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‘Charrería’; An Essential Part of Mexican Cinema

By: Rafael Aviña

On August 6, 1896, President Porfirio Díaz and his family received the Frenchmen Claude Ferdinand Bon Bernard and Gabriel Veyre – emissaries from the Lumière brothers – at their official residence in Chapultepec Castle. The men had recently arrived in Mexico with a new optical device, the Lumière Cinematograph, as well as some rudimentary cameras that would help depict the political and daily life of Mexico – its social, political and cultural quotidian.

In November of that same year, Manuel Cuesta Gallardo (owner of the Atequiza Hacienda in Jalisco) and Lorenzo Elizaga “El Chato” (a country man and friend of President Díaz) invited Veyre and Bon Bernard to film the Mexican charro for the first time ever. Via shorts like Lassage d´un boeuf sauvage, Danse mexicaine, Lassage d´un cheval sauvage, or Combat de coqs, the world was introduced to Mexican rural folklore via ‘jaripeos’, horse and steer lassoing, cock fights or the taming of a wild horse.

Mexican audiences discovered the purity and loyalty of the men who, carrying pistols and sporting traditional charro hats, ploughed the land or lassoed horses. Rural settings were transformed into intense dramatic landscapes in short films like: Los charros mexicanos (1903, Carlos Mongrad) or El Charro Negro (1917, Manuel Cirerol Sansores) – a twelve episode adventure series starring Carlos López “Chaflán”.

The charro – brave and worthy representative of the countryside, an experienced rider with a reckless attitude and ‘sombrero’ – would be reimagined on the big screen, ultimately taking on an almost mythical status. From the mid-1930s onwards, a range of films and a series of famous actors would contribute to the construction of the archetype of the charming Mexican charro as a macho, womanizing musical star. That brave, honourable man, as skilled with a guitar as he was with a pistol, a drink, a horse or a woman, who was always willing to risk his life to defend his land, his friends, or the woman he loved.

Five Essential Performances in ‘Charro’ Films

Tito Guízar was the first to transcend borders to become the archetype of the Mexican charro abroad, thanks to his character José Francisco Ruelas, the hero of Fernando de FuentesAllá en el Rancho Grande (Out on the Great Ranch, 1936) – a film that revolves around the idea of the happy ranch, where the only conflicts have to do with love and honour. Written by Guz Águila and photographed by Gabriel Figueroa, the film shows happy, singing peasants, and only slight misunderstandings between foremen and land-owners. The coming-together of figures like the “Chaflán” and Emma Roldán, who plays “Crucita” Esther Fernández, the singer Tito Guízar and the singer-songwriter Lorenzo Barcelata, would in turn give rise to a whole new genre: the ranchera comedy, which would spawn a multitude of copies. As a curious detail, Emilio “El Indio” Fernández appears briefly in the film, dancing the ´Jarabe tapatío´, a traditional dance from Jalisco, with Olga Falcón.

Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936, dir. Fernando de Fuentes)

Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936, dir. Fernando de Fuentes)

“Gentlemen, I ask your permission to sing, because I´m going to tell you the story of the ‘Charro Negro’. He was a respectable man, loved by many, with a reputation for being a brave, hard-working gentleman.” Pedro Galindo´s song, composed for El Charro Negro (1940), depicted the charro as an upright countryman in this adventure story, which was directed by and starred Raúl de Anda, head of an important film dynasty. Accompanied by Maria Luis Zea, Emilio Fernández and Pedro Armendáriz, among others, his character would become the first popular hero of Mexican national cinema.

Joselito Rodríguez’ Ay, Jalisco no te rajes! (Jalisco, Don´t Backslide, 1941) introduced audiences to the gallant figure of Jorge Negrete, with his distinctive gestures and powerful voice. Negrete was catapulted to fame after his role in Ametralladora, which was based on the real-life figure “El Remington”. The strange thing is that Negrete always denied his position – even the songs composed by Manuel Esperón and Ernesto Cortázar. “I’m not a charrito” he used to say. But the film certainly sealed his fate, not just for his role as the brave charro, but also because he starred alongside Gloria Marín, with whom he went on to have a tempestuous love affair. All of this, along with the comic moments with ¨Chaflán” and Ángel Carasa, cemented him in international fame as the so-called Singing Charro.

¡Ay, Jalisco no te rajes! (1941, dir. Joselito Rodríguez)

¡Ay, Jalisco no te rajes! (1941, dir. Joselito Rodríguez)

Luis Aguilar, the unforgettable “Gallo Giro”, debuted in the ranchero adventure comedy Sota, caballo y rey (1943, Roberto O´Quigley) alongside Carlos López Moctezuma, Susana Cora, “El Chicote” and Meche Barba, who appeared in the credits as Meche Isanda. Thanks to the film – which includes the typical evil ´cacique´, the village fair, the seductive singer, the naïve girl and the noble countryman at risk of being treacherously murdered – Luis Aguilar exploded onto the ´charro´ cinema scene, taking on the customs and costumes, as well as the honour and tradition of country-life. It is interesting to note the appearance of the great actor Salvador Quiroz in this film, singing a beautiful interpretation of the song “Humanidad”, by Susana Cora.

Los tres García (The Three Garcias, 1946), directed by Ismael Rodríguez, is perhaps the best ‘charro’ film, telling the story of three violent cousins, all of whom are in love with a young American, Marga López, who must try and choose the best suitor. The film, which mixes comedy and drama to great effect, extols the virtues of the macho, with Pedro Infante, Abel Salazar and Víctor Manuel Mendoza. They drink, sing, execute impressive ´charro´ moves; they even cry. Sara García is extraordinary in the role of the overprotective and tough grandmother, always dressed in black and with a perpetual cigar in her mouth.

Los tres García (1946, dir. Ismael Rodríguez)

Los tres García (1946, dir. Ismael Rodríguez)