Sunday, May 11, 2014

Video Cheese/Oddball Film Report: PUSS N BOOTS

NOTE: The review was originally written for www.jabootu.com, although it appears here first by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

PUSS N BOOTS (1961/1964 - color)

  "A sword-fighting midget in a cat suit teams with a young boy and a giant chicken to end the tyranny of a gruesome ogre."


   Mexican kids flicks are a weird lot, but Puss N Boots actually starts pretty tame. It takes nearly fifteen minutes to become mind-rendingly bizarre.

   I'm not sure what to say about Mexican fairytale movies that could prepare the uninitiated. I guess if you took the weirdest Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning puppet show and stretched it to 80 minutes, you'd be in the right ballpark. These things are simply nightmarish compared to the rather more grounded stuff American kids grew up on during the same period. Somehow, in cartoon animation, the idea of humanoid animals goes down easy. When that very thing is done in live-action, it gets weird. Now add to it the freaky, seemingly LSD-inspired images that follow and...

   Randy, a singing sheep herder, happens upon the King. He is on his way to deliver the last of his treasure to the cave of the nasty ogre who rules the kingdom with threats of magical violence, including turning people into animals. (I expected this to mean young Randy would run afoul of the Ogre and he would transform him into the title character, but this bit of info is actually setting up a plot twist for much later in the film.) 
   Our Ogre is a fat Fu Manchu-like sorcerer and hedonist played by a guy wearing a rubber body which constantly draws the eye because he insists on wearing his robe open. It looks just real enough to be disturbing. At his side is his pampered Mini-Me-like son, whom the Ogre intends to have spliced to the King's daughter, the (maybe) ten year old Princess Jane. 

   Randy, also about ten, is smitten with Jane upon laying eyes on her. He will spend the rest of the movie carrying around Jane's lost glove. I find I really don't recall my ten year old brain very well, but these kids seem rather young to me, to be falling in love with each other. Maybe I just got a late start in life, who knows.

  At any rate, we have King Serious who is under the thumb of the Ogre, who has a son he intends to wed to Jane, who is the object of desire for Randy. Got all that?

   Randy also has a couple of (grown) lazy brothers who ignore their concerned Father. Dad goes out to find Randy, who is late coming in during a nasty storm. The brothers sit around and play cards, apparently believing themselves to be the town playboys. 

   Randy finds himself lost in a spooky part of the woods populated with living trees (actually, I thought spooks were supposed to be hiding in and behind the trees until a character later explains that these trees used to be people until they crossed the Ogre), which try to confuse him into going off trail. Randy manages to find a door to a weirdly colorful cave, and there finds an older woman who claims to be Mother Time. (I guess this makes sense, Father Time would have to have some relatives somewhere. But as out of the blue as this is, she might as well be Mrs. Santa Claus -a character weirdly absent from the Mexican take on that character!) 

   Mother Time lives in a cave made of sugar(!), and Randy responds to this knowledge by licking a stalagmite and noting how it tastes like caramel. (I could only wonder what Mother Time felt about Randy licking her furniture.)

  Mother Time and Randy discuss the Ogre, and Randy notes how he wished there was someone who could defeat their resident monster. Well, little Randy is in luck! Johnny, tell him what he's won! It's a cape and boot action set! Now you can dress Captain Action as Hamlet! 

   Actually, Mother Time hands over a tiny hat, cape, and booties (magic ones, obviously) and tells him they allow someone to destroy the Ogre. Randy notes they are too small for him, but Mother Time tells him to keep the articles on him, just in case. With that, Randy departs. (Not much seems to phase people in this kind of story.)

  Meanwhile, Dad has gotten a nasty bug during the storm and lies in his death-bed. As he calls for Randy, the Brothers muffle his mouth! This section of the film is pretty splicey, but the idea seems to be that the brothers killed their father just as Randy arrived! 

