“He’s afraid of his mama, though. That’s how we happened to get married so suddenly.”
Luisa (Vera-Ellen, White Christmas), the apple of her papa’s eye, just finished school and has returned home to Costa Rica. Dismayed to learn she’s been betrothed to the son of family friends, she’s willing to at least meet the boy to see if they can hit it off. Pepe (Cesar Romero, Falcon Crest) is as bothered by the idea of an arranged marriage as Luisa, primarily because he’s returned home with a fiancée of his own, Celeste (Celeste Holm, Promised Land). Too spineless to stand up to his parents, Pepe decides the best way to get out of the marriage is to appear sickly and unwell, convincing Luisa he’s not interested in anything she is. Luisa is bemused by Pepe’s behavior, but soon finds a reason of her own to want out of the marriage — Jeff (Dick Haymes, State Fair), a friend of Pepe’s who is visiting during the annual Fiesta between Christmas and New Year’s.
Hijinks ensue, as Pepe and Celeste keep their secret relationship going, while Luisa tries to stay away from Pepe and his parents, hoping to discover if these feelings for Jeff are real. As you might expect, it all comes to a head when the foursome properly meets. Once the introductions are over, all the doubts and fears of these characters rise to the surface. Faced with the very real prospect of marriage, will Luisa and Pepe dare go against their parents’ wishes, or will they capitulate and dismiss Celeste and Jeff from their lives forever?
As with most of Vera-Ellen’s films, there are a few numbers choreographed especially to show off her moves. And while Dick Haymes may not be on par with fellow crooners Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, the man has a powerful set of pipes. One of the things I enjoyed most was seeing Cesar Romero in a role outside of his more familiar television work (Batman: The Movie). Carnival in Costa Rica is a lively romp whose minimal drama is handled with a light touch, fairly common in musicals of the era. I appreciate the foreign setting and occasional native language, though I must note there are no subtitles, so those unfamiliar with Spanish will be in the dark at times.
Given this was my first experience with Fox’s Made-on-Demand releases, I was surprised by some of the technical issues. The color timing is off and most noticeable when the cuts go from wide shots to medium to close-ups. There is also a fair amount of damage to the negative, though lasting only a few seconds at a time. The film needs a remastering but isn’t ever likely to receive one. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track fares better, though I always like to see a better audio stream for musicals. There are no bonus features.
Carnival in Costa Rica has the same feel-good factor of more well-known musicals, featuring catchy songs and dance numbers. As a fan of musicals, I was delighted to discover this little gem, though I do wish the studio had take more care in preserving it.