Down Argentine Way
Down Argentine Way is a 1940 Technicolor musical film made by Twentieth Century Fox. It made a star of Betty Grable in her first leading role for the studio, and introduced American audiences to Carmen Miranda. The film also starred Don Ameche, The Nicholas Brothers, Charlotte Greenwood, and J. Carrol Naish. The film was directed by Irving Cummings and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck from a screenplay by Karl Tunberg and Darrell Ware based on a story by Rian James and Ralph Spence. The cinematography was by Leon Shamroy and Ray Rennahan and the costume design by Travis Banton. The American-composed music was by Harry Warren and Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Mack Gordon and Al Dubin.
Young Ricardo Quintano voyages from Argentina to New York to sell some of his father’s prize horses. Before leaving, Don Diego instructs his son that no steeds are to be sold to Binnie Crawford or any member of her family because her brother Willis cheated him years earlier. Upon arriving in New York, Ricardo falls in love with Glenda Crawford, but when he learns that she is Binnie’s niece, he refuses to sell her the horse she wants to buy and hurriedly returns to Argentina. Perturbed, Glenda follows him, accompanied by Binnie. The couple meet again in Argentina, where they confess their love for each other, and Ricardo introduces Glenda to his father as “Miss Cunningham.” Glenda encourages Ricardo to enter his father’s prize jumper, Furioso, in a race, against Don Diego’s wishes. Soon after, while attending a horse show, Don Diego discovers Glenda’s true identity and disowns his son. His bad mood is then compounded when Furioso refuses to jump and runs off the field. To make up for the humiliating defeat of his father’s jumper, Ricardo enters Furioso in the big race, and when the horse wins, Don Diego changes his mind about racing horses and about Glenda.
The working title of this film was The South American Way. Material contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library discloses that after writer Roman Romero drafted a preliminary outline for this film, studio head Darryl Zanuck decided that he wanted to make a “South American” Kentucky (a popular 1938 Fox film). Novelist John O’Hara also worked on a version of the screenplay, but his contribution to the final film has not been determined. According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, an ailing Alice Faye was replaced by Betty Grable, and Cesar Romero, suffering from para-typhoid, was replaced by Leonid Kinskey.
After the opening credits, the screen reveals Miranda in an unidentified space singing South American Way directly toward the camera. Except for the title phrase, she sings solely in Portuguese and “has no dialogue with the other film characters.”
Another item in Hollywood Reporter notes that J. Carroll Naish’s success in a comedy role in this film prompted Fox to assign him to the 1941 film That Night in Rio. Modern sources include actress Elena Verdugo in the cast in a bit role and note that this May have been her first film.
Bambu, Bambu — Carmen Miranda
Down Argentina Way — Betty Grable and Don Ameche
Mamãe Eu Quero — Carmen Miranda
Nenita — Bando da Lua (Sung by Leonid Kinskey at the nightclub)
Sing to Your Señorita — Charlotte Greenwood
Two Dreams Met — Betty Grable and Don Ameche
South American Way — Carmen Miranda
In his review for the newspaper Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr said “Betty Grable as an American heiress, Don Ameche as an Argentine horse breeder, and Carmen Miranda as something from another planet, all shot in delirious 40s Technicolor. The result is a classic example of the 20th Century-Fox approach to musicals: loud, vulgar, ridiculous, and irresistibly entertaining.”
Even snooty The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, reviewing Down Argentine Way upon its release, found Grable irresistible. At one point he makes a rather cowardly crack about what he sees as her lack of ability: “We see plenty of [Grable] — singing, dancing and wearing clothes of surprising magnificence. We even see her trying to act, which is something less of a pleasure.” But then, after referencing the money-grubbing nature of the picture’s reason for existing in the first place, he backtracks on his view of its star: “But, hold — what sort of good neighbor would make a remark like that! Pardon us, Miss Grable. Consider it unmade.” That half-hearted apology was the least Crowther could do, but you can easily imagine her response to it: She’d probably just toss those flaxen curls and laugh.
Down Argentine Way marks the film debut of Carmen Miranda, already known as “the Brazilian Bombshell”—her musical numbers in the movie are a gaudy delight—and the Nicholas Brothers serve up a characteristically joyous, effervescent routine.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, for Best Cinematography, Best Original Song and for Best Art Direction by Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright.