The golden era is thought to have started with the film Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1935), which is to this date considered the best Mexican movie. It was a box-office failure by Fernando de Fuentes, which followed his box-office hit Allá en el Rancho Grande. The quality and box-office success of Mexican films continued after the end of World War II, when Mexican cinema became focused on commercial films.
In 1939 Europe and the United States were involved in World War II and the film industries of these regions were severely affected, Europe due to its location and the US because materials used for the war effort (including cellulose used to produce film) were rationed. In 1942, when German submarines destroyed PEMEX oil tankers, Mexico joined the allies in the war against Germany. Later after Mexico gained most favored nation status it encountered a scarcity of consumer goods, including film. Despite this, the Mexican film industry found new sources of materials and equipment thereby insuring its position in the production of quality films worldwide. During World War II the film industries of France, Italy, Spain, Argentina and the United States, focused on war films, thus making it possible for the Mexican movie industry to become dominant in the Mexican and Latin American markets.
The golden era
One of the first box-office successes was the film Allá en el rancho grande of Fernando de Fuentes which became the first classic of the cinema of Mexico. This producer completed the film after Vámonos con Pancho Villa but because of post-production problems with the second he released the first one a film he had not had many artistic aspirations for but was a success in the box office. The artistic quality of the second film was significantly higher but only lasted in theaters for two weeks.' Jalisco canta en Sevilla (starred by ranchera singer Jorge Negrete) was another production of de Fuentes and the first co-produced with Spain. These films are all in the rural genre but also in the musical/comedy genre. The rural genre also produced drama films such as María Candelaria and La perla. This last film was written by Pulitzer prize-winning author John Steinbeck and adapted to the screen by Emilio Fernández "El Indio" who also directed it. Another genre of urban comedy with stars like Cantinflas and Tin Tan produced many important films. The first films were produced and written by Arcady Boytler and take place in the middle-class neighborhoods and low-class barrios of Mexico City. These places also inspired urban reality films such as Los olvidados of Luis Buñuel and Nosotros los pobres starred by singer Pedro Infante. The biggest divas of the cinema of Mexico were Dolores del Río, who after a massive Hollywood career in the 1920s and 1930s, returned to Mexico and represented the face of Mexican women around the world in Emilio Fernández's films like María Candelaria; and María Félix who made rural dramas playing as well the roles of a native or a peasant than roles of socialites in La diosa arodillada and La Mujer sin Alma. However, the role that gave her the nickname "La Doña" was Doña Bárbara.
Among the cornerstones in Mexican cinema during the 1930s are Santa (1932), the first sound film, and Novillero (1937), the first color film. El indio (1939) is also an example of the 1930s pioneering era. The film explores an uprising of a tribe of indigenous workers toward its cruel oppressing hacendado. The cast includes Michoacán-born Consuelo Frank, Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores Camarillo (as comic relief), and Eduardo Vivas portraying the villain.
Decades of labor disputes between studios and talent played a role in bringing about the end of the golden age, but the primary cause was concentration of studio ownership. During the land reforms of President Lázaro Cárdenas, American sugar plantation owner and bootlegger William O. Jenkins sold his land holdings and made a comparatively safer investment in Mexican movie theaters. By the mid-1940s, Jenkins owned two theater chains and controlled all film showings in 12 states. His chains began limiting the exhibition of Mexican films to allow more Hollywood films to be shown. He also used his influence in the industry to dictate regulations that limited film production to a few genres. These low-budget, low quality films became known as "churros". In 1944, Jenkins invested in Churubusco studios. The company soon came to dominate the Mexican industry, and by the late 1950s, CLASA, Azteca Films, and Tepeyac Studios had all either closed or been bought out, leaving only Jorge Stahl's San Angel Inn as competition. In 1957, Jenkins bought the theater chain of Abelardo Rodríguez, his last remaining competitor, effectively taking control of every aspect of the Mexican cinema industry, from production to exhibition. The only survivor of the golden days was Luis Buñuel with films like El ángel exterminador in 1961.
Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete were the two grand leading men of the core of this "Golden Age", and while Negrete was the leader of the Actors Union when it began, alongside Cantinflas, Infante was and always will be the one everyone knows as El Ídolo del Pueblo or The Idol of the People. Both worked on the film Dos Tipos de Cuidado or "Two Guys to be Careful with", where Jorge played 'Jorge Bueno' and Pedro played 'Pedro Malo'. One year after the film was made, Jorge Negrete died of illness when he was in Hollywood California for a tour performance. Pedro led the motorcade of his funeral by riding his legendary Harley Davidson, and wearing the uniform of the famed Motorcycle Traffic Cops of el Distrito Federal; or Escuadron de la Direccion del Transito Distrito Federal, whose name included Acrobático or Acrobat, a title they earned after their legendary death defying stunts as daredevils. Infante was made honorary leader (or 'Comandante') of the group for life after he and Luis Aguilar made the organization a classic part of cinema history in Mexico with the tragic stories of ATM or A Toda Maquina and its sequel Que Te Ha Dado Esa Mujer (What has that woman given you).
Special mention for Luis Buñuel. The legendary Spanish director, established in México in the late 1940s. In 1947 started his contributions to the Mexican Cinema. Some of his most successful films were Los Olvidados (1949), Subida al Cielo (1952), Ensayo de un crimen (1955) and Nazarín (1958).
In the middle of the 1940s, the Spanish director Juan Orol started the production of notable films starred by notable Cuban and Mexican dancers. This cinematographic genre was named "Cine de Rumberas", and was very successful in the Latin America audiences. The great stars of this exotic genre are Maria Antonieta Pons, Meche Barba, Amalia Aguilar, Ninón Sevilla and Rosa Carmina
"Rancheras" also became a famous genre of Mexican film that emerged during the 1950s period. The leading actors of those films were also singers of the same genre, many like Antonio Aguilar, Flor Silvestre, Rosa de Castilla, Irma Dorantes, and Luis Aguilar became famous for singing as well as acting in ranchera-influenced films.
For many the end of the Golden Age of the cinema of Mexico came on April 15, 1957 when a private plane crashed in the area of Mérida, Yucatán. Pedro Infante was aboard the plane, and died instantly. "Oh, what a horrendous task", people would say, when the rescue crews had to recover the charred remains of him who was El Ídolo, whom they recognized by a gold bracelet that he wore. His funeral could be compared with a state funeral for a hero, since he has always been considered the iconic figure of an era.
- Santa (1931)
- ¡Que viva México! (1932)
- La Mujer del Puerto (1934)
- Redes (1934)
- Janitzio (1934)
- Dos Monjes (1934)
- Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936)
- Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1936)
- Cielito Lindo (film) (1936)
- Águila o sol (1937)
- La mujer de nadie (1937)
- Diablillos de arrabal (1938)
- La Zandunga (1938)
- Siboney (1938)
- Los de Abajo (1939)
- La Noche de los Mayas (1939)
- Luis Alcoriza
- Arcady Boytler
- Luis Buñuel
- Juan Bustillo Oro
- Humberto Gómez Landero
- Antonio Guzmán Aguilera
- Mauricio Magdaleno
- Águila Films
- Estudios Camus
- Estudios Churubusco
- Cima Films S. A.
- Clasa Films
- Diana Films S. A.
- Films Mundiales
- Grovas Films
- Oro Films
- Cinematográfica Calderón
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