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The Golden Age of Mexican cinema (Spanish: Época de Oro del Cine Mexicano) is a period in the history of the Cinema of Mexico between 1930 and 1969 when the Mexican film industry reached high levels of production, quality and economic success of its films, besides having gained recognition internationally. The Mexican film industry became the center of commercial films in Latin America.
The Golden Age began symbolically with the film Let's Go with Pancho Villa (1935), directed by Fernando de Fuentes. In 1939, during World War II, the film industry in the US and Europe declined, because the materials previously destined for film production now were for the new arms industry. Many countries began to focus on making films about war, leaving an opportunity for Mexico to produce commercial films for the Mexican and Latin American markets. This cultural environment favored the emergence of a new generation of directors and actors considered to date, icons in Mexico and in Hispanic countries and Spanish-speaking audiences.
In 1939 Europe and the United States participated in World War II, and the film industries of these regions were severely affected. Europe due to its location and the United States because the materials used to produce films (such as cellulose), became scarce and were rationed. In 1942, when German submarines destroyed a Mexican tanker, Mexico joined the Allies in the war against Germany. Mexico won the status of most favored nation. Thus, the Mexican film industry found new sources of materials and equipment and secured its position in the production of quality films worldwide. During World War II, the film industry in France, Italy, Spain, Argentina and the United States focused on war films, which made it possible for the Mexican film industry, with much more versatile themes in its films, to become dominant in the markets of Mexico and Latin America.
Since the beginning of talkies in Mexico, some films (like Santa (1931), directed by Antonio Moreno and The Woman of the Port (1934), directed by Arcady Boytler, were a huge blockbuster that showed that Mexico had the equipment and talent needed to sustain a strong film industry. One of the first blockbusters was the film Allá en el Rancho Grande by Fernando de Fuentes, which became the first classic of Mexican cinema; this film is referred to as the initiator of the "Mexican film industry".
In the early 1940s began the emergence of great Mexican film studios settled in Mexico City, they begin to support the mass production of films. Among the most important are CLASA Films, FILMEX, Films Mundiales, Cinematográfica Calderón, Películas Rodriguez and Producciones Mier y Brooks, among others.
Mexican cinema continued to produce works of superb quality and began to explore other genres such as comedy, romance and musical. In 1943, the film Wild Flower, brought together a team comprising the filmmaker Emilio Fernández, the photographer Gabriel Figueroa, the actor Pedro Armendariz and actress Dolores del Río. The films María Candelaria (1943) and The Pearl (1947), were considered pivotal works by Fernández and his team, and gave Mexican cinema enormous prestige, with their works being shown worldwide in major film festivals. María Candelaria was awarded in 1946 with the Golden Palm in the Cannes Film Festival. The Pearl was awarded the Golden Globe of the American film industry, being the first Spanish film to receive such recognition.
Mexican cinema in its Golden Age, mimicked the Star System that prevailed in Hollywood. Thus, unlike other film industries, Mexican cinema saw the development of the "cult of a star", in a way very similar to that of the American film industry. However, unlike what happened in Hollywood, Mexican film studios never had total power over the big stars, and this allowed them to grow independently and develop in a wide range of genres, mainly figures emerged in Mexican cinema in the early 1950s, much more versatile and complete than those of the previous decade.
Among the actors who attained the status of idols in the Mexican cinema, arguably Pedro Infante stands out the most. His first films were not aimed toward creating a myth. The result of his meeting with the director Ismael Rodríguez in the film Nosotros los Pobres (1947), served to consolidate the figure of Infante within the mythology of Mexican cinema. For many, Infante represented what every Mexican should be: a dutiful son, an unconditional friend, a romantic lover. In the extensive gallery of stars of Mexican cinema, Pedro Infante is the only one who could unify public sentiment. His popularity has continued to grow as new generations are born. His figure remains the most important in Mexican cinema.
Another one of the early mass idols in Mexican cinema was Jorge Negrete. In addition to his role as an actor, Negrete was also a prominent singer and one of the leading representatives of Mexican ranchera music. Negrete was one of the highest grossing actors of Latin American Cinema during almost the entire decade of the 1940s. His premature death led to collective mourning in Mexico.
