Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, two giants of Mexican cinema

The two biggest icons of Mexican cinema, Pedro Infante (left) and Jorge Negrete (right), have both been dead for 50-plus years. Yet any discussion of Mexican cinema invariably gets into a disagreement regarding the merits of one versus the other. Why is this so?

One reason is that both of these screen stars have left their mark on Mexican popular culture and popularized the image of the charro or Mexican cowboy. It may also have to do with the fact that both died young and while still popular with the public. In fact, for many, Pedro Infante's tragic death in a plane crash in 1957, at the age of 39, signified the end of the golden era of Mexican cinema and the quality of Mexican film overall began to decline from that point on.

Another reason for the lively discussion is that both stars were good actors, had good singing voices and starred in many successful films. Pedro's immense popularity with the public is something that even Mexican film critics do not completely comprehend, except that the Mexican people identify with him strongly, especially as he came from a working-class background. It's undeniable that Pedro had enormous charisma and an extremely likable screen presence that elevated the quality of any film he starred in. His voice was as smooth as velvet and his popularity with the ladies undeniable. He had a wide range of acting ability and was also a daredevil, having a strong interest in motorcycles and airplanes. In fact he was in two plane crashes years before the third one took his life. One of his frequent co-stars, Blanca Estela Pavon, also died in a plane crash at the tender age of 23.

Jorge Negrete, with his powerful operatic voice, achieved stardom a few years before Infante became popular. His first film, "La Madrina del Diablo" (The Devil's Godmother), was released in 1937, but he really catapulted into the spotlight with his starring role in "Ay Jalisco, No Te Rajes!" (Jalisco, don't back down) in 1941. There were earlier films featuring the Mexican charro, but this one caught fire internationally and was in a large way responsible for the association of Mexican culture with mariachi music. (Though Infante first had starring roles in 1942, his first really successful role was in "Nosotros Los Pobres" or "We the Poor" in 1947.)

Taking advantage of the popularity of both stars, the film "Dos Tipos de Cuidado" ("Two Guys to Watch Out For"), was released in 1952 and is considered the best Mexican charro movie of all time. The director, Ismael Rodriguez, took great care in balancing the singing and acting strengths of both stars and succeeded marvelously. (The above photo is taken from the movie.) The success of the film spearheaded a two-week run of concerts in Mexico featuring both stars. It was an opportunity that was seized at just the right moment, for Negrete, already in declining health due to his hepatitis C infection, would die at the end of 1953. Infante, as a tribute to his friend, rode with the Mexican motorcycle patrol at Negrete's funeral.

Also visit my webpage on Mexico at
Other websites:
Caribbean Folk Arts Network (Caribfolk) - Caribbean cultural network:
Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) - a nonprofit organization I founded in 1991 that presents Latin American cultural shows, exhibits, and workshops:
Raicesnews - Latin cultural events in the Philadelphia area:

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