YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1945)
Article 4327 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Featuring Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, Frank Morgan
What it is: Musical
An American con man hiding out in a fictional South American country decides to swindle an heiress by pretending to be her guardian angel. But he doesn’t reckon with love showing up…
Let’s talk plot logic for a minute. You have a girl who is going to be the heiress of a large fortune and the head of the biggest business in the country. In preparation for this responsibility, she is raised in a convent away from the world for twelve years, and the only business advice she is given is to trust in her guardian angel. All I can say is that whoever came up with that plan fully deserves to have the fortune lost to the first con man that comes along.
I could go on in this vein, but let me just sum up now by saying that the story is silly, trite and unbelievable. Still, that’s not necessarily a fatal problem; after all, this is a musical, and one of the specialties of the musical form is to take pieces of fluff like this and bring them to life. And I will say this about the movie; it certainly does that; in fact, it not only brings it to life, it jolts it with so much sugar and caffeine that the resulting rush is almost hallucinatory at times. This is one weird movie, especially during a dream sequence in which Fred Astaire has to deal with such things as being held prisoner by a gang of washerwomen, lighting the eight cigarettes of an eight-armed man, and watching a horseless horse race. This is one of those movies where I’m often enthralled and appalled at the same time; there are times where I’m blown away by the beautiful Technicolor spectacle of the costumes and the sets while being horrified at the way they’re used in such excess. In a similar way, I find it hard to reconcile the way it juxtaposes incredibly naivete with strong sexual undercurrents, particularly during Yolanda’s bath sequence. I can see why the movie was a box-office failure; it was probably too much for the audiences of the time. However, I am willing to bet that this one has a cult following of some sort.
As for the fantastic content, on top of having a mythical country of Patria where the action takes place, there’s the whole plot involving the con man pretending to be a guardian angel. Given the type of movie it is, I’m not surprised ultimately that before it’s all over, the heiress’s real guardian angel shows up. Still, I might have classified it as a fantasy even without these elements; one of the first impressions I got from the visuals in the opening scenes is that wherever this movie took place, it was certainly nowhere in the real world.
For me, the movie has at least one huge flaw; it’s a musical featuring Fred Astaire and you have to wait at least forty minutes before he does his first dance. That is a crime in itself.