   Now masters of the house, they kick Randy into the yard, and toss him his only friend, a previously unseen white cat. (Actually, I'm allowing that the cat might've been seen before, but was lost in the splicey spot of the picture. There will be another one before we finish. This print used by Sinister Cinema has seen better days, and I would guess might even be a library print. I can see why it was dropped from their catalog. On a side note, the tape includes the trailer for the obscure Face of Terror, starring Lisa Gaye and Fernando Rey. That one's not a bad little picture, should you ever run across it.)

   So, little Randy is sulking in the barn with his cat. Suddenly the cat starts talking to him, like something from an educational short, or a trip-out. 

   The cat informs Randy that the boots will fit his tiny paws. Despite the fact that the boots won't fit anything else, Randy greets this notion with laughter. But he gamely dresses the cat up in the tiny Musketeer outfit. Now things get to that level of weird beyond weird, for this kitty is now transformed into a midget in a cat suit. 

   This one of those typically disturbing Mexican make-up jobs where you can see the actor's eyes and lips while the rest of his face is obscured by the kind of face you'd find on a plush toy. Due to a thankful number of long shots, Puss here isn't quite as disturbing as the Big Bad Wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood movies. Every now and then, however, we get a close-up, and it is every bit as scary as you can imagine. 

   Those lads south of the border have much stronger constitutions than American children. If I had seen this flick when I was ten, it would have scared me out of my wits! Even now I find some scenes far more creepy than anyone ever intended them to be, such as when Puss crawls around on all fours in fast motion, his 'sneaky' mode. For some reason, those shots make me very uncomfortable.

  So the cat is now Puss N Boots, which Puss confesses he always wanted to be. So, if I'm following this right, Puss N Boots is a special title that occasionally gets bestowed on some deserving individual, like becoming a Green Lantern. 

   Puss runs out into the streets and, sure enough, everyone seems to know who he is. They even merrily gather around him as he grabs a squeeze-box and sings a song in that horrible, scratchy voice they've dubbed him with. Said voice sounds far too creepy for this, like a deranged old witch who talks to themselves all the time like the Fleischer Popeye.

   His big number completed, Puss skitters away (in sneaky mode, looking like a giant spider) and comes across a butcher shop. Oddly, the couple who run this establishment don't know who Puss is. Actually, after his grating musical number, few others in the movie seems to know who he is. Maybe they're just ignoring him as best they can, in fear of him bursting into another song. (I'm guessing the strained 'cat' voice got more difficult as the dub was being done, as Puss punctuates his lines with "meow meow" less and less as things progress. Toward the climax, you can actually understand what he's saying.

   Puss tricks a dog into barking, luring the couple out of the butcher shop. This allows Puss to rush in and grab a basket load of sausage and split before the aghast owners return to the shop and find their meat gone. The place presumably is also littered with shed fur and smells awful, so their horrified reactions make sense. Puss takes his haul over to Randy. They each take one sausage and leave the basket behind as they depart. Puss isn't looking like a criminal mastermind at this point.

   Randy takes Puss to visit Mother Time, which involves another trip through the haunted forest. This time the moon emerges from behind the clouds and apparently neutralizes the not-nice creatures lurking about. They seem to be ghosts of some sort this time. 

   Anyway, They visit Mother Time, who tells them Puss can defeat the Ogre by being brave and selfless. During this, Puss tries to swipe a fish from her dinner table. He almost makes it out the door, but Mother lets him know that she saw what he did. I don't know if this was the point of the scene, but Puss does get better at subterfuge after this calling out.

    Its about here my scene-by-scene recall begins to fade from last night's viewing. Middle acts tend to be a bit more fuzzy. Besides, I was using Puss N Boots mostly to cleanse my pallet after watching Piranha Part II: The Spawning. (And talking about THAT movie, how on earth do you make a movie about killer flying fish that's in no way entertaining? It defies everything in cinematic law!)

I guess I'll have to switch to the bullet-point format.



- Randy and Puss are walking through the woods, where they come across a giant talking rooster, which is to say a midget in a chicken suit. (Your Joke Here.)

