Amiable down-and-out Don Gregorio (Broderick Crawford) is caretaker at a Catholic orphanage where the nuns are fast losing patience with his drunken misbehaviour, although children adore the kindly old lush. When a statue of the Holy Virgin goes missing from the chapel, poor Gregorio gets the blame. He is ejected into the wider world where the Devil (Mexican comedian Germán Valdés under his stage name Tin Tan) appears in various guises tempting him with hard liquor and with designs on his immortal soul. But then Gregorio meets Inez (Connie Carol), a child who claims to speak with angels. Under her guidance, he journeys to the pilgrim’s town of Taxco where a series of miraculous happenings mean his life will never be the same.
Confession time: Gregorio and His Angel was a Sunday School staple throughout my childhood and its gentle lyricism and simple (some might say naïve) faith in miracles continues to instil warm and fuzzy feelings. Slipshod and sentimental in some areas, yet surprisingly poetic in parts, this US-Mexican co-production sets the tone with childlike drawings of angels dancing with sombrero-sporting peasants and the folksy score by Gustavo Cesar Charron. Right from the start, the film underlines its message by contrasting the judgemental nuns with the loving, tolerant children who rally around Gregorio in spite of his foibles. Even if their tendency to ply him with tequila for stories is questionable to say the least.
All the King’s Men (1949) star Broderick Crawford was certainly a long way from his Oscar winning glory days when signed up for this feel good fable. No stranger to the bottle, the actor looks genuinely intoxicated much of the time and yet is oddly endearing in an irascible, all too human way. Confused and vulnerable, he stumbles about like a wounded bear, while the sight of a once-lauded actor struggling to get through a low-budget kiddie flick somehow imbues the story of a reprobate seeking redemption with genuine soul. At its heart rests the angelic presence of tiny, little Connie Carol, who could not have been more than five or six years old. Instead of precocious face-pulling, Carol plays it very straightforward and direct, ideal for a fable that extols the virtues of piety and human decency.
Amidst lingering tourist shots of Taxco and its stunningly beautiful churches, there are scenes that drag and gags that are just plain weird. Tin Tan’s continuing reappearances grow a little confusing, most notably his guise as a kilt-wearing Scottish tourist (“What a bonnie wee place this is!”) and an innocuous scene where he conjures a blonde succubus to tempt Gregorio, then waves her away before she can do the job. The film takes off on a wild tangent with a long, pointless episode wherein Gregorio is tricked into a trip to Acapulco where the camera soaks up the local colour just as Crawford soaks up the booze. He downs more tequila shots than a Club 18-30 member on a weekend bender. There is a slight satirical detour when bandits attempt to exploit Inez as a miracle worker and fleece local townsfolk, but the film is largely a light-hearted affair including a musical interlude where Inez leads a busload of passengers in a sing-along. Poor Gregorio just tries to get his tequila back. Things hit a sour note near the end when the nuns seem faintly dismissive towards Gregorio’s kindly gesture, but the miraculous finale carries a touch of Oscar Wilde. Co-writer/director Gilberto Martinez Solares made a host of other comedies with Tin Tan, but is perhaps better known among cult movie aficionados for Mexican horror flicks like Santo and Blue Demon vs. the Monsters (1969) and Land of the Dead (1970).