María Félix was an exceptional case in the Mexican Cinema. A woman of a stunning physical beauty and strong personality, who immediately dominated the roles as a "femme fatale" in Mexican movies. Before the success of María Félix, women were in supporting roles (self-sacrificing mothers, submissive girlfriends). Based on the success of Félix, more movies with female themes began to be made. The film Doña Bárbara (1943), began the myth of María Félix as La Doña. The unique real personality of María merged with her on-screen personality leading to one of the most fascinating myths of the seventh art. Her legend was forged without her lifting a finger. The imagination of the people did all the work.
Dolores del Río at her best moments, represented one of the highest ideals of the Mexican female beauty. The myth of Dolores del Río did not begin in Mexico, but in Hollywood, where the actress reached the status of "Diva" in the 1920s and 1930s, very difficult for an actress of Hispanic origin. After a more than worthy career in Hollywood, Dolores returned to Mexico, where she managed to maintain and even raise the prestige that she enjoyed in the American film industry, thanks to a series of films made especially for her, by her eternal admirer, the filmmaker Emilio Fernández, where he stripped away the stony image acquired in Hollywood and highlighted her indigenous features. Films like Wild Flower and María Candelaria(1943), spread the image of Mexico around the world, and Dolores del Río became a national symbol, after being, for many years, a symbol of "the Mexican" abroad.
One of the faces that captivated the audiences was Pedro Armendariz. Although he did not have any indigenous roots whatsoever, Armendáriz managed to embody the Mexican essence better than any other actor in Mexico. This shared appreciation from historians, critics, colleagues and admirers, is based significantly on the characters that the actor starred as under the direction of Emilio Fernandez. Later, Armendáriz dabbled in Hollywood and some European countries.
Arturo de Córdova was another prominent male figure in Mexican Cinema. His specialty was the roles of tormented men who often sank into madness. His good looks and contrived elegance made him famous. He was certainly one of the most requested heartbreakers by Hispanic women. He had always surrounded himself with female beauties, while his graying temples were becoming a personal and non-transferable trademark.
Mario Moreno, Cantinflas, was a comedian and mime, who emerged from the popular theater. He achieved great popularity in the cinema with his portrayal of the character Cantinflas, a charismatic poor man, a "friendly neighbor" with quite a peculiar speech. The character of Cantinflas was to Mario Moreno as The Tramp was to Charles Chaplin. But unlike Chaplin, Cantinflas based his character on joy, rather than melancholy. His characters were always exhilaratingly funny. Cantinflas enjoyed remarkable success.
Another successful star was the comedian Germán Valdés, "Tin Tan". He was a great versatile actor and excellent singer. He became famous for portraying the character of The Pachuco (a cultural movement of the 1940s and 1950s, originating in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and migrated into Los Angeles, where it developed further). His films were mainly based on parody and absurd situations, skilled musical numbers portraying visual mischief with an attractive female. "Tin Tan" had a huge cultural impact among some sectors of the Mexican public, and his films reached the status of cult films.
Some other Mexican figures achieved recognition for foreign level. Katy Jurado became an important and sought-after actress in the Hollywood films (primarily in the Western film ), achieving recognition as the Golden Globe (1952) and a nomination for Academy Award of the American Film Academy (1954). Meanwhile, Silvia Pinal achieved recognition in the field of "art cinema", especially thanks to her collaborations with the filmmaker Luis Buñuel. The film Viridiana (1961), probably the most legendary film in Buñuel's cinematography, was headlined by Pinal. Awarded with the Golden Palm of Cannes Film Festival, Viridiana captured Pinal in the history of world cinema. Beautiful, charismatic and endowed with a wonderful versatility, Pinal enjoyed a successful career spanning several decades in the Mexican stardom.
Sara García, called "Mexico's Grandmother", deserves special mention. She was an outstanding actress who possessed great versatility and a strong dramatic intensity. She is, just as Cantinflas and Tin Tan, a part of Mexican popular culture, and her fame stands the test of time.
