It’s been my intention for a while now to dedicate some time to classic films from the golden age of Mexican Cinema, many of which I watched as a child on television much in the same manner as I did the Hollywood productions I fell in love with. A few months back while researching topics for the Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon I ran into De Peliculas Clasico, a Televisa-owned network dedicated to golden age Mexican films. I set my DVR to tape several, but haven’t had the time to watch any until today.
LAS ABANDONADAS (The Abandoned or Abandoned Women) directed by Emilio (El Indio) Fernandez is one of the many movies filmed in Mexico during the 1940s that depicts a strong, sympathetic female protagonist who ends up a woman of ill repute through no fault of her own. This theme was popular in Hollywood productions as well for some time. Circumstances, necessity and a society that judges unmarried mothers harshly make for a tough life, but despite the odds these women survive with dignity. LAS ABANDONADAS stars Dolores Del Rio as Margarita who is such a woman.
Before I continue I must mention that as I watched LAS ABANDONADAS I was surprised to see how similar its story is to Antonio Moreno’s SANTA (1931), Mexico’s first talking picture, which stars Lupita Tovar. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a remake, but the first part of the story is nearly identical. I also thought of King Vidor’s STELLA DALLAS (1937) as I watched – thematically these bear similarities as well as central to both stories are mothers who sacrifice all for their children.
In any case – in LAS ABANDONADAS the character of Margarita is abandoned by her fiance, finds out she’s pregnant, is outcast by her father and has to do what she can to survive. Life leads her to a brothel where Margarita climbs up the ranks until she is the most glamorous of hostesses all the while providing for her young son from afar. It is while she is at the top of her game that she meets General Juan Gomez (Pedro Armendariz) who is immediately taken with her. My absolute favorite moment in the movie, in fact, is when the General sees Margarita for the first time. The woman, who is now called ‘Margot’ is standing at the top of the grand staircase in the dance hall she works at. Standing at the foot of the stairs the General looks up and says “come down and prove to me you’re more than an illusion.”
Then… he literally sweeps Margot off her feet offering her the moon, the stars and a lifetime of happiness, which she feels unworthy to accept given her past. Margot’s also afraid to tell him she has a son. It turns out, however, that the General is a good man and is willing to take her son as his own…that is…before a twist in the story – the irony – that it’s his past that resurfaces to ruin their lives.
LAS ABANDONADAS is one of several movies Del Rio and Armendariz made together and it’s no wonder they became one of the most legendary couples in Mexican Cinema. Their chemistry is wonderful. Dolores delivers a great performance as Margarita. Aged 40 when she made the film Del Rio convincingly plays the character from a young girl to a glamorous prostitute and on to a poor old woman – a span of about forty years. For her efforts Dolores received the first of her four Ariel Awards (the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Award). ABANDONADAS also received Ariel nominations for Best Director, Best Actor (Armendariz), Best Actress in a Minor Role for Fanny Schiller, Best Actor in a Minor Role for Arturo Soto Rangel, Best Editing and Best Sound.
Pedro Armendariz is also fine as the General, a role not unlike several others he played – the tough, militant with romantic undertones. Armendariz like Dolores Del Rio is beautiful to look at. I’ll add that when he smiles the screen literally lights up. Handsome devil!
Note worthy – both Del Rio and Armendariz worked with director Emilio Fernandez on several movies – successfully. As their efforts translate to the silver screen the team creates a force to be reckoned with. So – if you get the chance to see it I highly recommend LAS ABANDONADAS. Those who saw it upon its release would agree. Despite the difficulties the movie had with censors who held up its release until “sexually suggestive” scenes were removed, it was both a critical and commercial success.