Top Mexican films of the 1930s and 1940s
By Jim Johnston Original Print Publication: February, 2007
1. Santa (1931)
The first sound film made in Mexico from the best-selling novel by Fernando Gamboa. Agustín Lara's song of the same name is sung to accompany an extraordinary brothel scene. It was filmed partly in Colonia Condesa, and was the first of a genre of "good girl gone bad" movies.
2. La Mujer del Puerto (1933)
Good girl becomes whore, through no fault of her own ... starring the fabulous Andrea Palma, the "Mexican Dietrich."
3. Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936)
The archetypal Comedia Ranchera, a genre popular until the 1990s when Hollywood and free trade practically killed off the Mexican cinema industry.
4. Distinto Amanecer (1943)
One of the greatest film noirs ever made, rivaling "Casablanca," once again starring Andrea Palma and making Pedro Armendáriz a star. The train station finale gives one goose bumps!
5. María Candelaria (1943)
The first product of the great team of director Emilio "El Indio" Fernández and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, and Dolores del Río's return to Mexican Cinema after a long stay in Hollywood. Made in conjunction with intellectuals and artists (including Diego Rivera) to promote the nobility of Mexican indigenous culture. Filmed on location in the "floating gardens of Xochimilco" (where everyone can tell you, to this day, which canals were used as locations).
6. Enamorada (1946)
María Félix was Latin America's greatest star, not well known in the USA as she never worked in Hollywood. This is her best film, another Fernández/ Figueroa collaboration, and a prototype of the Revolutionary film genre. The scene where Félix is serenaded and camera zooms up to her eye is justly famous.
7. Salón México (1946)
Another Fernández/Figueroa collaboration, and a noir classic, which made the late Marga López a star. Another suffering taxi dancer (read: prostitute) story, beautifully filmed and all taking place in Mexico City at night (in the rain, naturally!)
8. Los Olvidados (1950)
Filmed on location in Mexico City (including Colonia Roma and the Centro), Luis Buñuel's superb portrait of the struggling classes was banned shortly after its premier, offending some for showing Mexico in a bad light. In 2005 it was the first film to be named by UNE SCO as part of their Universal Cultural Patrimony program.
9. Nosotros los Pobres (1948)
Starring the great singer/actor Pedro Infante who created the archetype Pepe "El Toro," the urban working class hero. It was an attempt to depict and dignify the working class poor of Mexico City, several years before the more sophisticated (and pessimistic) "Los Olvidados" was made. This is the best known and beloved film in all of Mexican cinema, like "It's a Wonderful Life" is in the USA.
10. Aventurera (1949)
The best known in a series of lurid Rumbera films, another genre peculiar to Mexican Cinema which combines noir and musical numbers, and usually takes place in the underworld of nightclubs and gangsters. It stars Cuban actress Ninón Sevilla.
This compilation is excerpted from Jim Johnston's guidebook Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.