Among the most prominent actresses in Mexican cinema in its heyday were Columba Dominguez, one of the main muses of filmmaker Emilio Fernández. Endowed with a strong appeal, she worked in leading, internationally renowned bands such as Pueblerina (1949). Miroslava was a dazzling beauty of European origin who achieved fame in Mexican cinema between late 1940 and the mid-1950s, before dying tragically in 1955. Marga López was an important and outstanding actress with a very broad acting range. The dazzling Elsa Aguirre was one of the most important "femme fatales" of the Mexican film industry. Another important actress was Gloria Marín, who enjoyed a large following in the early 1940s thanks in part to her famous pairing with Jorge Negrete in a series of romantic movies. María Elena Marqués was another important actress with a strong personality. Among the dazzling beauties that flooded the Mexican screens were also Esther Fernández, Rosario Granados, Rosita Quintana, Rita Macedo, Emilia Guiú, Alma Rosa Aguirre or Lilia Prado, among many others.
Among the best actresses who shone in this period was Carmen Montejo, an actress with an impeccable presence in film, theater and television. Meanwhile, Andrea Palma was considered the first "Diva" of Mexican Cinema, immortalized in the beginning of the Mexican film industry as The Woman of the Port, and later specialized in roles as a sophisticated prostitute. Emma Roldán was one of the pioneers of the Mexican film industry with a career spanning more than a hundred films. Meanwhile, Prudencia Grifell, a veteran revue star in the 1920s, was immortalized (with Sara García) in Granny roles in the films.
As Mexico was the main film industry in the Spanish-speaking countries, its industry attracted other important figures from other Hispanic film industries. The most important were the Spanish Sara Montiel, who achieved international renown after making a name for herself in Mexican cinema during the first half of the 1950s, and Argentinean Libertad Lamarque, who after leaving her country in 1947 after an award-winning career in Argentine cinema, settled in Mexico, where she made most of her films and practically remained active for the rest of her life. From Spain there were other such actors, like Jorge Mistral, Armando Calvo or Lola Flores; from Argentina there were Niní Marshall and Luis Aldás. From Cuba there were René Cardona, Rita Montaner or Rosita Fornes, while Irasema Dilián was imported from Italian Cinema.
Among the greatest actors was Ignacio López Tarso, one of the most versatile Latin American actors who had a very prominent film, television and stage career. López Tarso was the protagonist of Macario (1959), first Mexican film nominated for an Academy Award of the American Academy. The Soler Brothers: Domingo, Andrés, Fernando and Julián Soler, were probably some of the Mexican actors with the most movies in their careers. In a great variety of roles, both dramatic and comic, their talent prevailed in their films. David Silva reached an enormous popularity to embody the hero of lower-class neighborhoods and in numerous films of social Film or urban cinema. Emilio Tuero was one of the first film heartthrobs with massive success in the Mexican film industry in the early 1940s. Roberto Cañedo was an actor with a very long film career that spanned more than fifty years in film, theater and television. Fernando Fernandez besides being an outstanding singer, achieved enormous popularity in musical films incarnating roles of good and noble man.
Many other comedians achieved consecration in Mexican cinema. From comic slapstick couples (in the style of Laurel and Hardy) to independent actors who achieved a huge poster. Many of these comedians emerged from the called Carpas or Mexican popular theaters. Joaquín Pardavé, was a popular actor who captivated with the same dramatic or comic characters. Pardavé was also a composer and film director, and his beginnings in the industry, from the Silent films, made him a "symbolic father" of all Mexican comedians from the thirties to the sixties.
Antonio Espino y Mora, better known as Clavillazo was another Mexican actor who began his career in the Carpas. More than 30 films are in his repertoire and is one of the most beloved and remembered artists. Another artist who started in the Carpas and also his sympathy, noted for his picturesque way of dancing was Adalberto Martínez "Resortes", who had a long career, then worked for over 70 years in film and television.
Gaspar Henaine and Marco Antonio Campos better known as "Viruta and Capulina" were a comic duo that were found in the form of white humor win the affection of the people. Viruta and Capulina began their career together in 1952, although individually had worked on other projects. They filmed more than 25 films.
Although they do not have a large number of films together, Manuel Palacios "Manolín" and Estanislao Shilinsky Bachanska are remembered for their great chemistry in the theaters and later in the films.
The Musical film genre in Mexico was strongly influenced by the Mexican folk music or Ranchero music. Stars as Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Luis Aguilar and Antonio Aguilar made dozens of musical films of these gender who served as a platform to promote Mexican music. The songs of important composers like Agustín Lara or José Alfredo Jiménez served as the basis for the arguments of many films. Libertad Lamarque also highlighted by her performances where music and songs were the main protagonists.