- The Rooster claims to be a blue blood, special in a way all other roosters are not. He's also in hiding for fear the starving kingdom will find him and serve him on a platter (the Ogre has cut off all the food to the palace). There follows a song from the trio about being amigos, like a grade school production of The Three Caballeros.

- Jane gets her dowry from the Ogre's Son. She's understandably upset about her situation.

- Puss captures a bag full of rabbits and birds and presents them to the King. Puss claims his master, a visiting Marquee (Randy plays this part, from a distance), has an army on the way to aid King Serious in his battle against the Ogre. Seeing hope for the first time in years, Serious likes this turn of events. 

   Unfortunately, when he inspects the contents of the sack, he does so by turning it upside down and dumping the animals onto the floor. They quickly escape, and the palace must pretend to have supper again. (Some days food is in such short supply that everyone in the castle pretends to be eating, lest they lose hope by not keeping up their routine. This is like a more elaborate version of the skit Jim Varney did as Lloyd Worrell, the Meanest Man in the World, who was so poor his family would sit down to pretend dinner. "Steak, huh? I was kinda hopin' we'd pretend like we was havin' lobster tonight. Tender, though, cuts with a fork.")

- The Brothers are recruited to join the Ogre's guard, in much the same manner that the North Korean Army found 'volunteers' during the war. Oddly, this will prove a major help to the Brothers, who -possibly for the first time in their lives- find themselves holding responsibility and allegiance. They become shockingly efficient in what little we still see of them from here on out.

- Randy, Puss, and Rooster find a festival in town, don masks, and mingle with the crowds. (I think this is a party for the royal wedding, as the Ogre and his Son are coming to the palace.) In the picture's most believable part, Puss finds his mask doesn't hide his identity, given that all he's wearing is a domino mask in addition to his regular costume.

- Puss tries to win some food by knocking over bottles with a bow and arrow, which the Rooster is pulling down from behind the stand. The Brothers notice this and call out Puss by forcing him to shoot an apple off Randy's head ala William Tell. Trying to make him miss and kill Randy, one of the Brothers bumps into Puss, which actually helps the feline avenger hit his mark! As the apple is split in twain, however, Randy's mask somehow pops off. The Brothers give chase, leading to a sword fight between Puss and the Ogre's guards.

- Puss manages to fight back the guard and the three chums race out of town. In the process of escaping, though, they bump into the carry-coach of the Ogre and his Son. The Son breaks into tears, as he's something of a milksop, while the Ogre cancels his trip to the castle. Ogre sends his messenger to tell King Serious to bring Princess Jane to his cave by the road.

- Puss tries to keep up the impression that help is on the way. Randy and the Rooster try to capture a pheasant, but mistakenly bag a beehive. Puss presents the bag to the King, thinking it to be food. After Puss leaves, the King orders all the doors and windows to be locked to avoid another dash by the intended dinner. With the royal staff locked in a room with angry bees, Serious is now gunning for Puss.

- In what may be the film's MOST disturbing scene, Puss tries to make time with the Princess' cat. Seeing a man in a cat suit stroking a tabby while proclaiming that he's found the girl of his dreams is just wrong. To quote Wings' Joe Hackett "Roy, this is wrong in so many ways it's hard to explain without charts!"

- Jane runs across Randy in the royal garden. Although he had about three chances to do this earlier, he now tells her that he has her glove. At first she's excited, then she finds a hole in the glove. In a realistically 'kid' moment, upon finding her glove in less than perfect condition, Jane offers it back to Randy. "Do you want this?" Randy eagerly scoops back up the glove and stuffs it into his shirt, acting a bit more like an oversexed teenager than a small boy.

- Serious has his guards grab Puss. Randy tries to help, but gets himself in trouble. Jane explains that he is her friend, and we learn royalty isn't allowed commoner friends. Randy is tossed out, but Puss manages to convince Serious he meant no harm by theorizing that the Ogre's magic must be the cause of the bees. (And really, he isn't making an excuse, since he thought the bag contained a bird.)

