Santo y la Tigresa en el águila real/Santo and the Tigress in ‘The Royal Eagle’ (1973)

‘Let’s see if the wrestlers have as good stomachs as the biceps.’

After two attempts on her life, the wealthy owner of a prosperous hacienda calls on famous wrestler Santo for help. She suspects a rival landowner is behind the plot, but as the man in the silver mask investigates, he begins to suspect that the culprit may be closer to home…

As a welcome break from fighting vampires, extraterrestrials, and the like, famous luchador El Santo occasionally faced off against more commonplace opposition. This vehicle finds him running down a murder plot under the safe guidance of veteran series director Alfredo B Crevenna.

Times have been tough of late for ranch owner Irma Morales (Irma Serrano). After the recent death of her brother, with whom she’d inherited the hacienda from their late father, she’s almost joined him after a brake failure on a mountain road. Sabotage seems to have been involved, and her status as a walking target is confirmed when she has to dodge a couple of bullets. Fortunately, a quick telegram brings her father’s old friend, famous wrestler El Santo, who brings assistant Carlitos (Carlos Suárez) along for the ride. Serrano suspects the culprit is one of the neighbouring rancheros and is particularly suspicious of the arrogant Manuel Villafuerte (Jorge Lavat). Her only protection until now has been her pet eagle, also called ‘Serrano’ in an obvious in-joke.

As Santo and Suárez settle in, the latter is quickly enamoured with maid Alicia (Dacia González), despite the fact she seems to be firmly in the sights of ranch foreman Raymundo (Juan Gallardo). Also on hand are hunchback Alejandro (Jorge Patiño) and his wife Felisa (Inés Murillo), who were particular favourites of Serrano’s late father. Santo doesn’t like the wine’s fragrant bouquet that night at dinner and gives it to the housecat instead. It’s poisoned, of course, and the unfortunate moggy takes a one-way ticket to the pet cemetery. The next day Serrano is thrown from her horse when out riding, thanks to a dart fired from a blowgun. Later, she wakes up to find that she’s sharing a bed with a large, poisonous snake. By then, Santo has also tangled with a giant wild man (Domingo Bazán), who is actually getting the better of our hero before the eagle intervenes.

If it seems that our mysterious villains are remarkably single-minded in the pursuit of their murderous intrigue, then the explanation is simple. It’s almost the entire plot. There’s an attempt on Serrano’s life; she survives thanks to Santo; rinse and repeat. There’s also some aggro with the cowboys that work on Lavat’s ranch, Santo fighting in a tag-team charity match at the local arena and some vaguely sexist comedy courtesy of Suárez. Apart from that, there’s lots of local colour. This includes a big party at the hacienda, a visit to the state fair and a public cockfight. Yes, you read that correctly; a public cockfight. It’s not presented graphically, but it was probably real given the practical difficulties of faking such an enterprise for the cameras.

Unfortunately, the cockfight isn’t the only instance of animal cruelty in the film. Serrano’s pet eagle is stuffed roughly into a bag, and our heroine bags a rabbit when out shooting. The worst instance occurs during the flashback showing her brother’s death. He meets his end, tumbling down a steep gorge with his horse. Now, it’s impossible to say whether they used a real animal or not; it could have been a mockup of some kind, but if so, it was a remarkably good one. If it was flesh and blood, though…well, no horse is getting up after that. It seems scant consolation to note that the cat’s apparent immobility after drinking the poisoned wine was most likely down to laziness rather than anything more sinister. All this is an unpleasant surprise, given the lack of similar incidents in Santo’s other films and Mexican cinema in general.

The best thing about the cockfight sequence (now there’s a sentence I never expected to write) is the preamble which features Serrano and Lavat’s wife Paloma (Soledad Acosta) hurling insults at each other via the medium of song. These brief back and forth exchanges are delivered with lung-busting power and signpost the way to Serrano’s later solo number, a love song directed at Santo during the hacienda party. Songs were nothing new to the films of El Santo or Mexican genre cinema in general, and they are far better integrated here with the story than usual.

However, the film’s main issue is that the mystery element feels a little out of place, perhaps because Crevenna presents the region’s everyday life in such a natural, unforced manner. Giant wild man Bazán also bests Santo on both occasions they meet, and the great man is off camera during the climactic resolution. This may have been part of the more realistic tone the film seems to have targeted, but it’s hardly likely to satisfy fans.

Serrano was born into wealth and privilege in 1933 and defied her parents to pursue an artistic career. She began as a dancer, but her powerful voice won a contract with Columbia Records in 1962. Success followed almost immediately, and she quickly became one of Mexico’s most celebrated exponents of folk music’s ranchera and corrido genres. At the same time, she was pursuing a second career as a film actress, making her screen debut in a significant supporting role in ‘Santo Contra Los Zombies/The lnvasion of the Zombies’ (1962). In the late 1960s, she starred in her own comic book as ‘Le Tigresa’ (‘The Tigress’) and adopted the name professionally. Around this time, rumours suggested that she was having an affair with married Mexican president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, a fact she confirmed in her autobiography many years later. The story goes that when he finally broke it off after five years, she slapped him so hard the blow detached one of his retinas.

Film projects became less frequent in the 1970s as she bought a theatre and concentrated on stage work, producing, starring and sometimes co-writing and directing a series of highly popular productions. These included Emile Zola’s ‘Naná’, which ran for four years from 1973 and caused significant controversy because of its erotic content. Although success continued throughout the 1980s, Serrano left showbusiness to pursue a political career and was elected to the Mexican Senate in 1994, where she served four years. She’s rarely been out of the newspapers since, thanks to a series of relationships with young actors, accusations of property fraud, lawsuits, and a high-profile arrest in 2009 for supposedly waving a gun around and threatening to kill someone. In 2004, she became a mother for the first time using a surrogate and frozen sperm from ex-lover businessman Alejo Peralta who had passed away six years earlier.

Not one of Santo’s more memorable adventures but one of his best in terms of filmmaking quality. Not for animal lovers, though.


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