Monday, October 07, 2013

FICM 2013—Arturo de Córdova Retrospective

Arturo de Córdova (May 8, 1908–November 3, 1973), considered one of the most important actors from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, will be honored posthumously as part of the International Film Festival of Morelia (FICM), whose eleventh edition will take place October 18-27, 2013 in Michoacan's capital. De Córdova will be remembered 40 years after his death by way of a retrospective of some of his most beloved films, to be screened in restored 35mm prints. This cycle of films, out of a body of work of 100 films, have been selected for the festival retrospective.

Daniela Michel, director of the FICM, announced the retrospective at a recent press conference, indicating that a tribute to de Córdova was long overdue and emphasizing the necessity to pay tribute to a Mexican actor who—though not the typical image of the charro cantor (i.e., the singing Mexican cowboy)—nonetheless reflected the shifting Mexican perspectives of his generation. She added: "He was a contemporary actor who not only worked in Mexico, but also in Spain, the U.S. and Argentina."

The de Córdova restrospective will span the actor's career, beginning with his first screen appearance in Celos (Jealousy, 1936), directed by Arcady Boytler; continuing with Cielito Lindo (Beautiful Sky, 1936), co-directed by Robert Quigley and Roberto Gavaldón; La Zandunga (1938), directed by Fernando de Fuentes and co-starring the "Mexican Spitfire" Lupe Velez; La Noche De Los Mayas (Night of the Mayas, 1939), directed by Chano Urueta; El Pirata y La Dama (Frenchman's Creek, 1944), a Hollywood vehicle directed by Mitchell Leisen and co-starring Joan Fontaine; Crepúsculo (Twilight, 1945) written and directed by Julio Bracho; La diosa arrodillada (The Kneeling Goddess, 1947), Casanova aventurero (Adventures of Casanova, 1948), En La Palma De Tu Mano (In the Palm Of Your Hand, 1950), and El rebozo de Soledad (Soledad's Shawl, 1952), all four directed at the peak of de Córdova's career by Roberto Gavaldón; Él (This Strange Passion, 1953), directed by Luis Buñuel; and El esqueleto de la señora Morales (The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales, 1960), directed by Rogelio A. González.

According to Michel, the goal is to project the films on 35mm, a task that has involved an arduous process of restoration with the collaboration of the FICM, the UNAM Film Archive, and producer Alex Garcia, grandson of the artist, who said he was "proud and excited " by the tribute to his grandfather. In addition, Garcia has started to search through family photos, many never seen before by the public, to add onto a photographic exhibition of production stills from the actor's career to be mounted in Benito Juarez Plaza.

"This is the first time a festival pays tribute to Arturo de Córdova, a prolific man whose films deserve to be seen by the public, especially by young people. No doubt it is a cycle that will go down in history as one of the most important, because it includes productions that have not been exhibited in decades," said Daniela Michel.

Born in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, Arturo de Córdova (née Arturo García Rodríguez) moved around a lot as a child, first to the U.S., then Argentina where he was educated by Jesuit priests from the age of 11-20. Later his parents sent him to Switzerland for language studies. It's believed his family pilgrimages were due to a fearful desire to flee the revolutionary turmoil that then shook Mexico. After completing his studies in Switzerland, he returned to Argentina in 1928, where he acquired the distinctive accent that later—combined with his deep voice—became a signature characteristic of his screen performances. His journalistic vocation took him to Santiago de Chile to serve as a correspondent and deputy director of the news agency United Press. In 1932, he sought to emigrate to the United States, but during the trip stopped to visit his home town Merida for several months, where he became "haunted" by a pretty young girl named Enna Arana, and stayed. They married on August 23, 1933.

While in Merida, he took advantage of his impeccable diction and his clear, sonorous and manly voice to become a radio announcer.  Eventually, he left Enna behind to seek his fortune in Mexico City, where he continued announcing at the XEW. His theatrical talents were demonstrated through characters he played on the radio, notably Charles Lacroix, who he immortalized. Legend has it that the velvety timbre of de Córdova's voice soon caught the attention of Russian emigré Arcady Boytler, a director and producer who offered him a good role in his film Celos (Jealousy, 1935), co-starring Don Fernando Soler and Vilma Vidal. At this juncture, his friend Robert Cantu suggested he change his name, arguing that Arturo García Rodríguez sounded too common, whereas Arturo de Cordova implied an aristocratic ancestry. Entering the Mexican film industry in the 1930s, it didn't take de Córdova long to become a major star, specializing in action and adventure films.