- Puss tries to convince Serious that the Marquee has a powerful army by having the King and his assistant drive around in the coach. Puss claims that everything Serious sees out the window belongs to the Marquee. There's no indication of how far out the coach has gone, and the people that are talked to know King Serious (Puss had told them to play along, which doesn't make sense either), so I'm not sure how Serious wouldn't know his own land. He might not walk it every day, but the King should have a pretty good idea how far his kingdom stretches. Right?

- Puss tries to talk the Rooster into letting himself be cooked so that the King will be able to eat, as Puss has run out of other animals to take to the royal table, it seems. Given that no one in the palace has been able to eat anything Puss already brought them, I'm not sure where all the food is going. And how is it the peasants are eating fine, but not the royal palace? Serious could have solved this whole dilemma by ordering out. 

   At any rate, Puss appeals to the patriotism of the Rooster, and our feathered friend reluctantly agrees to go before the royal chopping block to feed his monarch.

- Puss presents the giant chicken to the King and his subjects, who all look upon the bird with much the same look The Old Man had when Ralphie's Mom was cooking that Christmas turkey. 

   Much is made of the Rooster's amble breast, which is given its own close-up followed by close-ups of the drooling staff. Rooster backs out when he sees the royal cooks coming at him with knives (which they seem to carry around with them at all times, just waiting for something to butcher to fall into their hands). He buys his freedom by making the King laugh, for the first time in four years. 

- This is actually dragged out a bit more than I indicate. Serious strikes this make-me-laugh deal with the Rooster, who then bursts into comedic song, just like Eddie Valiant did to save Roger and Jessica Rabbit. Actually, I can't say if the song is funny or not, for here we reach a spot that's awful splicey. I don't think there's a complete line to the song left, but we see the Rooster dancing around and singing as Puss accompanies on guitar. 

   Jane laughs, the others laugh, but all grow silent when Rooster punctuates one of his jokes by tapping Serious on the belly. After a tense silence, Serious begins to laugh and grants the bird his freedom.

- The reason the King is so glum is because his son vanished four years earlier at the Ogre's hands, and the Rooster teases that there is a reason he knows the King so well, to say nothing of that royal blood he keeps chirping about. They let us piece this together by throwing out the most blatant clues possible, but we can't follow through just yet. The Ogre demands the wedding take place PDQ.

- Beating Serious to the cave lair, Puss and Rooster confront the Ogre. Puss talks the villain into proving his magical powers before he kills them. Ogre conjures up some magic, because all bad guys are sensitive when their abilities are questioned. (Just think, 007 could have defeated Blofeld by telling him he didn't believe there were any piranha in his pool and asking the criminal mastermind to prove it for him.) 

- We are treated to an all-too-short bit with a fire-spitting dragon, then the Ogre switches Puss and Rooster's heads (look, I'm just telling you what happens). Helpfully, the Ogre puts their noggins back on the right bodies before deciding the time is right to kill them. Puss begs for one last trick, though. Puss bets that the Ogre can't turn himself and his son into something small, like a mouse and a kernel of corn. Not the sharpest Ogre in the cave, he succeeds in turning his offspring and himself into the very things traditionally consumed but his opponents.

    That's right, folks, Puss and Rooster eat the bad guys.

- A burst of smoke and the cave is gone. Puss beats feet to the river where Randy is, telling the lad to remove his clothes and jump in the river. (In an odd move for a kiddie flick, even a Mexican one, we get a quick shot of Randy's naked duff as he dives in.) Puss then heads off to find the King and Jane. 

- The royal coach is coming down the road to the now deleted cave. Puss moves a boulder into the road and covers it with straw, causing the coach's wheel to break off. 

-Serious and Jane are held in a house by the Ogre's guard while the coach is repaired. There, Puss stops by to let Serious know the Marquee is on his way, but has been dumped into the river and has no royal garments to wear. Serious gives permission for Puss to go get his son's clothes, and our furry hero zig-zags across the countryside.

