“Down Argentine Way” Is a Delightful Musical Experience

Betty Grable and Don Ameche head south of the border in one of the most delightful Fox musicals of the 1940s – Down Argentine Way. Sparkling Technicolor, musical melodies to tickle your fancy, an amusing script, and Carmen Miranda chica-chica-booming in her tutti-frutti way are just a few of the pleasures it offers.

“Where there are rhumbas and tangos
To tickle your spine
Moonlight and music and orchids and wine
You’ll want to stay down Argentina Way”

Don plays Ricardo, an Argentinian who comes to New York to sell some horses. Glenda Crawford (Betty Grable) wants to buy one and they make a deal, but the moment Ricardo discovers her last name is Crawford, he calls the sale off! His padre (Henry Stephenson) has a long-standing feud with the Crawfords and will not sell horses to them at any cost. So, in a huff, Glenda takes a trip to Argentina with her Aunt Binnie (Charlotte Greenwood) to settle the score…under the guise of purchasing some fresh studs for their stable. Naturally, she finds sweet romance under the Pampas moon with Mr. Ameche instead.

Bedecked in eye-popping Travis Banton costumes, Betty Grable is a veritable feast for the eyes in this picture. She jiggles her way through the samba-inspired “Down Argentine Way” dance number wearing a gorgeous two-piece ensemble adorned with blue beads and looked equally radiant in a sheer puffy-sleeved white dress singing “Two Dreams Met” with Don Ameche.

Betty Grable had made nearly 50 films before she was cast as bubbly Glenda Crawford. Not knowing what to do with her, Fox had just decided to try Grable out as a dramatic actress with a lead opposite Tyrone Power in A Yank in the R.A.F when they discovered that Down Argentine Way, which was released one year prior, was raking in profits. Thank heavens! Betty may never have been a musical star if it wasn’t for the success of this film. And Hollywood would have missed out on such a vibrant and adorable personality!

As critic Stephanie Zacharek so aptly described her, “Grable’s appeal in Down Argentine Way…radiates from a place that has nothing to do with strict acting chops. She’s a persistently warm, accessible presence; there’s something kind and forthright about her.” It is undoubtedly this quality – and her million dollar legs – that made Grable the pin-up gal favorite with the soldiers overseas during the war years.

The top attraction of the film, for me, was the presence of Don Ameche. Dapper Don, with his bright beady eyes, has such an infectiously happy personality and he even gets to sing two numbers in his pleasant tenor voice. Betty and Don were so well-suited to each other in Down Argentine Way that Fox studio teamed them up again the following year in Moon Over Miami.

Down Argentine Way features a cast of excellent character players including Leonid Kinskey in a role originally intended for Cesar Romero), Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carroll Naish, and Henry Stephenson. There is also an appearance by Carmen Miranda who was making her first US feature film. She got a chance to perform three upbeat tunes ( “Mamãe Yo Quero”, “Bambu Bambu”, and “South American Way” ). The movie is chock-full of musical and dance numbers and alongside Miranda, the Nicholas Brothers entertain with their tap-dance routines, Six Hits and a Miss perform the delightful “Two Dreams Met”, and the Flores Brothers Trio gently croon “Nenita”.

The film raked in nearly $2 million in profits, becoming 20th Century Fox’s biggest hit of the year. It was originally made in response to President Franklin Roosevelt’s request for Hollywood to make films to encourage the “Good Neighbor Policy” towards Latin America. Unfortunately, Argentina banned the picture during its initial release for its misrepresentation of the real culture of the country: Inaccurate traditional costume designs and mixing rhumba and Spanish flamenco with the tango was a no-no. Even Miranda’s presence was considered insulting because she was Brazilian, not Argentinian!

Most Americans didn’t recognize any of these errors and just enjoyed the film for what it offered – plenty of sunshine and merriment. And that alone probably boosted South American tourism and Good Neighbor relations!

Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”