The Lupe Project seeks to review every available Lupe Velez movie.
I probably made a mistake starting this series with Ladies Day, one of Mexican actress Lupe Velez’s final features. For a movie about baseball it’s actually oddly entertaining and subversive in taking a male-dominated sport and analyzing it from a female angle. The problem is this doesn’t feel like Velez’s movie by this point, trading on her name and the “Mexican spitfire” persona to sell it as a fiery domestic picture when she’s merely set dressing. That being said, this movie is interesting in how it tells a story.
Ladies’ Day is a baseball movie told from the perspective of the wives who dutifully watch their husbands from the sidelines at every game. The team’s star pitcher, Wacky Waters (Eddie Albert) is prepping to take the team to win the pennant. The problem? Every time he falls in love his game goes down the tubes. So when he meets actress Pepita Zorita (Velez), the wives decide to band together to keep Pepita and Wacky from having a honeymoon and ruining the season.
Before I get into reviewing Ladies’ Day I want to talk about Lupe Velez. I find her to be an utterly fascinating, and oft-forgotten, person in Hollywood history. One of the few successful Spanish-speaking actresses of the studio era — bested by the more popular, and perceived as classier, Dolores del Rio — Velez has, sadly, been boiled down to a fiery “Latin Spitfire,” not helped by Kenneth Anger’s story of how she died. Maybe because of my soft spot for the broken actress of this era or because I love those stories about how she got some of the most virile men in Hollywood, Lupe is a person I want to write and know more about. So, why not start by looking at her features?
As I mentioned at the top, reviewing Ladies’ Day to start wasn’t the best move. This is a Velez vehicle purely in that she gets star billing. The story primarily focuses on the wives of the baseball team, many of whom are funny and have great comedic timing. Patsy Kelly, Iris Adrian, and Joan Barclay particularly stand-out. It’s surprising, for a movie about baseball, that the game actually takes a backseat to the women. Sure, we see Wacky Waters play, and the narrative hinges on his success, but the games are never shown in full and the various male players either are buffoons or utterly lovesick. It’s a fun reversal that takes a man’s sport, and the genre conventions therein, and turns them on their head.
At the center is the relationship between Wacky and Pepita, two characters so over-the-top that their names are probably the most distinct elements about them. They’re recognizable because they’re A-list stars, but there’s never any genuine passion or depth to them. And it’s a shame because Eddie Albert cultivated many a romantic lead. You never necessarily believe Albert and Velez would get together, but the script seems to know that, having them casually meet and instantly fall in love. If this was pre-Code I have no doubt their relationship would be entirely founded on lust.
To her credit, Velez certainly doesn’t skimp on the role despite how small it is. She’s the typical movie star type, selling kisses for charity right on the baseball diamond. The real joy, and downright anarchic glee, of Ladies’ Day happens once the ladies decide the only way to keep Wacky’s game on-track is to literally kidnap Pepita and hold her hostage in a hotel room for the season (yep, this is the plot). Kelly, Adrian and Barclay have a blast doing things that would probably have gotten them arrested, right down to slugging Velez to get her in the room. Watching the women multiple in the room, all in the attempt to keep Pepita under wraps yields a lot of comedy but it’s all at the Mexican actress’ expense. There are large swathes of the movie where Velez is either off-screen, unconscious or has a gag in her mouth.
I can’t say Ladies’ Day is worth a watch for Lupe Velez, but it’s definitely worth a watch for its bizarre storyline that takes the baseball genre and reminds us that women can be overcome by sports as much as men. At barely an hour (it’s 62-minutes, to be exact) it’s a quick and feisty entry into Velez’s work.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.