I am not being unkind in any way when I say that we do not often consider films that have been made in Mexico. Which is an oversight by all of us because there have been a number of movies of note that have come from there. The Mexican film industry has its origins as far back as the nineteenth century. The then President Porfirio Diaz saw something in cinema that he thought maybe could help his career as a politician. So, he encouraged the production of short movies as far back as 1896.
He utilised film to document his presidency in which he was often portrayed as the perfect head of state. When the Mexican revolution started in 1910, both Mexican and foreign film makers produced silent movies that would show the outside world the violent events that were taking place in Mexico, focusing upon both government and revolutionary leaders. But from 1915 onwards Mexican cinema would alter and concentrate more upon films that had a storyline whether that was fact based or fiction. Major Mexican productions although few and far between have influenced and also gained accolades within the global film industry. The Golden age of Mexican Cinema as it was referred to was between 1933 and 1964, and during this period Mexican movies would dominate The Latin American industry of Pelispedia.
Mexico also has twice been honoured at the prestigious Canne film festival, winning the highest award. The movie MARIA CANDELARIA (1946) won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film and in 1961 the movie VIRDIANA garnered the Palme d’Or. Making Mexico the most recognised Latin American country in the film making arena. Only last year in 2019 the film ROMA attracted much attention from critics, film makers and audiences around the world, becoming the first Mexican motion picture and the fourth Latin American film to win the Oscar for best foreign language film. It also was recognised with the BAFTA for best film at The British Academy Awards.
However, for this article I would like to go back a few years to the 1940.s initially and then into the 1960.s and onwards into the early 1970’s. The purpose being is to focus upon Westerns that have been produced by Mexican filmmakers, we all talk about and are aware of The Italian made western and of course the sagebrush sagas that were created in Hollywood. But, Mexican westerns are rarely even glimpsed at, or if they are very little is said about them which is something of a travesty because these productions were very entertaining and also quirky. Which can also be said for TURKISH made westerns, which we may discuss at a later date.
One of the early Mexican westerns was released in 1943, CUANDO HABLA EL CORAZON was directed by Juan Jose Segura and starred Pedro Infante, Maria Luisa Zea and Victor Manuel Mendoza. The film mixed action and drama with musical numbers, it opens in 1905 but we are soon catapulted forward to 1915, when we see that a friendship is being put into jeopardy by a mutual enemy of the two friends in question, this spiteful individual attempts to cause a rift by disclosing some mischievous and damning information. The film is filled with intrigue, action and some fairly sprightly songs. A number of these musical westerns were produced both in America and Mexico and it was the Mexican productions that always seemed to come out better containing the right balance of music, songs and romantic drama.
The musical score and songs were the work of composer’s Ernesto Cortazar and Manuel Esperon. Cortazar was born in Tampico Tamaulipas, Mexico on December 10th, 1897, he was a writer as well as a composer and was known for NOCHES DE RONDA (1943) and LA MUERTE ENAMORADA (1951).
He passed away on November 30th, 1953 in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. Esperon, was born Manuel Esperon Gonzalez on August 3rd, 1911, in Mexico Distrito Federal, Mexico. He was a prolific composer and penned nearly a thousand songs, winning many awards for his work. He and his long-time collaborator Ernesto Cortazar wrote the Mexican section for the Disney animated film THE THREE CABALLEROS which was released in 1945.
Walt Disney himself asked the composer to become involved on the soundtrack of the movie. He won the Silver Ariel Awards in 1947 and 1955 for his songs, CANTACLARO and CUANDO ME VAYA respectively. Esperon, was the son of an engineer, his musical influences came from his Mother who was a concert pianist. He had a formal musical education in Mexico and once he graduated began to perform as an accompanist for silent movies in theatres. He then began to work as an arranger and an orchestrator, but in 1933 broke into writing music for films, in his career he wrote many songs that would become standards and scored over five hundred motion pictures. He became known for being able to incorporate Mariachi styles of music into his film scores and became much sought after by many in the film industry to work on their projects. He passed away on February 13th, 2011, in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.
It may be also worth mentioning a Mexican production that was released in 1936, LETS GO WITH PONCHO VILLA VAMONOS CON PONCHO VILLA was I suppose an anti-hero picture, because rather than showing the audiences how wonderful the leader of the Mexican revolution was, it focused upon the brutality and the cruelness that Villa inflicted on his own people as well as his enemies.
The movie, which was directed by Fernando Fuentes, starred Domingo Soler as Villa, the film tells the story of a group of friends who decide that they will join Villa and his revolutionary forces. But what they think will be an adventure turns into something of a horror tale, as they are shown the reality and the brutality of war. Villa displaying no respect or regard for his men’s welfare and lives. The film had two endings, which at the time was something new, the first version of the films end shows a surviving member of the group of friends returning home totally exhausted and disenchanted with Villa and the revolution. The second ending to the movie which was not discovered for many years returns to the home of the sole surviving friend ten years on, Villa attempts to recruit him once again for the cause, but the man refuses as he does not want to leave his family, Villa has his wife and daughter killed, the man then tries to kill Villa but is himself shot dead by one of the revolutionary leaders men.