   (We were told earlier that Puss can run at super speed. Even so, he might get places faster if he would run in a straight line once in a while.) 

-He gets the royal clothes and runs them over to Randy. We're in the last reel, folks!

- Puss and Randy (as the Marquee) arrive at the coach and break the news that the Ogre is dead. The Ogre's guards don't believe Puss, until he points to the location where the cave used to be, which is in plain sight of everybody! 

-Needing to finish the movie quick, Puss produces a funky amulet which hung around the Ogre's neck, although his possession of this item is never explained (or at least I didn't catch him picking it up earlier. In the scene where that might've happened I had my eyes on the Rooster. The action with which it pecked up the kernel of corn off the table was shockingly realistic). 

-Puss uses the amulet and vaporizes the Ogre's gang, including the Brothers. 

- Serious is no dope, he knows Randy when he sees him, but his status in society no longer matters after all he has done for the kingdom. That, and the fact that the end of the movie is due soon.

- Later, back at the castle, food flows like wine. The Rooster reveals his true identity as the King's son, but Serious won't believe it. Making a house call, Mother Time informs the King that the Rooster is indeed his son. 

   I was amused by the notion that the King would have to learn to love a giant talking chicken as his own son, but Mother Time apparently decides the kingdom can only take so much and reverses the spell. The King's son a human boy again, and things are headed toward a happy ending. 

- In thanks, King Serious asks Puss what he would like. He requests a second or two on the throne and wearing the royal crown. He gets it, and I suppose this would be the kind of experience you'd never forget, even if you're a three foot talking cat in a cape and boots. To let us know how serious this is, a hush falls over the crowd as this request is made.

- Puss also wants to see the kids get hitched, but the King can't really grant that. Randy and Jane are sad that they can't tie the knot (again, these kids are about ten). Wouldn't you know, Mother Time has a solution to this as well!

- Being able to control the passage of time, Mother lets the assembly skip the next five years. (If this means they all just have no memory of the past five years, or if they all aged five years the rest of the kingdom didn't experience, I couldn't say.) 

   A quick blur and suddenly everyone is five years older, except Randy and Jane, who appear ten years older. Jane, it must be noted, grew into quite a babe (and one which realistically resembles her younger self enough to buy that they are the same person)!

   But what about their mental states? Randy wanted to marry Jane and now he has her, and so much more than a ten year old brain could imagine. Just think of the kids trying to cope with their new bodies, to say nothing of each others bodies! It seems like there would be issues here even Freud wouldn't touch!

- We can't leave just yet, though. Mother Time walks Puss out onto the balcony and notes she'll be needing those boots and cape back. Puss turns them over, but isn't sure what this leaves for him to do. Mother says he'll be happy. She leaves and we're left with a shot of two cats (the back-to-normal Puss and the female he was hitting on earlier) sitting on the balcony before a full moon. Isn't it romantic?



    I'd never seen any version of this particular fairytale prior to seeing this film. Knowing what usually happens in these cases, I'm sure the story was mangled in translation. Just look what the Mexicans did to Santa Claus, and I have a report on Little Red Riding Hood lined up as well. 

   For those interested, Puss N Boots was also the subject of a German film in 1955. Among others, Cannon produced a version around 1987 starring Christopher Walken in the titular role. (That was part of a series of fairytale features made for home video. I saw the preview for Puss N Boots on the video for The Frog Prince, which I never did finish watching. I'll have to get back to that one of these days.) 

   Puss has probably been most visible in recent years as a supporting player in the Shrek movies, where he's voiced by the much-easier-on-the-ears Antonio Bandares. He has even been spun off into a stand-alone flick. (No, I haven't seen those either, I'm really falling behind!)

   In the end, Puss N Boots is, like many a Mexican kiddie flick, more an endurance test than anything else. How much weirdness can you stand? You'll know once you've seen a scratchy-voiced stuffed animal with human eyes trick an Ogre into turning himself into the hero's dinner!

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