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I Was Noriega's Love Slave

toxic shakti

I've been screening bits of the maitre's visionary — or perhaps brilliantly retrograde — I Was Noriega's Love Slave. The reason for my hesitation re: descriptive adjective stems from doubts about when this film was made. It's b&w, runs 87 minutes, and thrums with the paranoia that is the hallmark of the red-scare flicks of the '50s. But the object of the creeping distress is not commies but narco-terrorists, as personified by the pineapple-faced Panamanian Manuel Noriega (played tersely but authoritatively by the late Rondo Hatton). The presence of Hatton, and of other now-defunct screen presences like Dick York, Dick Foran, and Terry Moore, suggests a 1950s vintage. But what is Noriega doing in the 1950s? Why is the U.S. president (played by York) named Bush? And what can account for the erotic frankness that surrounds the Prez's Press Secretary's (Terry Moore's) liaison with the Central American strongman, who sweeps her off her feet with daiquiris and mariachi music (Smithee's Panama suggests a cross between Acapulco and Havana, with guayabara-shirted extras) during a tropical vacation and then uses her as a wormhole into the White House before she wises up?

The sparks struck by Moore and Hatton, whose speech, alas, was thickened almost into incomprehensibility by the acromegaly that would kill him at a tragically early age (his line-dubs are credited to Jeremy Irons, who "got" Noriega's accent by once again donning the oral prosthesis he wore in House of the Spirits), made this 1996 viewer's palms sweat. Can you imagine how they would have affected moviegoers of the age of Ozzie and Harriet? If I'm not mistaken, there is a two-second nipple shot half hidden by the shadow of a coconut palm, though Smithee's dextrous camera sleight-of-hand makes it unclear whether the nipple belongs to Moore or Hatton. Not to mention the daring steambath mano-a-mano between Noriega, Bush and a G-Man played by Dick Foran. Predictably, he ends up getting Moore, but not before her womanhood has been sullied by some swarthy (and possibly nubbly-textured) Latino love-pole.

Can any Echoids clear up these anomalies? Was I Was Noriega's Love Slave made 40 or 5 years ago? Or might it possibly be the most attenuated film project of all time, begun, perhaps, as a conventional red-scare potboiler, then marooned in some Sargasso of politics, only to be reshot and re-edited many years later, by an older, wiser auteur? Maybe the Noriega character was originally called Arbenz?


I Was Noriega's Love Slave was released in 1989 with colorized outtake footage of Rondo Hatton as Noriega in it, to capitalize on Bush's little Panamanian war. No wonder you were confused!


Copyright © 1996-2003 by Peter Trachtenberg