reasonably entertaining affair. Aimed at a juvenile audience, it steers clear of anything too contentious or distressing, although the revolution itself is depicted with a sense of chaos and danger which you wouldn’t have found in Champion the Wonder Horse or The Lone Ranger. In fact the Mexican setting marks it as one of the earliest antecedents of the Spaghetti Western, complete with flamenco dancing, beery peons and opportunistic but ultimately benevolent Europeans. Indeed, many of the character actors who would later find steady employment in the genre are present and correct, including José Manuel Martín, José Marco Davó and Antonio Casas.

There are some duff notes, not the least of which is the appearance of two unlikely ladies in the form of Sabine Bethmann and Pilar Cansino, who drift into the picture, seemingly from the 1950s, to provide the love interest for Tom and Paddy. Unsurprisingly, given the Spanish taste for musicals at the time, there are also several lip-synced songs which make only a minimal effort to disguise their pre-recorded nature. The script could also have done with some more tightening because despite being an adventure film it’s actually rather short on, well, adventure; as such it’s no great surprise when it all ends up with a happy ending in which everyone decides that Juanito is such a sweetie pie that they might as well as just forget their differences and live happily together.

In all fairness Palacios was far from alone in his unwillingness to embrace action sequences and his hesitant sense of pacing; he was a filmmaker more used to making comedies or melodramas, and it was only really as the 1960s progressed that Spanish directors started to learn that visuals and rhythm are just as important as dialogue. He does make good use of the sets and locations – many of which would be recycled over the following years – and manages to coax engaging performances from the cast, most particularly Von Borsody and the surprisingly likable Calvo. Perhaps where Juanito is of most interest is as an intersection of several different strands of Spanish cinema of the time – musical melodrama, child star film, revolution set drama – with those which would hold sway over the coming decade (the western, the action film, the international co-production).

Rating: 3/10

Review by Matt Blake, 2016

Cast and crew

Fernando Palacios Martínez had started out as an assistant to famous filmmakers such as Florián King and Ladislao Vajda before making his debut as co-director alongside Henri Decoin in 1952 with El tirano de Toledo. His 1959 comedy El día de los enamorados was one of the highest grossing Spanish films of its time and he continued making hugely popular productions throughout the early 1960s before his untimely death of a heart attack in 1965, aged 49. Pablito Calvo was a child star who had had considerable success with Marcelino pan y vino (55), for which he received a special award at Cannes. Famed for his enormous eyes and expressive face, he was twelve years old when he made Juanito and would appear in three more films before retiring from acting the age of sixteen in favor of becoming an industrial engineer.

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