Cazadores de Espias

The Mexican film industry’s contributions to the 1960s spy craze tend to be on the whimsical side. If they don’t feature a masked wrestler in a pivotal role, they tend to be something along the lines of Agente 00 Sexy, in which heroine Amadee Chabot spends a lot of time wearing a Frederick’s of Hollywood-style cat costume. Given the overall zany-ness of the field, then, I do not say lightly that Cazadores de Espias (Spy Hunters) may very well be the silliest of them all. Strangely, though, it doesn’t start out that way–and that makes watching Cazadores de Espias sort of like watching a movie that’s gradually losing its mind.

The nominal star of Cazadores de Espias is Carlos East, a serviceably suave Mexican actor who had previously filled secret agent roles in films like Blue Demon Destructor de Espias and Noche de Muerte. After a relatively sober set-up, however, East takes a backseat to the comedic antics of Eleazar “Chelelo” Garcia and Leonarilda Ochoa, from which point on he makes only intermittent appearances, in scenes that give the impression that he still thinks he’s in a serious spy film. These scenes do demonstrate that East is a credible espionage hero, but the fact that they are more often than not followed by a weird musical number, or a scene in which an out-of-shape masked luchadore has a farcical wrestling match with a robot while being cheered on by mini-skirted go-go girls, sort of takes the wind out of his sails. (By the way, a note to novices of Mexican popular cinema: If you’re not a fan of broad comic relief characters, avoid all Mexican actors whose screen credit incorporates a whimsical nickname, such as German “Tin Tan” Valdez, Ernesto “Evaristo” Alban, or, most pertinently, Eleazar “Chelelo” Garcia.)

Cazadores is a spy film whose plot–to the extent that I can make it out without the aid of subtitles–revolves around real estate. At issue is a piece of commercial property whose grounds are rich with a particular type of mineral that is useful in making some kind of advanced weapon. There are two competing groups of enemy agents who are trying to get their hands on the property, and in the course of trying to root them out, Interpol agent Ramiro is killed, leaving his brother Ricardo (East) to take his place. The spies have disposed of the building’s current owner and think that the property is now theirs to take, but it turns out that the owner had two distant heirs–cousins played by Garcia and Ochoa–who are in line to inherit it. Once those heirs take possession of the building, their elimination becomes the spies’ main order of business, followed very closely by the spies’ imperative to eliminate one another.

The first group of competing spies is one lead by the masked Mister X, a gang whose super villain uniforms and accoutrements are so ridiculous that they make the trappings of the typical Kommisar X film look like those of a staid John Le Carre adaptation. The second group is lead by the evil beauty Sylvana, who is played by the gorgeous and always welcome Maura Monti. The Italian born Monti was a staple of Mexican genre films during the sixties, starring in a number of espionage films–SOS Conspiracion Bikini and Con Licencia Para Matar–as well as a ton of lucha movies, before retiring from the screen at the outset of the seventies. Fans of quality Mexican cinema will probably remember her most fondly for La Mujer Murcielago, a film in which she wears a costume that’s identical to that worn by TV’s Batgirl, except in that, where Batgirl wears a skintight body suit, Monti wears mostly just skin.

Judging from the type of roles she usually played, Monti’s timely retirement might well have been due to her feeling there was no place for her in a world where minis and white go-go boots were out of fashion. In any case, Cazadores de Espias provides a great showcase for the actress, as not only does she get to model a wardrobe full of colorful and revealing mod fashions, but also to sink her teeth into a wonderfully over-the-top man-eater role. Sylvana’s introduction, during which we see her blithely feeding puppies to her pet carnivorous plant as her trembling minions look on, is one of Cazadores‘ best moments.

While tongue-in-cheek from the get-go, Cazadores de Espias finally takes an irretrievable turn toward the bizarre when it comes to what exactly Garcia and Ochoa plan to do with the property they’ve inherited. The two bicker for a while over whether to turn it into a wrestling arena or a go-go club, but eventually decide to do both. The result is pretty much what you’d get if you dropped a wrestling ring down in the middle of the Hullabaloo set; mixed in with masked wrestling scenes that broadly parody the largely parody-proof lucha film genre, we get actual performance clips from a number of Mexican pop acts of the period, as well as some more traditional musical numbers from Garcia and Ochoa–all and sundry accompanied by an army of frugging dancing girls in peaked caps and neon minis. When Monti’s Sylvana takes a job as the club’s star dancer, the deal is sealed, and you just have to either go with Cazadores de Espias‘ goofy flow or give up on it altogether.

One factor that I’d venture makes Cazadores worth sticking with is the music itself. Not only does it boast a deadly infectious Mexi-spy theme by Cesar Carrion, but its musical numbers feature some acts that are either actually pretty enjoyable or at least interesting for their novelty value. Among them are Los Rockin Devils, who play an appealing sixties-style rocanrol, and the garage psychedelic band Shadow of the Beasts, who play what sounds like a mostly improvised number that devolves into lots of maniacal laughter. It’s a far cry from the jazz-inflected languor of the typical spy movie soundtrack, but given the manic nature of what’s transpiring on screen, it’s a fitting accompaniment.

There are few guarantees in this life, but if you come to Cazadores de Espias expecting an espionage film that is serious on any level, I can guaranty that you will be disappointed. However, if you think that you would enjoy a film that devotes a lot of reckless energy to the task of topping its every successive instance of flamboyant stupidity, this is one you should definitely sign up for. I, of course, love it to death–and depending on your temperament, you can take that as a strike for or against.