Sometimes a girl can’t catch a break.
Look at poor Peggie Castle in the 1954 adventure flick, The White Orchid. Castle plays photographer Kathryn Williams, a can-do gal who flies to Mexico to take photos of Robert Burton’s (William Lundigan) one-man archaeological expedition.
She arrives on location at an Aztec temple, in a smashing grey suit and heels, but Lundigan’s character is rude and unimpressed. He had specifically requested a male photographer for this expedition because women are too cumbersome.
Lundigan continues to chide her when they reach their hotel in a nearby Mexican town. He suggests women are inferior photographers and tells her not to get in his way.
Ouch!! At least Castle has terrific hair, no matter what misfortune befalls her. (Old-time Hollywood was merciful that way, wasn’t it? If you were having a bad time of it, at least you had the hope that your hair could get you through.)
Okay, we know we’re setting up The White Orchid as really cheesy (which it is) but there are some interesting tidbits in this film. A few of the scenes look like they were actually filmed in Mexico, and director Reginald Le Borg has captured some fascinating footage of traditional cultural celebrations.
We’re also treated to some vanilla bean facts. We see the tall vanilla stalks blooming with white orchids that are pollinated by hand in order to produce the beans. Whether or not vanilla beans are really harvested this way does not matter. We appreciate the work the set and props people put into this scene.
Even though nothing goes especially well for Castle’s character there is a positive, if you want to call it that. The immediate hostility between Castle and Lundigan means they’ll end up falling in love. This is only positive, however, if you want to end up with a judgmental, arrogant Dweeb.
The other positive is that she meets the dashing Juan Cervantes (Armando Silvestre), a Mexican daredevil and plantation owner who speaks flawless English. Silvestre comes in handy because Castle can use him to make The Dweeb jealous.
Castle persuades Silvestre to take her and The Dweeb deep into the Mexican wilderness, where they can find a primitive tribe that is directly descended from the Aztecs. Castle hatches this nifty scheme so she can impress The Dweeb and he can become famous by being one of the few white men to visit the legendary tribe.
You have to walk a long way to take a look at the Aztec people, and the journey is filled with peril. Before long, our heroes run into a sandstorm where the water and the food and the burros are lost. Then Silvestre develops real feelings for Castle, who is fretting because she hasn’t yet made The Dweeb sufficiently jealous. But he is perturbed enough to be mean and snippy towards Silvestre, which always makes for a fun time.
Then, the worst thing that can possibly happen, happens, and it’s something that not even terrific hair can fix.
Castle inadvertently causes an Aztec man to be killed.
The tribe is angry and they want revenge. They capture our heroes and truss Castle for a human sacrifice. (Gentle Reader, we hope that no journey you’ve ever taken was equal to this desperate and tricky situation.)
Although The White Orchid is something of a cheese-fest, it is a fast-paced and entertaining film that shows us something of another culture and another country. Really, is there anything more we need ask of a movie?
The White Orchid: starring William Lundigan, Peggie Castle, Armando Silvestre. Written by David Duncan and Reginald Le Borg. Directed by Reginald Le Borg. United Artists, Colour, 1954, 80 mins.