Tortilla Flat (1942)


Original plot
A bunch of “friends” try to con people out of their inheritance and life savings.

Big thoughts
Spencer Tracy (Spencer Bonaventure Tracy, an Irish Catholic from Wisconsin) plays a Mexican. At least the Wizard of Oz next to him has some Venezuelan in him. This is like Daniel Day-Lewis playing a Native American. … Oh, yeah – nevermind.

The Random Remake
Daniel Alvino (Daryl Sabara) is new a student at Massachusetts State, a small liberal-arts establishment in the western part of the state. The place is one of those hippy places that don’t give out grades or assignments or tests. But Danny, the son of a wealthy telecom investor, is a naïve coddled young man whom his parents fear would not thrive at the big universities. Or so Danny tells his new hallmate, Dolores (Grace Phipps). Danny tries to impress Dolores with his family’s history and importance. Dolores, a second-year student, isn’t swayed by Danny’s social standing, but she does like his brashness. She tells him this isn’t the kind of place where his family’s wealth will mean anything. She welcomes him to “Tortilla Flat” – the nickname the students have given to their boring, white, one-story outdated dormitory into which he’s just moved.

Upon setting up his new room, Danny is met by someone who has been popping his head into each of the opened doors of the dorm’s floor. The man, who is noticeably older than the other students, says his name is Pylon (T.J. Miller) – a nickname he got because of his strong nature. “I hold everything – and everyone – up,” he says. “I’m a good support structure – especially in a place like this.” Pylon’s eyes gloss over Danny’s room, noticing a few key items: The expensive clothes, the expensive phone, the expensive laptop, etc. Pylon says he is going to make it his mission to acclimate Danny into the college. “I am going to be your support structure, amigo.”

Soon we see Pylon inviting Danny to parties and showing him around some of the areas of the downtown. Whenever they eat or buy beer, Pylon tells Danny he is short on cash because he is helping his family out, or his rent went up, or he spent it all getting Danny a parking permit (even though Danny doesn’t have a car), etc. Dolores knows Pylon’s schemes (we even see Pylon pulling some of the same schemes on other students in and around campus) and tells Danny to be wary of him. But Pylon smart-talks his way back into Danny’s good graces, promising to talk to Dolores and get her to reciprocate Danny’s flirtations (but instead he hints to Dolores that Danny’s not into her).

Due to Pylon’s pursuit of weed and not working, he’s soon without an apartment – and so he worms his way into Danny’s dorm. Then Danny’s friend the The Pirate is living there, too. Danny confesses to The Pirate that he doesn’t like Pylon taking advantage of him, but he knows Pylon is a good student with ambition that he should look up to. The Pirate laughs, telling him that Pylon’s not a student – he’s 27 and got kicked out in the middle of his first year, and now gloms off students who don’t know better. He even dispels the myth of Pylon’s nickname – “It’s because he stole the high school football pylon, you know that thing in the end zone. He made a bong out of it. Truth is, we both just absorb what we can from other people – why do think I’m called Pirate?”

Danny feels taken advantage of, and he tells Pylon off, even evicting The Pirate as well. Pylon moves onto another target, but his heart just isn’t it. In living with Danny, in seeing his earnestness, Pylon is a changed man. Danny’s honest ways and his constant pursuit of Dolores have had an impact on Pylon. When Pylon’s running a scheme in a bar, he sees Dolores with a bunch of friends and he stops his game and is about to leave when Dolores stops him. She asks what he did to Danny, as she’s noticed he hasn’t been sweetly hounding her. He says that Danny threw him out. “Sounds kinda harsh,” she says. “Nah,” he answers. “It’s the way it goes.”

Dolores goes to find Danny and when they’re talking Danny pulls a small scheme on her, using some of the same smart-guy lines from Pylon to get her to agree to his way of thinking. He realizes what he’s doing but does it anyway. They make out a bit, scenes dissolves. We see Danny inside one of his hippy classes and the professor asks about doing an exercise about what they’ve learned from the semester using a person from their lives. At Danny’s turn he stumbles to think of anyone except for Pylon, but he can’t. He smiles, remembering all the goofy, stoned-philosopher lines from Pylon. “I know this guy,” Danny begins. “He’s a good support structure.”

Last scene is Danny at the cafeteria, sitting with Dolores, getting a free extra taco from his server, Pylon – who winks at him. “Know any good parties tonight,” Danny asks him.

The pitch
The Dorms of Tortilla Flat: Freeloading comes at a cost

Next up: All Through The Night (1941)


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