I cried watching my first Dolores del Rio movie. The movie itself, a lighthearted comedy called In Caliente (1935) costarring Pat O’Brien and one of the funniest character actors of all time, Edward Everett Horton, didn’t involve any tragedy. So why was I overcome with emotion? Because I was seeing a beautiful Mexican actress onscreen in a Classic Hollywood film, who was glamorous, funny, and the leading lady. Not the help, not oversexualized, not painfully stereotypical. I couldn’t help but think of all the black actresses who were denied that same opportunity. Plenty of black women during this era were incredibly talented, but their film roles severely undermined their talent. Maybe del Rio’s Mexican heritage was more palatable, and that’s why movie studios could present her to white audiences in a flattering way.
When I signed up for the Marathon Stars blogathon last month, I chose del Rio because I wasn’t too familiar with her filmography. Unfortunately, I’m still not. I could only watch three of her films, which hardly constitutes a marathon, and which brings my grand total of watched movies up to six. But I knew I still wanted to participate in the blogathon, hence my late entry. There’s something so captivating about Dolores del Rio, and I’m determined to marathon her films properly. La Otra (1946) is at the top of my list. The only version of this Mexican film available at all didn’t include any subtitles, and my Spanish isn’t up to par yet, so I’m waiting until I can watch it with my boyfriend who’s agreed to translate it for me. (He is also Mexican). La Otra was remade into an English language film in 1964, Dead Ringer, starring Bette Davis and directed by Paul Henreid.
Born Maria de los Dolores Asunsolo y Lopez Negrete in Durango, Mexico in 1904, the future actress was born into wealth. Mexican actor Ramon Novarro was her cousin on her mother’s side. del Rio enjoyed a successful Hollywood career, but she returned to Mexico in the 1940s. She soon became one of the country’s most prominent stars.
Other del Rio films I’ve seen include Bird of Paradise (1932) and Flying Down to Rio (1933). For my mini marathon, I watched Wonder Bar (1934), Journey into Fear (1942), and The Fugitive (1947).
A very interesting precode which tackles almost all of the forbidden themes of the genre. There’s adultery, murder, wild passion, Busby Berkeley choreographed dance, and perhaps the most unforgivable offense which was never banned at the movies, blackface. Wonder Bar easily could have been excellent if not for Al Jolson’s painfully unfunny routine. It got me thinking if his entire career was dependent on blackface. His breakthrough role in The Jazz Singer (1927) featured it, and a cursory look over much of his films reveal him in that atrocious makeup. The sequence in this film seemed to go on interminably long, and to make matters worse, he remained in the makeup even after it was over. I skipped that entire scene, and wonder of wonders, it didn’t have any bearing on the plot.
Nightclub dancer Inez (del Rio) is madly in love with her dancing partner Harry (Ricardo Cortez). Al Wonder (Jolson) is secretly in love with Inez. Songwriter Tommy (Dick Powell) is also in love with Inez. He and Al believe she’s too good for the slick Harry, who is two timing Inez with married socialite, Liane (Kay Francis).
Meanwhile there’s a suicidal German officer (Robert Barrat) who actually tries to slit his wrists in full view at the bar. Now you may be wondering how a film that’s just over an hour long is able to devote time to each storyline, but it’s evenly paced with some humor to liven everything up. There’s actually a scene involving a married woman who shamelessly flirts with a younger man in front of her husband and she even arranges to meet him for a tryst later on.
The film’s high point occurs near the end, when Inez and Harry perform a dramatic number. Blinded by rage she shoots him, and it’s almost like her character takes revenge after he mistreats her onstage. (A whip is involved…)
del Rio’s performance is quite something. Inez is never pitiable even though she’s so hung up on an undeserving guy like Harry. If anything, he’s the one you feel sorry for. And even though he’s handsome and suave, there’s something pathetic about him. He’s a guy grasping for something better but again, he’s undeserving. Inez is incredibly alive; del Rio was marvelously expressive and she even uses her body in the performance.
While it was a chore sitting through the movie, she was definitely mesmerizing throughout.
Set in del Rio’s native Mexico this film concerns the anti Catholic regime of the government. The priests have all been killed but one survives. The priest (Henry Fonda) meets Maria Dolores (del Rio) and agrees to baptize her child. She also tries to help him escape his fate. The film, based on the Graham Greene novel The Power and the Glory, is impressively shot. Directed by John Ford, it has an unsentimental quality. del Rio’s appearance is somewhat brief, much of the runtime focuses on Fonda’s priest either alone or with another companion, but from her introduction, you don’t forget her. Her beauty is like that of a saint or the Blessed Mother.
Journey into Fear
Probably the best known of del Rio’s American films, it paired her with Joseph Cotten, who was also responsible for the screenplay. Other sterling cast members included Orson Welles and Agnes Moorehead. The latter two along with Cotten collaborated frequently, and I started to imagine del Rio joining them. This drama of political intrigue is very well acted. del Rio displays a boatload of charm and style. While the plot was confusing at times, I immediately perked up when she was onscreen.
There’s a quality about Dolores del Rio in this film that mirrors her In Caliente role to an extent. She’s a stylish and witty woman, carefree. Even while Howard Graham (Cotten) is under threat of assassination by Nazis, her presence is vital in enlivening the proceedings.
Despite my brief time with her, I’m convinced there’s a wealth of roles she would’ve been qualified to portray. Hopefully I’ll see them in the next round of films that I watch!
Read the other entries in the blogathon here. And thanks to the hosts for giving me an extension!