Mixed Blood (1984)
Here is an element of truth: except for some of the obvious movies, or ones that I pick out specifically because they have not yet been reviewed on his site, I often have no idea about a movie before I choose it for review. I typically check out the blurb to make sure it's a format that fits my blog, and that's really about it. Typically when the movie starts playing, or I look up some info right as I'm starting it, I get surprises - and not always good ones. But, by that time, I'm committed.
Paul Morrissey is not one of those directors I specifically seek out. I largely know him from his two '70s Andy Warhol funded horror films, Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein. Both had their good points, but they were over-the-top camp. It was really hard to take much of it seriously, which I think was largely the point. I really never had much desire to check out anything else Morrissey did.
So, as I sat down to watch Mixed Blood and realized it was a Paul Morrissey film, I began to dread that I was not going to get the b-level crime movie I was expecting, but instead more of his typical silliness. Well, it's there, but it works so much better in the blasted, urban environs of '80s New York than it ever did in 19th century Europe.
The story takes place in a Lower East Side neighborhood known as Alphabet City (a number of streets are lettered). Two gangs are on the brink of war over the local drug trade: the Maceteros, a gang of largely underage boys led by Brazilian underworld figure Rita la Punta (Marilia Pera) and her son Thiago (Richard Ulacia), and the Puerto Rican Master Dancers, under the leadership of the vicious Juan the Bullet (Angel David). A raid by the Maceteros on the Dancers results in most of the latter's supply being stolen and a number of junkies frightened into dealing solely with the Brazilians.
This is causing problems for the two people truly in charge of the drug trade in the area: the German (Ulrich Berr), who deals with the flow of drugs, and former New York City cop Herman (Álvaro Rodriguez), who deals with the larger logistics of keeping the police in line and developers out of the area. The situation escalates when Juan has one of Rita's boys thrown off a roof, leading Thiago and his lieutenant Jose (Rodney Harvey) to make a direct attempt on Juan's life, leading to one of his men Romero (Pedro Sanchez) being shot in the leg.
In an attempt to nip a gang war in the bud, Herman and the German decide to meet with La Punta, with the possible idea of kidnapping Thiago in order to make her bow to their demands. However, the German brings his Australian girlfriend Carol (Linda Kerridge) along, and she begins a romance with Thiago, much to the displeasure of his usual girlfriend Toni (Geraldine Smith) and Rita. Initially Rita tolerates Carol, even inviting her to her granddaughter's christening, but eventually begins to resent Carol's attempts at opening Thiago's eyes to the world outside his neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Rita's ranks continue to diminish as the Dancers, now with the sole support of their bosses, take every opportunity to wipe them out. A new arrival, Comanche (Sanchez), who is Romero's brother, offers to infiltrate the Maceteros in order to kill Thiago in revenge. After that fails and instead results in the deaths of two of Juan's men, the German and Herman set up a meeting with Rita in which they agree to remove Carol from the neighborhood, but instead doublecross her and kidnap both women, knowing Thiago will come for one or the other.
What they misjudge is that Thiago, whom everyone (including his mother) thinks of as mentally deficient, is much more clever than they give him credit for. Still, whatever decision he makes may still leave him trapped and unsatisfied in the end.
What surprised me, especially after being more familiar with Morrissey's more stylized efforts, was how good of an action director he is. This was not a big-budget movie by any stretch, but it was still enough for him to be able to stage some great scenes, from the early attack on Juan's dealer operation to the massacre at the christening as well as the final denouement. The guy could have made (and maybe still could) a film on the level of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino when it comes to pure action and character building if many of his other artistic ambitions didn't often get in the way.
Marilia Pera is obviously the center of attention here, and one of the few known actors. She gained international film in the Brazilian film Pixote, which Morrissey heavily admired, and sold him on letting her play the part, making this her English-language debut. She is alternately the motherly type (in strange and creepy terms with Thiago) to all the boys in her organization, Carmen Miranda's biggest fan and a ruthless enforcer. Former Playboy centerfold and b-movie actress Linda Kerridge is the other actual name, and she displays a certain world-weariness that hints at the abuse Carol has obviously suffered from the German and possibly others before him. Despite Thiago being a killer and apparently not the brightest bulb, there is a probability he is the first man to ever treat her with any sort of respect.
What is going to be a barrier to most people is the fact that it is obvious that most of the cast are people Morrissey just thought right for the part. Richard Ulacia was a delivery boy who came over from Cuba, and he ended up getting the part because the Brazilian actor Morrissey had hired bailed at the last moment. Ulacia has the looks of a model, but his accent and limited English led to Thiago being reimagined as mentally challenged. Ulacia shouts most of his lines in a staccato manner, but it works for the character. What Ulacia is great at in this case is his facial expressions: he goes from a brooding not-all-there pretty boy to a man of extreme, deadly intelligence in an instant. It's something witnessed only by his victims. While I have read many reviews mocking Ulacia's performance, Morrissey's instincts were quite good.
The other surprise is Angel David. As the leader of the Master Dancers, he is quite believable as a dangerous gang leader. Even if he was picked out mainly because he fit the description Morrissey was looking for, it's not a surprise that he has continued to work in film and television over the years.
Unfortunately, that same can't be said for Rodney Harvey. Jose plays an important part, but Harvey's line delivery is atrocious. He's great in action scenes, but he's too important to the proceedings to have such an emotionless tone. Ulrich Berr is also awful. He is supposed to be a dangerous, respected man controlling the drug trade, but often just looks bored and confused. Also, somewhere in here is John Leguizamo making his film debut as one of Rita's boys. So, I guess in some ways, we need to hold Paul Morrissey responsible for the hell of enduring Leguizamo in just about anything in the '90s.
The movie itself doesn't really take any bizarre turns, and is your basic gang war film, but with real New York City locations. And, as said before, Morrissey's ability to direct an action scene makes it even a bit above average, even if not everyone in it is up to the task. It also has a surprising amount of humor (Thiago's excitement at getting a Cookie Monster ice cream cake at his nephew's christening, junkies disappearing and lining back up with the appearance and disappearance of a police officer, Rita's obsession with the band Menudo).
Mixed Blood is still not a mainstream movie by any stretch, but in this case finding out that this was a Morrissey project was not the bad surprise I thought it was going to be. Instead, it gave me a bit more respect for him, and made it clear that in some ways his earlier movies in many way found him in the wrong environment. I have seen other reviews talking about how authentic this is in some ways, and I am thankful for the fact that, despite not growing up in the best neighborhood, I don't have the experience to speak to that. I am sure that there are exaggerations, but in addition to making what is largely an entertaining film, Morrissey also captured a point in time that many romanticize now, but that I can't imagine anyone wanting to return to.
Mixed Blood (1984)
Time: 98 minutes
Starring: Marilia Pera, Richard Ulacia, Linda Kerridge, Angel David
Director: Paul Morrissey