Carlos López Moctezuma: The Art of the PerverseBy: Rafael Aviña
It is 1949 and the Mexican film industry finds itself at fever pitch, with production on the rise and multiple film publications, newscasts and radio programs that promote both the boom and its creators. In this context, Cinema Reporter publishes its 553rd issue, which includes an extensive piece dedicated to the highly successful actor Carlos López Moctezuma Pineda, in which it states: “For the past 11 years, Carlos López Moctezuma has played the most interesting ´bad men´ in Mexican cinema. The question is: How can one person provoke such dislike?”
The actor – son of a railway worker, was born in Mexico City on November 19th 1909 and died at 70 on July 14, 1980 in Aguascalientes – was perfectly cast as a baddie ever since his first appearance in Dos cadetes (Two Cadets), directed in February of 1938 by René Cardona and starring Fernando and Julián Soler, Sara Garcia and her daughter María Fernanda Ibáñez. That same year the charismatic novice appeared in seven more films – in all of them he played the villain.
While cinema hadn´t gained widespread popularity at the beginning of the 1920s – that strange era when it was assured that “the girl who wants a boyfriend” should use the most fashionable toothpaste (´Brillantín Tenorio´) – young Carlos, at just 11 or 12 years old, spent every last penny at his local cinema. There, in the all-consuming darkness, his taste for the images, gestures and dialogue that he saw and heard on the big screen began to develop. When he was 19, he joined the avant-garde theatre group “Orientación”, directed by Celestino Gorostiza.
His first roles were alongside Isabela Corona and, between 1932 and 1936 he acted with famous personalities like Virginia Fábregas, Julio Villarreal, María Teresa Montoya and Fernando Soler, who offered him his first big-screen opportunity in the aforementioned Dos cadetes.
From Bellas Artes and the Orientación Theatre, he moved on to film sets. He soon realized that a snide look, an evil expression, a cynical smile, couple with his powerful voice and impressive physical strength, transformed him into the villain par excellence of Mexican cinema, more so than other great actors like Miguel Inclán, Rodolfo Acosta or Victor Parra, in part due to the sheer number of antagonistic characters he played.
In Canaima (1945, dir. Juan Bustillo Oro), he played a man with hard features and a terrible soul, the “Yuruari Tiger”, a perverse character in love with “Maygualida” (Gloria Marín), herself defended by the tough romantic hero Jorge Negrete, alongside other such sinister figures as Alfonso “El Indio” Bedoya (Cholo Parima) and Gilberto González (Sute Cúpira).
Ulimately, the evil that he channeled into each of the characters he played,ended up becoming his greatest virtue: figures that were replete with disturbing nuances, both fascinating and repulsive.
He is unforgettable alongside Maria Félix as the criminal landowner Regino Sandoval, who demands violence, land, power and sexual access to his subjects in Rio Escondido (Hidden River, Emilio Fernández, 1947), a role that gained him the Ariel for Best Actor.
He went on to make Maria´s life hell again in Maclovia (1948, dir. Emilio Fernández), playing lascivious sergeant Genovevo de la Garza, whose base desires threaten to besmirch the honor of both the heroine and her humble suitor Pedro Armendáriz. He played the fierce rural Lord and Master once again in El rebozo de Soledad (Soledad´s Shawl, Roberto Gavaldón, 1952) alongside Arturo de Córdova, Stella Inda and Pedro Armendáriz. He put Maria Antonieta Pons and Armendariz to the test in Konga Roja (Red Konga, Alejandro Galindo, 1943) and came up against Rosario Granados in the urban thriller La huella de unos labios (1951, dir. Juan Bustillo Oro). Above all, he terrified a young José Luis Moreno in the slum-set Pata de palo (1950, dir. Emilio Gómez Muriel), threatening to blind him in order to seduce his sister, played by Lilia Prado. In the mid-1950s the actor largely abandoned villainy, although he dusted off his perverse side to play General Fierro in a series of works dedicated to Pancho Villa, who was played by Pedro Armendáriz.
Alongside some important parts in foreign films shot in Mexico like Los orgulloos (The Proud and the Beautiful, Yves Allegret and Rafael Portas, 1953) with Michele Morgan and Gérard Philipe – in which his wife Josefina Escobedo also starred – and Viva Maria! (1965, dir. Louis Malle) with Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bargot, López Moctezuma also played a few good men: such as in Padre nuestro (Our Father, Emilio Gómez Muriel, 1953), where his character is concerned about the moral collapse of his children.
In Campeón sin corona (Champion Without a Crown, Alejandro Galindo, 1945), he played Tio Rosas, manager of the surly boxer Roberto “Kid” Terrranova, played by David Silva. Later, in Felicidad (1956, dir. Alfonso Corona Blake), based on a play by Emilio Carballido, he played a sad, aging teacher, married with children, who manages to enamour a young Ministry of Finance employee (Gloria Lozano), awakening within himself desires that he had previously thought lost. Here, López Moctezuma is a naïve but noble bureaucrat, who in the months prior to his retirement finds himself at a moral crossroads that destroys both his life and those of the people around him. It is one of his greatest big-screen roles.