Saturday, June 6, 2009

O Escorpião Escarlate (1990)

... aka: Scarlet Scorpion, The

Directed by:
Ivan Cardoso

I went into this one expecting a horror-comedy (judging by the director's track record and the poster art proclaiming him a "master of terror"), but instead got a delightful, highly-stylized, sometimes hilarious and always affectionate comedy about the importance of radio programming in Brazil back in the day. There's the occasional nod to vintage horror and sci-fi films in here, enough for it to earn a place on this blog, but don't expect anything terrifying here. It cleverly opens with black-and-white newsreel footage (very similar to the way Heavenly Creatures began) that covers everything from race car driving to "grass weed" (marijuana) trafficking to cable cars to celebrities such as Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Linda Darnell arriving in Copacabana. Movie going was more popular than ever in Brazil in the 1950s (the setting for this film), but what has really won the hearts of the country is the popular cliffhanger radio serial "The Adventure of The Angel," which features iconic crime-fighter "O Anjo" (The Angel). The show's writer and creator, Álvaro Aguiar (Herson Capri), has just signed a million dollar contract to continue his series and possibly bring the character to the big screen. Meanwhile, fans of the show, including fashion designer Gloria Campos (Andréa Beltrão), are gathering around their radios to hear the latest adventures of The Angel and envisioning the events in their minds, which are then shown to us as well-filmed and knowing recreations of vintage serials. The film jumps back and forth from the real world (shot in color) to the fictional world of "The Angel" (in black-and-white), with the two sometimes overlapping.

How fiction carries over into the real world here is that a serial killer is dressing up as the radio program's villain, "The Scarlet Scorpion," and going around killing people in the same ways depicted in the radio program. Gloria links the string of recent murders to the program and when her accusations blow up in the press, she's canned from her job. Thankfully, she quickly finds another at Radio Nacional hosting "The Angel Club;" a fan talk program where she answers letters and gives away gifts ("It's what American's call marketing!"). There she meets Álvaro and the two immediately fall in love. There are many other characters in this film, as well. Untalented voice actress Rita Mara (Susana Matos) is sleeping with the overweight station director Alfredo Maximo to try to get a larger role in the program. Guido Falcone (Nuno Leal Maia), an Italian opera singer with a white streak in his hair, is pissed because he's just been canned to make room for more Angel programming. Gloria's co-worker Paula (Isadora Ribeiro) is sleeping with a taken man (Mário Gomes) who she met while modeling wedding gowns to his future wife!

In the visualized program, The Angel is portrayed by the same actor playing the writer, while Doris the female reporter is at first played by actress doing the actual voice overs for the show, but then by the actress playing Gloria. It may sound confusing, but it's really not when you watch it. Other characters on the show include Angel's sidekick Jarbas (Leo Jaime), sadistic, exotic villainess named Madame Ming (Monique Evans, who was apparently a top Brazilian model) and Ming's bald, facially scarred, crippled henchman Limping Frog (!?) In one scene, the reporter is tied down to a table topless with a huge buzz saw aimed between her legs and threatening to saw her in two! Eventually she's taken to "The Palace of Torture" where she's put in some contraption that will impale her with spikes. Saw has nothing on this bad boy.

Did I mention that Angel has his very own completely awesome 50s-style theme song played four different times in the film (including over the opening and closing credits)?

There's also a great scene at a club called Night & Day where jazz singer Ivon Cury performs a Sinatra-like song and then Brigitte, a French entertainer, starts doing a harmless "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend"-style routine that quickly turns into a sexy strip show. What makes this interesting is that Brigitte is played by an actress named Roberta Close who before this film was better known as Luíz Roberto Gambine Moreira. Yes, the gorgeous stripper we all just saw was actually a pre-op transsexual. I'll admit it. I had no clue. I was just like "Wow, she's hot." Looking up more info online, I discovered Roberta was the first pre-op to pose for Brazilian Playboy, had a full sex reassignment surgery in 1989, did a layout for a men's magazine called "Sexy" and was eventually named the "Most Beautiful Woman in Brazil" in a reader's poll. After that she relocated to Europe, married a Swiss businessman and became a staple in European tabloids. And this woman isn't even known here in America.

From a production standpoint, this is very well done, with charismatic actors, a fun and always engaging story line, good music, some laughs, plenty of action and skin and excellent cinematography, art direction and editing. It should be better known than what it is. Something Weird Video used to distribute it (and still might) and there is a nice-quality subtitled print floating around out of there if you look for it.


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