• U.S.

Cinema: The New Pictures, Nov. 26, 1956

8 minute read

Love Me Tender (20th Century-Fox). Is it a sausage? It is certainly smooth and damp-looking, but who ever heard of a 172-lb. sausage 6 ft. tall? Is it a Walt Disney goldfish? It has the same sort of big, soft, beautiful eyes and long, curly lashes, but who ever heard of a goldfish with sideburns? Is it a corpse? The face just hangs there, limp and white with its little drop-seat mouth, rather like Lord Byron in the wax museum.

But suddenly the figure comes to life. The lips part, the eyes half close, the clutched guitar begins to undulate back and forth in an uncomfortably suggestive manner. And wham! The midsection of the body jolts forward to bump and grind and beat out a low-down rhythm that takes its pace from boogie and hillbilly, rock ‘n’ roll and something known only to Elvis and his pelvis. As the belly dance gets wilder, a peculiar sound emerges. A rusty foghorn? A voice? Or merely a noise produced, like the voice of a cricket, by the violent stridulation of the legs? Words occasionally can be made out, like raisins in cornmeal mush. “Goan . . . git . . . luhhv . . .” And then all at once everything stops, and a big, trembly tender half smile, half sneer smears slowly across the CinemaScope screen. The message that millions of U.S. teen-age girls love to receive has just been delivered.

In his first screen appearance, with four songs and a secondary role as the hero’s little brother in an otherwise routine south western, Elvis Presley all but steals the show from such better-knowrn players as Richard Egan. Debra Paget and Mildred Dunnock. Hollywood, moreover, foresees a box-office bonanza when the millions who buy Presley’s pressings (Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog) go to see his first picture—and that will really be a steal.

Marcelino (Charmartín; U.M.P.O.). In the 13th century after Christ, King Alfonso X of Castile and Leon, by his courtiers called “The Wise.” commanded that a chronicle be made of all the miracles that in all times had occurred within the limits of his realm. It was done; and among the marvels that the scholars heard and dutifully set down was the story of Marcelino.

A long time ago. before people stopped noticing miracles and started saying that they do not happen, a newborn baby was left one summer’s night at the gate of a little Franciscan cloister that sat on the top of a high hill in the land of Spain. “It’s a baby!’ gasped the friar who found the precious package. He conducted a discreet investigation: “It’s a boy!” And he ran to show the others what a wonder had come into their quiet lives. Brother Thomas, the cook, a man as simple and round and solid as Mother Earth, took charge of the situation. The child was crying. Brother Thomas dipped a cloth in water and gave it to him to suck. The crying stopped. Everybody began to smile. A young monk turned to the Father Superior with a pleading look. “C-can we keep him. Father?”

They kept him. The Father Superior was won over in the end, even though he insisted that the child needed a mother.

They christened the baby Marcelino because he had come to them on St. Marcelino’s Day, and each of the brothers tried to be both a mother and a father to him.

Marcelino was an easy child to love. His clear young voice splashed like April sunlight on the sober stones, on the serious monks, and it put new life in them. They even changed their names to suit his fancy, and soon were quite unconsciously calling each other Brother Door, Brother Bad. Brother Cookie. Brother Ding-Dong. The monks also learned, as people with children generally do, that new lives bring new sorrows with them. One day. when he was five years old. Marcelino saw a woman for the first time, a country wife. She told him that she had a boy the same age as Marcelino, and that his name was Manuel. Marcelino could not take his eyes off her. At last he said wonderingly. “You’re very beautiful.” After that Marcelino was some times strangely silent. One day he asked Brother Cookie. “Does everybody have a mother?” “Of course.” “Even the Father Superior?” “Yes.” “Where is mine?” “In Heaven.” “Was she beautiful?” There was a pause; then Brother Cookie looked straight into the boy’s eyes and said simply, “She was very beautiful.” Marcelino ran out to play.

The brothers began to notice, during the days that followed, that he was playing in a new way—with an invisible companion he called Manuel. And when it came to getting into trouble, two heads seemed to be better than one. Rags on the bell clapper, goats in the chapel, lizards in the vegetable dish—there seemed to be no end to the boy’s devilment. One day Brother Cookie determined to put an end to it. “See that staircase,” he told Marcelino. “You must never go up it. Never! If The Big Man up there sees you, he’ll take you away—forever!” Marcelino was frightened, but he was brave too. and more than anything he was curious. One day he went sneaking up the stairs to see if The Big Man was really there. At the top there was a door. Shaking in his bones, the little boy pushed. The door creaked. Marcelino’s heart pounded; his jaw dropped as he stood and stared up at The Big Man. who seemed to be hanging on a wooden cross. There were nails in his hands and feet, and lines of pain in his face. All at once Marcelino was afraid no longer. “You look hungry.” he said. “Wait, I’ll be back.” Marcelino ran down to the kitchen, stole a slice of bread, ran back to the upper room and held up the bread for The Big Man to take.

And he took it. A light awoke in his right hand, and it grew and shone, and the hand seemed to come alive and to move, and it reached out and took the bread from the child.

Marcelino smiled and went downstairs.

The next day he was back. “I’ve got bread and wine today!” he announced triumphantly. And strangely then, there was a sound like the sound of a great stone being rolled away, and the sound was the voice of The Big Man. “You are not afraid of me?” he asked. Marcelino smiled. “You know who I am?” And Marcelino said simply, “Yes. You are the Lord.” “You are a good boy,” The Big Man said, “and I thank you. From this day you shall be called Marcelino of the Bread and Wine.”

After that Marcelino went to see the Lord every day. When it thundered, he went to calm the Lord’s fears; when it was cold, he brought him a blanket. One day the Lord came down from the cross and sat in a chair, and took the boy on his lap. “What are mothers like?” Marcelino asked. And the Lord said, ”They give, Marcelino, all the time. Everything, in full measure.” Then Marcelino said, “I want to see my mother . . . and yours too, afterwards.” And the Lord replied, “You will have to go to sleep. Go to sleep, Marcelino.” And the child slept in the Lord, and the light of the world blazed in the simple attic, and all the brothers coming in fell down on their knees and worshiped what they saw. And from that day forward, the people came from the length and breadth of the land to adore the miracle of Marcelino Pan y Vino.

In 1953 this tender story was revived by a Spanish author, José Maria Sanchez-Silva, in the form of a novel not yet published in the U.S. Now it has been converted by Ladislao Vajda, a Hungarian director working in Spain, into a film as simple and sincere as a child’s tear. The actors, especially Marcelino (Pablito Calvo) and Brother Cookie (Juan Calvo), play with an easy matter-of-factness that makes the transition from natural to supernatural almost disappear. The hard Spanish land and the bare Spanish sky clamp the mystical theme between them, as in a vise of physical reality. And the musical score has an earthy beat and heat that might almost warm the coldest doubter to that spiritual ignition point at which miracles come to pass, and the soul knows them for what they are.

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