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Film / Welcome Mr. Marshall!

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"Olé Virginia and Michigan, long live Texas, which is not bad!"

Americaaanooos, os recibimos con alegríiiia...note 
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Welcome Mr. Marshall! (original title: ¡Bienvenido Mister Marshall!) is a classic Spanish comedy film directed by Luis García Berlanga, and written by Berlanga himself, Juan Antonio Bardem (uncle of that other Bardem) and Miguel Mihura. The film won the international prize for best comedy at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. In 1996, the Spanish Film Academy named it the fifth best Spanish film of all time.

The film is set "once upon a time" in "a Spanish village, any little village," named Villar del Campo... or del Río. One day, while entertaining the visiting Andalusian Copla star Carmen Vargas (Lolita Sevilla) and her agent Manolo (Manolo Morán), the slightly deaf and possibly senile Mayor Don Pablo (José Isbert) is visited by the local Government Representative (José Franco), who tells him that the Americans in charge of distributing Marshall Plan funds are going to pass through the village and that they should tidy it up a little fpr them. Incited by Manolo, who claims to know what Americans like best because he did a gig in Boston once, the village invests a money it doesn't have in an attempt to give them the best welcome they could imagine. They believe that the longest the Americans stay in the village, the more money they will leave there and then the villagers will buy all the things they'd ever wanted. Though the village is in Castile, they buy Andalusian holiday clothes for everyone (because that's what Americans want to see in Spain, according to Manolo) and entirely fake Andalusian-looking streets and façades, flowers, confetti and much more. They also rehearse an elaborate welcome ceremony complete with parade, orchestra, singing and dancing. When the big day comes, however, the Americans simply drive through without stopping. Rather than being showered with gifts as expected, the villagers must contribute some of their already meager posessions to pay for the expenses incurred during the futile celebration - and all of them, humbled by the experience, give their part willingly.

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Released mere months before the reestablishmment of Hispano-American relations with the Pact of Madrid, the film is an acid, but necessarily subtle satire of life in post-civil war Spain, the then futile attempts of The Franco Regime to get support from the Western Block of the Cold War, and of Spain's hopes for and exclusion from the Marshall Plan, in particular. So subtle, in fact, that the producers of the film, who had lived in Nazi Germany for the duration of World War II, believed that it was an Anti-American film and agreed to finance and promote it, even after Berlanga and pals threw most of their planned cliched 1940s musical away and massively retooled the script into the parodic film every modern Spaniard knows. Neither did the film suffer much from the irontight Francoist censorship, which just demanded that the village priest should be depicted as an incorruptible Christian (and ended as a bigot and a death row inmate - even if just during a dream) and cutting a scene where the spinster schoolteacher dreams of being tackled by an American Football team because its sexual connotations (Berlanga would write and direct a short 50 years later, titled The Teacher's Dream, but it was unrelated despite its title and recycled shots with the original teacher in her bed). Welcome Mr. Marshall! is so surprisingly clever and political for its time, that most Spaniards today are surprised to learn that it was made in the early 1950s and that it was not limited in its circulation in any way, despite Berlanga's later claims to the contrary.

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References to the Marshall Plan notwithstanding, the movie is far from an Unintentional Period Piece and it is considered as relevant and meme inducing today as it was when first released. If a Spaniard wants to criticize a conational for being naive about foreign institutions or too willing to shill the benefits of foreign investment (be it the European Union, the overreliance on tourism as an economic motor, Eurovegas or Madrid's at one time perennial Olympic bids, to name some recent examples), there is a sure chance that they will name Welcome Mr. Marshall! or sing its Ear Worm song.


Tropes:

