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In the Palm of Your Hand, the milestone in Roberto Gavaldón's filmography

Among the great meetings of the minds in Mexican cinema, In the Palm of Your Hand (1951, dir. Roberto Gavaldón) is highly important. With a story by Luis Sopta, a script by José Revueltas and Roberto Gavaldón, cinematography by Alex Philips and the stellar performance of Arturo de Córdova, the film isn’t just a collaborative effort made up of some of the most celebrated Mexican literary and cinematic figures, but it’s also a relevant example of what critic Carlos Bonfil calls Gavaldón’s noir melodramas. Mexican workings of the American film noir style, these films capture the decadence of industrialized society in shadows that swallow everything.

En la palma de tu mano (1951, dir. Roberto Gavaldon) In the Palm of Your Hand (1951, dir. Roberto Gavaldón)

De Córdova plays Karin with the usual elegance in his characters. His posture is right, his tongue loose and his voice modulated, as if wanting to sell his eccentric monologues with subtlety. As disaster comes forth, Karin’s face goes from a fraudulent control to the anguish and melancholy of someone who has lost everything. Montejo, more natural in her performance, underscores Karin’s lies and exaggerations while Palma plays a sort of reflection. Another con artist, Ada is also an artificial, intense, character. It seems appropriate, then, that mirrors appear in the film when both characters face each other. In one of the finest images, Ada shoots at Karin’s reflection in a mirror. It’s a symbol of identity as well as one of destruction. Fate, much recurred to in Karin’s profession, is sealed.

Philips’ work comes through in other images, like the high angles that suggest the perspective of the gods mentioned by Karin several times. They silently watch him fall. A nocturnal confrontation in a cabin points to disaster with its very low lighting, while images of chimneys and female calves solve the moral limitations of the time to suggest the characters’ sexuality.

Behind it all, of course, is the work of Gavaldón, who achieved a significant film in Mexican cinematic history, as well as one of the highest points of his career. From its themes to its form, In the Palm of Your Hand is a classic that tries to rescue the nightly, fateful, experience of Mexico City as it also attempts to save its society from collapsing.