What were they thinking?
Yolanda and the Thief is a strange little musical featuring Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer. Here, Fred is Johnny Parkson Riggs, a con man bent on swindling the innocent heiress Yolanda Aquaviva (Bremer) in a fairly US-looking South American country. She has been freshly released from her education at a nunnery, and Johnny takes advantage of this by pretending to be her guardian angel. His technique is not particularly smooth or otherwise impressive, so we must conclude that she really is that gullible.
Right off the bat, several things put me on my guard - the opening scene, while starting off clever under the credits, is absolutely unnecessary. There's a group shower scene at the nunnery (or please tell me what else it's supposed to be) that's simultaneously overly prude and completely impractical. Some of the characters speak completely on-the-nose dialog, making them even less interesting than a voice over. And then, more forgivably, Bremer looks a bit too old for the 18 she's playing here.
There's something half-assed about the approach on this one, and I can't put my finger on it. I suspect they were making a serious effort at light comedy here, but the decisions on the way to the final result are quite strange.
If a musical is defined by singing and dancing, I wonder if this film truly qualifies, as episodes of such activity are far and few between. I don't know what else to call it though, for they certainly are there, but to what extent do they really add to the story? Perhaps there were other numbers planned, but what a strange set to keep, unless the others were even worse. The centerpiece is an overly long dream Dali-esque (some of the sets could have been pulled straight from his paintings) sequence whereupon Johnny realizes he is in love with Yolanda. It's so out of place here, but would stand on its own as a bit of surreal, experimental film for its combination of choreography and visual imagination. It's as if they were trying to make two different movies here.
I'm reminded a bit of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, with its surreal images of the main character flying through the clouds in alternate guise. In that film, it worked as a series of short interludes underscoring character and plot. The dream in Yolanda helps show a single character point, but is too long, and the other bits of song and dance are entirely too ordinary by comparison.
The problems extend even to the characters. Yolanda's aunt and Johnny's partner in crime are almost predictably one-dimensional - hardly unusual for this kind of film, but one hopes for a little more. What irks me is the treatment of Mr. Candle, a man who appears to have eyes on the Aquaviva riches as well, but turns out to be something else entirely. The film telegraphs its intentions for him way too strongly. We know how critical his role is way too early, and deciphering the truth about him is so easy the final revelation is underwhelming.
Someone has said that remaking good movies is a silly operation, as it's likely you'll make something worse than the original. Here's an example of a film that had potential, but failed for some bad, but highly correctable, decisions. I'd love to see someone take a new swipe at Yolanda. In the meantime, this one must remain an interesting, but unfortunate, pass.
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