  • Advertised Extra: Lolita Sevilla received top-billing, the largest paycheck (200,000 pesetas versus Morán's 70,000 and Isbert's 50,000) and a prominent place in the poster and advertising. Her role is actually very small, limited to singing, dancing and serving as an excuse to introduce Manolo to the village.
  • All for Nothing: It Was His Sled. The Americans drive past the village, rendering all the efforts to welcome them moot.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: There is both a Villar del Río and a Villar del Campo in Soria province, which happens to be the most depopulated and rural province in Castile and one of the most in Spain. It's unlikely that anyone involved knew about it. The movie was shot in Guadalix de la Sierra (Madrid) and all the scripts bar the last placed the village in Andalusia.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The English spoken in the dreams of Don Cosme and Don Pablo is gibberish. Justified, because neither character knows English. Pepito's prepared speech, on the other hand, is in the real language.
  • Black Comedy: Most of "The Teacher's Dream" involves Miss Eloísa teaching the children about different execution devices and showing how they work on the children themselves.
  • Cannibal Tribe: Two of Don Luis's ancestors were eaten by Indians in the New World. In his Nightmare Sequence, he is himself a conquistador eaten by cannibals.
  • Closest Thing We Got: The villagers can't fix the church's clock so they put a man to move the clock's hands manually. They also use a (living) cow to fake a stuffed fighting bull's head at the tavern.
  • Commander Contrarian: Don Luis, the Hidalgo (a petty, impoverished nobleman) wants nothing to do with the Americans and is always voicing his criticism to the rest of the village. It is implied that he is always like that, regardless of the subject.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Of the Andalusian post-war Copla musical comedy. So much that the final film isn't even set in Andalusia, and the musical numbers are as minor as the part involving the Copla star, Lolita Sevilla. It's been said that Welcome Mr. Marshall! is to the Andalusian musical comedy what Don Quixote was to the chivalry novels. Both helped kill their respective "non-genre" and are now fresher and more famous than any straight example of either.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The whole plot is the government's fault. First by not building a railroad that would save the village's economy, then by telling it to "tidy up" without telling how or helping in any way, simply out of shame over what foreigners might say when they pass through. Without those foreigners passing, they wouldn't even have bothered to fix the road.
    • There isn't a character in the army or law enforcement because spoofing either was off limits at the time. It doesn't matter, because Don Luis is perfect as one. He's an ass who has nothing left but his pride on the centuries old glories of his ancestors and he does nothing but calling out the villagers for trying to seduce the Americans. Yet he has no alternative plan to improve the village, and would prefer that everything stay the same, poor and backwards. It is implied that he always does this, regardless of subject. Yet for some reason, he has a seat at the town council and the other characters feel they must convince him. This makes the final scene all the more powerful, where he helps pay the village's debt by donating a prized sword of his ancestors, despite being the only villager who didn't agree with the plan and didn't ask for a gift.
    • All the dreams of the privileged classes begin pleasantly (the Priest leads a Holy Week procession; the Nobleman is a conquistador embarking to the New World; and the Mayor is The Sheriff in a Wild West town) before they become nightmarish and they are all killed (one is arrested by the Ku Klux Klan, judged by a Kangaroo Court and sentenced to hang; the other is captured by cannibals; and the remaining is shot in a duel by an outlaw played by Manolo). The character representing the common people, Juan the Farmer, dreams first of being miserable, then his fortune improves with the arrival the Americans (who airdrop him a tractor); the Deleted Scene with the spinster Stern Teacher had her dreaming of being in a normal class before the children were replaced by tall, blonde, muscular American Football players who tackle her in a transparent metaphor of sex. In other words, for the upper classes, even those who expect to benefit from it, aperturism is a threat and something to be wary, but for the disenfranchised, it is a hope for progress - both material and social.
    • The scene with Don Pablo addressing the crowd from the Town Hall's balcony to give "an explanation" and just repeating the same meaningless words is seen by many as a parody of Franco's speeches from Madrid's Royal Palace. Berlanga denied this, claiming that he told Isbert to channel Benito Mussolini.
  • Dream Sequence / Nightmare Sequence:
    • Don Cosme dreams that he is part of a Holy Week procession, whose penitents turn to be klansmen and they arrest him. After a Kangaroo Court, he is sentenced to hang.
    • Don Luis dreams that he is an embarking conquistador; he is received warmly by the Natives before they seize him and put him in a Cannibal Cauldron.
    • Don Pablo dreams that he is The Sheriff in a Wild West town and visits the saloon, where he has a gunfight with an outlaw and loses.
