For Bunuel completists and Libertad Lamarque lovers only,
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This review is from: Gran Casino [DVD] (DVD)
Made in 1947, Gran Casino was the first film Luis Bunuel made after a 15 year hiatus in his career which saw him take odd jobs in Hollywood studios and in MOMA in New York before fetching up in Mexico. He made 32 films there between the years 1947 and 1965, the best of them constituting the greatest work he ever did. From these years we have Los Olvidados (1950), El Bruto (1953), El (1953), The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955), Nazarin (1959), Viridiana (1961), The Exterminating Angel (1962) and Simon of the Desert (1965) - all are masterpieces which show a passionate engagement in the world as Bunuel saw it and a raw cutting edge which eclipse his later better-known films made in France. Gran Casino, alas, doesn't compete with any of these films. It is a dull, anonymous and routine musical melodrama which, although well made and reasonably entertaining, flopped both artistically and commercially when it was released. The story (something about the oil business and a casino) isn't really worth recounting, the film being in essence a vehicle for the talents of Libertad Lamarque, a hugely popular Argentine tango singer who was in Mexico because she was having problems with Colonel Peron and his new girlfriend Eva Duarte who had played in Lamarque's theatrical troupe during the war. She is an extraordinary singer and her numbers are the highlights of the film. Jorge Negrete, playing opposite her also gets to perform a couple of decent songs. The musical scenes stand out probably because the intervening melodrama is so clunky. Bunuel no doubt needed to learn how routine studio films were made before he could set about doing his own thing, and there's no doubt that Gran Casino was part of that learning curve. His producer Oscar Dancigers stood by him, going on to finance the much better-received The Great Madcap (1949) which led to his break-through masterpiece, Los Olvidados. Anyone closely interested in Bunuel should buy this DVD, particularly as Studio Canal have done an outstanding job on the transfer (which knocks spots off the Los Olvidados and Nazarin transfers which I have seen recently) and have included a useful short illustrated introduction to the film (in French with English subtitles) as well. The cheap price is also a plus. It's hardly 'essential' Bunuel, but when it's being given away virtually free it should be snapped up by any lover of this director, or indeed of Lamarque.