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The film we usually associate with the figure of Arturo de Córdova is Él, which was made in 1952. However, the actor's artistic career that we celebrate this year in FICM has a depth and duration with few rivals in the history of Mexican cinema. For nearly four decades, his voice, first on radio and then on the screen, his elegant figure, his dramatic intensity and his sense of irony against the pretensions of the Mexican bourgeoisie made him a dominant presence in some of the best films from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
After traveling through several countries in Europe, in 1928 he returned to Argentina to finish his studies at Colegio Internacional de los Olivos (apparently at that time he took on the Spanish accent characteristic of that country) and began to work as a correspondent for United Press Agency, where he became assistant director of the office in Santiago de Chile. Determined to get a job as a journalist in the United States and to study at the prestigious Columbia University, in 1932 he stopped off in Mérida on the way and he met Enna Arana, whom he married on August 23, 1933, motivating him to stay and live in his hometown and get work there as a radio announcer and sports reporter. His desire to get ahead led him to move with his wife to Mexico City (where his four children, Arturo, Alonso, Enna and María de Lourdes were born) to work as a radio announcer at XEW, a broadcasting company where he worked with famous colleagues, such as Alonso Sordo Noriega, Ricardo López Méndez, Manuel Bernal and Pedro de Lille, who, according to some sources, suggested that he take the name that he would later be known by. At this time Mexican film production was taking off thanks to the advent of the inventions that allowed sound and image to be integrated. Consequently, there was a dire need for handsome men with good voices.
Between 1939 and 1959, the artistic career of Arturo de Córdova reached its period of greatest splendor. During that time, he participated in 73 films, including 22 that he made abroad and worked as the narrator of the documentary El Charro Inmortal (Rafael E. Portas, 1955). This period of splendor can be subdivided, in turn, in several ways, but in this case we prefer that the nationality of the films serves as our guide.
An exception is made with Él, ,which we have already referred to. Of the works of de Córdova during this period in Mexican cinema's history, we emphasize, because of their high quality, aesthetic rigor or ambition of authorship: La Noche de Los Mayas (1939), ¡Que Viene Mi Marido! (1939) and El Conde de Montecristo (1941), all three by Chano Urueta; ¡Ay, Qué Tiempos, Señor Don Simón (1941), Crepúsculo (1943) and La Ausente (1951), by Julio Bracho; La Selva De Fuego (1945), by Fernando de Fuentes; La Diosa Arrodillada (1947), En La Palma De Tu Mano (1950), El Rebozo de Soledad (1952), Las Tres Perfectas Casadas (1952) and Miércoles de Ceniza (1958), by Roberto Gavaldón; El Hombre Sin Rostro (1950) by Juan Bustillo Oro; Cuando Levanta La Niebla (1952) and Reportaje (1953), both by Emilio Fernández; Un Extraño En la Escalera (1954) and Feliz Año, Amor Mío (1955), by Tulio Demichelli, and El Esqueleto de La Señora Morales (Rogelio A. González, 1959).
At least from a formal point of view, the five Mexican films in which Arturo de Córdova worked to the strict orders of Roberto "the Ogre" Gavaldón (another film in which both collaborated, The Adventures of Casanova, belongs to another rank and nationality despite having been made in our country), are all succulent masterpieces filmed during the best period of the career of the great filmmaker from Chihuahua. In La Diosa Arrodillada like in En La Palma De Tu Mano and Las Tres Perfectas Casadas, de Córdova embodied strictly urban characters with marked bourgeois aspirations, but who ended up dominated (or devoured) by their frenetic eroticism and criminal impulses that are inherent in the ambition for money.
The figure and the work of Arturo de Córdova also fit into the world of Emilio Fernández, but it was not by chance that this occurred in two films a little removed from the themes that characterized the film of someone who was considered to be the Mexican director par excellence. Urban and modern melodrama with a psychotic protagonist, Cuando Levanta La Niebla retained much of the "claw" of its author, which allowed de Córdova to show off all of his acting abilities. This last one was also present in the few moments in which the great actor appeared in Reportaje, a film that brought together much of the "star firmament" of the Mexican film industry with the purpose of raising funds for an altruistic foundation.
Finally, the strange case of El Esqueleto de La Señora Morales, a bold and blunt adaptation by Luis Alcoriza about a macabre story designed by the Welsh writer Arthur Machen, ended, in a very high tone, the best and most prolific period in de Córdova's career. A perfect mix of satire and purified recreation of a petit-bourgeois world in sharp decadence, the masterpiece of Rogelio A. González seems to have been produced so that his male protagonist would put into it all his experience in order to create a character who above all serves to throw chemically pure poison onto the conservative Mexican mentality in which, practically since its very origin, our film industry has been sustained.
Parallel to his career in Mexican cinema, Arturo de Córdova also worked on many foreign productions. Of the 24 films that shaped his transnational career (more or less the same number of films made by Pedro Armendáriz at the margin of the Mexican film industry), seven were funded by U.S. companies from Hollywood, six were Argentine, another six were made on locations and in studios in Spain and with money from that country, two more were filmed thanks to the main sponsorship of Brazilian companies and one had Venezuelan-Argentine investment. Those that may be regarded as the most outstanding works for their own sake and for the remarkable work of de Córdova are: ¿Por Quién Doblan Las Campanas? (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Sam Wood, 1943), a sober adaptation of the novel by Ernest Hemingway; El Pirata y la Dama (Frenchman's Creek, Mitchel Leisen, 1944), a very romantic work barely disguised as an adventure film; Casanova Aventurero (Adventures of Casanova, Roberto Gavaldón, 1947), which was a good satire of the mythology created around the famous lover, artist and scientist from Venice; New Orleans (Arthur Lubin, 1947), a musical comedy that preserved on screen the appearances of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and other great jazz performers; Dios Se Lo Pague (Luis César Amadori, 1948), a sordid urban melodrama that was a huge success in the majority of Latin American markets; La Balandra Isabel Llegó Esta Tarde (Carlos Hugh Christensen, 1949), an intense erotic-passionate drama which was intended though it did not succeed to lead the way to develop a film industry in Venezuela; and Los Peces Rojos (José Antonio Nieves Conde, 1955), a stylized crime melodrama filmed in Spain.
On November 3, it will be 40 years since the death of one of the most prominent representatives of the "star system" from the classic period of Mexican cinema. In the 11th edition of FICM, we remember this date with a sample of some of his best and most dazzling appearances on the screen, which in turn constitutes the first tribute that an international film festival has paid to the figure of enormous artistic dimensions that was and remains to be Arturo de Córdova.