Villa then takes the man son with him to fight for the revolution. When the film was released it was a failure, many refusing to believe that the great Poncho Villa was the tyrant that he was portrayed as in the picture, but in later years the movie gained much recognition and is often said to be one of the best Mexican movies made. It was part of a trilogy of movies the others being EL PRISIONERO TRECE and EL COMPADRE MENDOZA. Music for LET’S GO WITH PONCHO VILLA was the work of Silvestre Revueltas, who also made a cameo appearance in the movie.
The composer was known for his chamber music, Ballets and orchestral works, and was an accomplished violinist and conductor. He was born on December 31st, 1899, the composer/performer began his musical career late in life and started to become involved more in his music when he was the associate conductor of the Mexico Symphony Orchestra a post he held from 1931 to 1934. Before this he had played violin in a theatre orchestra in San Antonio and had been a conductor of a small orchestra in Alabama. He studied music in Chicago and Texas adding to his basic knowledge which he had gained in Durango and Mexico City. Revueltas style and sound is for want of better words innovative and absorbing. He at times displayed an abundant gift for creating complex and colourful musical compositions. Often evoking the style and musical prowess of the likes of Stravinsky. He would also often integrate into his works fragments of music that were linked with the Mestizo culture, using elements of folk songs and dances to fashion music of great variety. The composer encountered problems with alcoholism towards the end of his life and ended his days as a teacher in the Conservatory in Mexico City.
Stepping forward to the 1960’s for the next example and to 1964 when, EL REVOLVER SANGRIENTO or THE BLOODY PISTOL was released. The film directed by Miguel M. Delgado, was a dramatic western, which starred Luis Aguilar. Lola Beltran and Flor Silvestre, the music was composed by Antonio Diaz Conde, who had by the early 1960’s already established himself as a prolific writer of film scores, composing more than 100 soundtracks from 1942 to1964, and in later years his total output was a staggering 277 scores for the cinema. This western focuses upon a silver handgun which has a curse placed upon it and follows its life in the hands of various owners.
So, a western essentially with mysterious and dramatic undertones. Antonio Diaz Conde, scored numerous Mexican produced westerns including, UNA HORCA PARA EL TEXANO and ARRIBA LAS MANOS TEXANO both released in 1969 and DUELO DE PISTOLEROS, EL SECRETO DEL TEXANO and VUELVE EL TEXANO from 1966, but the composer also wrote the music for films that were looked upon as drama and adventure movies in Mexico which would probably be thought of as westerns outside of the country because they were set in the period of the Mexican revolution, a period which many of the Italian produced sub- genre of films associated with the spaghetti western entitled the Zapata westerns such as A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, THE FIVE MAN ARMY and A PROFESSIONAL GUN were also set.
These included, VALENTIN DE LA SIERRA in 1968. Although the composer worked on many western film’s he was never one to be type cast in any way, he wrote the music to a wide variety of genres, these included romance, sci-fi. Crime and police dramas, horror, musicals, film noir slanted dramas and period adventure tales.
He began to score films during the early 1940’s with his last assignment in 1974 being a vicious and brutal western entitled LA CHOCA, which was a story of revenge, where the titular character a woman, carried out a brutal vengeance upon the men who had killed her family, and at the films conclusion is the only one left standing, walking off into the sunset to hopefully a new life. Scenes of rape and gratuitous violence filled the movie, the opening theme was tailored to these events with a brass led piece that accompanied scenes of murder and of wild animals hunting and attacking as the title credits rolled and before the film had actualy started. It is a rather dis-jointed movie which contains what I think were unnecessary scenes mainly of the leading lady in a state of undress in water that basically filled time rather than adding anything to the story, but maybe there was some sort of underlying purpose or a hidden message within these and I missed it I am not too sure. The score however is a powerful one which at times resembles the work of both Italian and Hollywood western soundtracks.
The composer combining urgent brass passages with a lilting and more folk orientated style. The tense and commanding opening music is somewhat reminiscent to the cue THE BATTLE from TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA by Morricone, with pounding percussion and jagged brass underlined by strings that at times evoke the hissing of a snake and heighten the sense of tension to a peak.
It is a staggering fact that the Mexican film industry produced a few hundred westerns, but they were not as successful as their Italian or German made counterparts outside of their country of origin, maybe this was due to poor distribution in territories beyond Mexico. Because it was not down to these pictures being in any way inferior to the Spaghetti or Sauerkraut westerns, in fact many were more entertaining and inventive with ther storylines, and the musical scores to were as innovative as their Italian counterparts, but probably in a different way. I have just scratched the surface of the surface with these few examples, but I hope that my ramblings might inspire you to go and check out the Western Mexican style and whilst there also explore the Horror films that were produced by Mexican filmmakers. Another collection of movies that will entertain and surprise.