“The two most beautiful things in the world are
the Taj Mahal and Dolores del Rio.”
– George Bernard Shaw.
But more on her later…
Aurora’s Once Upon A Screen blog is hosting its second annual Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon. And what better way for me to contribute to Hollywood’s Latino history than by talking a little about one of the most beautiful women who ever graced classic films.
I wanted to explore something new and exciting so I checked out the Mexican film noir series held at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art back in July. I saw Dolores Del Rio in “La Otra”. When it started and I saw twin sisters and the giant dog I disappointedly said to myself “Dead Ringer”!!! I was disappointed only b’cuz I knew what was going to happen in this movie as I’d already seen the Bette Davis 1964 film.
Well I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Though both movies share the same plot, “La Otra” ( “The Other One” ) is darker, more intense and more sensual than the 1964-version and that is for one reason and one reason alone: Dolores Del Rio. Del Rio does a good job establishing two distinct personalities in playing twins. Yes, one is good ( María ) and ‘la otra’ is bad ( Magdalena ); but the extra kick is to see María still keep her own persona while impersonating Magdalena. See, it’s not only about being different. It’s what preys on the mind of a good person who does something wrong. Very very wrong.
This is film noir and noir is all about descent. And so…Del Rio descends.
There is something about good María that is ultimately really not so good. She can’t seem to be happy. She can’t seem to be satisfied. She wants. She lacks. There’s an under-lying resentment of what her rich sister possesses, and trust me Magdalena doesn’t make it easy. Her rich husband has just died so she has it all. She flaunts her wealth. The good María has a faithful boyfriend who loves her. But in not recognizing, acknowledging what she has, María throws away all that’s worth having…for money.
Like any good old film noir from the time period, we follow our hapless heroine down a slippery slope of bad decisions paved with guilt and fear. Hell, as soon as she gets into her sister’s rich digs, María gets spooked, scared and pops some Nembutals. ( Guess this murder / identity-stealing thing is not all it’s cracked up to be. ) I love that the plot sticks close to her and doesn’t stray to extraneous characters. We see her machinations of deceipt up close and personal:
- María’s cold-blooded murder,
- forging legal documents in an ingenious way,
- writing out checks like there’s no tomorrow,
- duping people she doesn’t know ( but who knew her sister ).
There’s also the emotional toll all this takes on María that Del Rio delivers equally well.
Entering the plot, Magdalena’s lover re-surfaces. Uh-oh. And he’s complicit in having helped Magdalena murder her rich husband. Double uh-oh. And María is aware of NONE of this when she takes over her sister’s identity! ( You can imagine how many UH-0Hs THAT would be ). Now, she may act haughty enough to end the relationship, but ye olde ex-lover Fernando ( played with infuriatingly sleazy smarminess by Víctor Junco ) proffers blackmail…with “benefits.” Poor girl. I don’t what’s worse for María:
- giving up her ill-gotten gains to this blackmailing sleazebag or
- going to bed with this blackmailing sleazebag…a man she doesn’t even know
It’s a cinch our María was a virgin, so this turn of events has got to be a triple whammy of degradation. He doesn’t care if she doesn’t love him. Fernando still gleefully collects his pound of flesh. Aye yi yi, the irony!
Even more ironic is María’s faithful boyfriend, Detective Robérto Gonzalez ( played with poignant sadness by Agustín Irusta ) sent to investigate María’s ( ‘fake’ ) murder and later, the theft of a valuable painting. Here is the scene that really gets me. In the detective’s consoling and questioning the fake Magdalena, Robérto speaks of his deep love for María. How trippy it is for María to hear herself spoken about in the third person. And trippier still…María as Magdalena speaks of a lost love TO her lost love. Upping the tension, Robérto, even thinks the faux Magdalena SOUNDS like María. But of course that’s impossible, he thinks. I LOVED and felt that daisy chain of incredible regret and heartbreak from both the Detective and María. There’s something epically Shakespearean about unknowingly talking to the person you want to talk to. ( Don’t worry…I won’t bring up “Vertigo” and the duality issue. Sheesh! )
The film uses one unfortunate musical element in its score – the Theremin – which brings to mind 1950’s sci-fi films I love. I knew silly music would set this modern audience off on a tangent of giggles, which I hoped wouldn’t happen. I did hear those slightly annoying giggles for some of the other films to be featured in this festival – you know, when the action would tip the scale into melodramatic territory. But what modern Gringo audiences have to understand, is that besides this film being from another era, the Latin culture has flourishes of emotions and pregnant silences that other cultures don’t quite use; it is a teensy soap opera, but ssssssssssshhhh!
“La Otra” follows Dolores Del Rio closely as her best-laid plans turn to guacamole. She is wonderful in it and is in almost every scene. Her training in silent films helps her wordlessly depict anger, fear, love and regret. The writers ( Robérto Gavaldón, Rian James and José Revueltas ) add some twisty turns as Del Rio spins a web that only entraps her in its matrix. As I watch her in this I’m perplexed as to why she wasn’t really used a lot in 1940’s Hollywood. ( Well yeah, sadly, we all know the major “why” ). But even if she didn’t get those A-list parts Stanwyck and Davis tackled, ( or be in “woman’s pictures” ), she could have still been in the very next tier of talent. She is a perfect actress for the forties. I think Del Rio would have made a marvelous Lady MacBeth; I can see her ambition…being the woman behind the man. And I can definitely see her be the woman who pushes the man…off a cliff. Hollywood should have used her more.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“When I returned to Mexico, I joined with people eager to create the Mexican cinema. We were full of dreams and had no money whatsoever, but we were able to achieve something and open markets for our films all over the world.” – Dolores Del Rio
Forgive me this one minute of gushing before I turn the floor back over to Aurora’s blogathon. Apparently I don’t truly know Del Rio’s career. Surely I know her name, recognize her in photos, and have seen “Flying Down to Rio” “Bird of Paradise” along with bits, pieces and snippets of her other films. I know her but I’m not deeply familiar with her. Imagine the full Monty of sitting in the first row at MoMA, seeing this movie on the big screen and this face appears…in close-up:
I couldn’t believe it. I was hit for a loop! Those close-ups director Robérto Gavaldón gives Del Rio show a regal ancient flawlessness I’ve never seen in movies, and I’m talking Gene, Hedy, Vivien, Elizabeth, Ava and Jean. And then the mole, just puts everything in high gear. Honestly, I didn’t even understand what I was looking at. I’m going to have to re-read my friend’s, Fernando’s post for last year’s Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon on Dolores Del Rio. You can click the Ramón Novarro banner for more of this year’s crop of posts…or Cesar Romero’s for last year’s as well:
( H O M E )