    • Juan dreams that he is plowing his field with his wife and children when The Three Wise Men, piloting a bomber and dressed in pilot uniforms, airdropping a tractor on to his plot.
    • In the deleted scene, Miss Eloísa dreams of being pilled over by a team of American Football players.
  • Eagleland: All the dreams are versions of this to some extent (except Don Luis's, which takes place in Injun Country), but Don Cosme's takes the cake. He's arrested by the Ku Klux Klan at the sound of When The Saints Go Marching In and taken to a McCarthy-esque Kangaroo Court where he is sentenced to hang.
  • Fauxtastic Voyage: What the villagers intend to do to the Americans, making the village look like a Toros y Flamenco cliché.
  • Genre Roulette: Referenced in old timey advertising:
    "No, it's not a Western! In no way is it a period film! Of course it's not a neorrealist film! No, it's not a folkloric movie either! What is it?"
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • All of the political commentary.
    • This cryptic exchange when the villagers make their petitions to the Americans, which is universally interpreted as the young man asking for a woman (or a black womannote ):
    Villager: I want... (whispers in the doctor's ear)
    Don Emiliano: You brute, you cannot have that!
    Villager: A mule, then!
    Manolo: It's the same...
    • Though brief, there is quite some more womens flesh than usual in the Mayor's dream, probably because the censorship took it as "typical Wild West women's clothing." That Miss Eloísa plays clearly a saloon prostitute must have been lost on them.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Don Luis.
  • Insistent Terminology: Don Luis insists in calling the Americans "Indians".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold / Noble Bigot: Don Luis is revealed as one when he donates a sword to help pay the pointless welcome, despite being against it for the whole movie.
  • Kangaroo Court: Don Cosme dreams of being arrested and judged by one.
  • Last of His Kind: Don Luis comes from a centuries-long line of aristocratic military men and seems to not have any living family. According to The Narrator: "He's always waiting for a letter that never arrives. His ancestors must have forgot to write him."
  • Moral Guardians: Don Cosme, as the village's priest, fulfills this role.
  • The Narrator: The omniscient, sarcastic variety capable of altering the contents in the screen, bordering on Lemony Narrator. Played by Fernando Rey (Alain Charnier in The French Connection). Doubles as The Omniscient.
  • Not So Above It All: For all his brains, Don Emiliano buys Manolo's mermaid song as much as everyone.
  • Outlaw: Manolo is one in Don Pablo's Wild West-themed dream.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Don Pablo, the Mayor.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The whole movie is one, really.
  • The Sheriff: Don Pablo, a fan of Wild West movies, dreams that he is one.
  • The Three Wise Men: Appear in Juan's dream to deliver a tractor. From an American bomber, while wearing pilot uniforms.
  • Sleepyhead: Gerónimo, the Mayor's secretary, always falls asleep on the job.
  • The Smart Guy: Don Emiliano, the Doctor.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Between Sheriff!Don Pablo and Outlaw!Manolo in Don Pablo's dream. It couldn't be left out of a Wild West parody.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Manolo is a more sympathetic version of the trope, because he actually believes in what he says when he is roping the villagers into doing the elaborate welcome and he also pays for the subsequent debt, donating a gold ring that he was given in Boston. He conveniently forgets his promise of staying in the village working for free if the scheme to seduce the Americans fails, though.
  • Spinster: Miss Eloísa is identified as one from the beginning, even though the actress was just 24 at the time.
  • Spiritual Successor: Berlanga's own The National Shotgun series, which satirize post-dictatorship Spain.
  • Stern Teacher: Miss Eloísa again, even without considering "The Teacher's Dream" where it is taken Up to Eleven.
    The Narrator: This child punished with his arms stretched for not knowing who killed Sigeric, and these other children with their tongue out, are the disciples of Miss Eloísa, the teacher.
  • Surreal Humor: Loads in the scene of Juan's dream, which casts The Three Wisemen as American bomber pilots parachuting tractors on land plots, already fueled and ready to use.
  • Teacher's Pet: Pepito. "This disgusting child with his tongue inside", in the words of The Narrator, along with "The first of the class, the Monster of Natural History."
  • Toros y Flamenco: The Andalusian makeover of the village, following the advice of Manolo.
  • The Western: Don Pablo is a fan of westerns and has a dream filled with Western tropes.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Villar del Río is "any Spanish village". It's implied to be somewhere in Castile, but that only cuts it down to somewhere in half of Spain.
  • The Wild West: Featured in Don Pablo's dream.
  • Visual Pun: When Manolo calls the Americans "noble but childish" before the crowd, the camera pans to a local kid picking his nose.
  • Younger Than They Look: Lolita Sevilla was only seventeen when she acted in this movie.


"...olé mi madre, olé mi suegra y olé mi tía!"
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