From the 1950s well into the late 70s, B movie distributor K. Gordon Murray was king of the kiddie matinee circuit. His output included fairytales from Germany, Russia and France, but it’s the wild and crazy Mexican fantasies fans remember most fondly. The Queen’s Swordsmen is the last Mexican children’s movie released by Murray and the last featuring characters created by genre specialist Roberto Rodriguez. It’s a rip-roaring, musical-fantasy-swashbuckler featuring some surprisingly dark and perverse exploitation scenes.
Ferocious Wolf (Elmo Michel) and Stinky the Skunk (El Enano Santanon) live in a big cave near the edge of the Haunted Forest. The quarrelsome pair are guardians to six year old Alondra (Alondra Nina Marina Torres Banquells - phew!), a leopard-skin clad “wild girl” who climbs trees, wrestles alligators and collects frogs and poisonous snakes. She loves living free in the forest, and playing with her beloved “wolf papa”, while Stinky sits by and watches, singing and sewing like a particularly camp uncle. When word reaches the Haunted Forest that good King Richard is in trouble, the Wolf - who harbours ambitions to become a musketeer - leads the trio on an adventure.
They arrive in time to rescue Princess Christiane (Ariadne Welter) and her betrothed, Prince Romanos from assassins working for Queen Cornelia the Cruel (Ofelia Guilmain). Impressed by their swordsmanship, if slightly alarmed by their parenting skills, Princess Christiane offers to look after Alondra while the Wolf and Stinky ride in search of the kidnapped king. But Alondra sneaks away, which is just as well since she swiftly saves them from witch hunters and medieval torturers. The king is saved, but Queen Cornelia swears vengeance and kidnaps Princess Christiane in her next plan to take over the kingdom.
This was the fourth movie in the Caperucita series, although this time round Maria Gracia’s Little Red Riding Hood is nowhere to be seen and Elmo Michel replaces Manuel “Loco” Valdes as the Ferocious Wolf. As with all Mexican fairytales, the film’s collective Achilles Heel are the nonsensical, poorly re-synched musical numbers whose lyrics border on the avant-garde (“Let’s go find out why our little girl’s pouting! Let’s go find out why her anger is mounting! Don’t you be mad at your father and uncle, it’s bad for your liver, you know!”). Nonetheless, The Queen’s Swordsman races along at a furious clip with scenes you’d never expect to see in a children’s movie. Prince Romanos is stripped and whipped for Queen Cornelia’s pleasure; Alondra slings rattlesnakes like lethal weapons; Ferocious Wolf impales a henchmen with his sword in a torrent of crimson gore; Princess Christiane is strapped to a rack and strikes cheesecake poses, her thighs and cleavage exposed. Genre favourite Ariadne Welter actually provides a sincere, compelling performance - all the more remarkable, since she’s acting opposite a man in a wolf costume.
Some fans see this film as subversive, given the supposedly gay, sadomasochistic relationship between Ferocious Wolf and his “life partner” Stinky the Skunk. Frankly, watching them hit each other over the head with giant hambones is no more subversive than your average Tom & Jerry cartoon. It’s slapstick fun pitched strictly at kids. The adventurous Wolf, Stinky and Alondra (an oddly touching flashback reveals they named her after “a beautiful songbird”) are an appealing trio and bounce through the film with a happy-go-lucky verve. The climax, wherein a very reluctant Alondra is sent back to her long-lost parents is surprisingly moving, not to mention a tad ambiguous. Weren’t they the ones who dumped her in the woods?