The tropical music that was popular in Mexico and Latin America since the 1930s, and was also reflected in Mexican cinema. Numerous music magazines were made in the 1940s and 1950s. In these productions it was common to see figures ranging from Damaso Perez Prado, Toña la Negra, Rita Montaner, María Victoria or Los Panchos. However, the musical film in Mexico was mostly represented by the so-called Rumberas film, a unique cinematic curiosity of Mexico, dedicated to the film exaltation of the figure of the "rumba" (dancers of Afro-Antillean rhythms). The main figures of this genre were Cubans María Antonieta Pons, Amalia Aguilar, Ninón Sevilla and Rosa Carmina and Mexican Meche Barba. Between 1938 and 1965 more than one hundred Rumberas films were made.
In Mexico, the Film Noir genre popular in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s was represented by the actor and director Juan Orol. Inspired by the popular Gangster film and figures like Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, Orol created a filmic universe and a particular style by mixing elements of classic Film Noir with Mexican folklore, urban environments, cabaret, and tropical music. Examples include the classic film Gangsters Versus Cowboys (1948).
Although the 1960s are considered the Golden Age of Horror and science fiction in Mexican cinema, during the Golden Age they were found some remarkable works. Chano Urueta, a prolific director who began in the silent era, had had their approaches with the supernatural in Desecration (1933) and The Sign of Death (1939), however his greatest contributions come with The Amazing Beast (1952), film that first introduced the wrestlers in the genre. Other works in the genre would La Bruja (1954), Ladrón de Cadáveres (1956), the trilogy El Jinete sin cabeza (1957), the terror western, The Baron of Terror (1962) and The Living Head(1963).
Fernando Mendez was the most prolific filmmaker in the Horror films of the era. His most successful film was El vampiro (1957), starring Germán Robles, lead actor of the genre for the next two decades. Another actors highlights of gender were Abel Salazar, Lorena Velázquez and Ariadne Welter.
Among the major filmmakers who contributed to consolidate the Mexican cinema in its Golden Age include the following:
The first transmissions of the Mexican television started in 1950. In a few years, the television reached enormous power to reach the public. By 1956, the TV antennas were common in Mexican homes, and new media grew rapidly in the province. The first black and white television pictures appeared in a very small and oval screen, and thus the image was quite imperfect as they did not have the clarity and sharpness of the actual film image. However, not only in Mexico but throughout the world, the filmmakers immediately resented competition from this new media. This competition decisively influenced the history of cinema forcing the film industry to seek new ways both in the art itself, as in the treatment of subjects and genres.
The technical innovations came from Hollywood. Wide screens, three-dimensional cinema, color improvement and stereo sound were some of the innovations introduced by the American cinema during the early 1950s. At the time, the high cost of these technologies made it difficult for Mexico to compete; therefore, not for some years was it able to produce films incorporating these innovations.
One of the nations where Mexican cinema was most popular was Yugoslavia, where for much of the 1950s, Mexican films comprised the majority of the films that were screened. The 1950 film Un día de vida, which premiered in 1952 in Yugoslavia, was one of the most popular films of the decade in that nation. The popularity of Mexican films led to the so-called Yu-Mex craze, as Mexican music and fashions were much imitated in Yugoslavia in the 1950s.
On April 15, 1957, the whole country mourned with the news of the death of Pedro Infante. His death also marked the end of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
The world was changing and so was the way film was produced by other countries. The elimination of censorship in the United States allowed a more bold and realistic treatment of many topics. In France, a young generation of filmmakers educated in film criticism began the New Wave movement. In Italy, the Neorealism had claimed the careers of several filmmakers. The Swedish film with Ingmar Bergman made his appearance, while in Japan Akira Kurosawa appeared.
Meanwhile, Mexican cinema had been stalled by bureaucracy and difficulties with the union. Film production was now concentrated in a few hands, and the ability to see new filmmakers emerge was almost impossible due to the impositions of the directors of the Union of Workers of the Cinematographic Production (STPC). Three of the most important film studios disappeared between 1957 and 1958: Tepeyac, Clasa Films and Azteca.
Also in 1958, the Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to discontinue the Ceremony of the Ariel Award recognizing the best productions of the national cinema. The Ariel was instituted in 1946 and emphasized the thriving state of the industry.