It would be in Robert Quigley's Ave Sin Rumbo (Wandering Bird, 1937), co-starring Andrea Palma (who publicists had nicknamed the "Mexican Marlene Dietrich") where de Córdova began developing his classic persona as a tragic and tormented heartthrob, always beset by inner doubts and a strong sense of guilt, unable to prevent his fatal destiny ... except through love and redemptive sacrifice; an enterprise complicated by femme fatales seeking to sink him in the mire of dishonor. This characteristic facet appeared again and again in such titles as Ave Sin Rumbo, El conde de Montecristo (The Count of Monte Cristo, 1942), Crepusculo (Twilight, 1945), La selva de fuego (The Forest Fire, 1945), La Diosa Arrodillada (The Kneeling Goddess, 1947), Dios se lo pague (God Bless You, 1948), El Hombre sin Rostro (The Man Without a Face, 1950), Paraíso robado (Stolen Paradise, 1951), Cuando Levanta la Niebla (When the Fog Lifts, 1952), Él (This Strange Passion, 1953), La Entrega (The Delivery, 1954), Feliz Año, Amor Mío (Happy New Year, My Love, 1957), and Miércoles de Ceniza (Ash Wednesday, 1958), among others.

Alongside this persona, he perfected his air of being a "man of the world"—a gallant bohemian, cavalier, irresponsible and casual, inspiring sympathetic interest from ladies who he could easily conquer and make fall limp into his arms—a practice witnessed in such memorable and fun films as Su Ultima Aventura (The Last Adventure, 1946), Cinco Rostros de Mujer (Five Faces of Women, 1947), Mi Esposa y la Otra (My Wife and the Other, 1952), Las Tres Perfectas Casadas (The Three Perfect Wives, 1953), Bodas de Oro (Golden Anniversaries, 1956), Canasta de Cuentos Mexicanos (1956), A Media Luz los Tres (1958), El Hombre que me Gusta (The Man That Pleases Me, 1958), Mi Esposa Me Comprende (My Wife Understands Me, 1959), Mis Padres se Divorcian (My Parents Are Divorced, 1959), and La Cigüeña Dijo Sí (The Stork Said Yes, 1960).

As specified by Hal Erickson at Rovi: "Having lost Rudolph Valentino in a 1924 contract dispute, Paramount Pictures never gave up hope of discovering and nurturing a new 'Latin Lover' type. Thus it was that Paramount signed Mexican actor Arturo de Córdova, popular in his native country's films since 1935, to a Hollywood contract in 1943. De Córdova was showcased in the small but memorable role of Augustín in Paramount's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), then starred in a handful of subsequent features, the best of which was Frenchman's Creek (1944), in which he co-starred with Joan Fontaine."

Along with his turns in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and Frenchman's Creek (1944), de Córdova also starred in Hostages (1943), Incendiary Blonde (1945) with Betty Hutton, A Medal For Benny (1945), and New Orleans (1947) with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday. He was the leading man in each of these movies except For Whom the Bell Tolls. However, after a few attempts in lower-budget films, de Córdova returned to Mexico to continue his career there, eventually surpassing his previous fame and also becoming a major star in South America and Spain until his premature retirement in the early 1950s. "On the whole," Erickson opines, "Arturo de Córdova's Spanish-language roles were more rewarding than his Hollywood assignments, especially his feverish portrayal of an insane aristocrat in Luis Buñuel's El (1951)."

Most of de Córdova's films were made in Mexico where he won three Silver Ariels for Best Actor (En la Palma de tu Mano, 1952; Las Tres perfectas casadas, 1954; and Feliz año, amor mío, 1958), while receiving four other nominations. He endorsed the phrase "That is of no importance" quoted in several of his films.

His specialty was tormented characters who often sank into madness. His good looks and elaborate elegance made him a favorite of the public. By some, he was called the "Mexican Clark Gable." As noted at Cuba Now, "His most typical image was that of a handsome man with a chequered suit, penetrating eyes and a deep tone in his voice. With brown and wavy hair, small moustache, a ductile face and with a cigarette between his fingers, Arturo de Córdova played good and bad characters with the same mastery. 'With his personality, he created a style. And with the grey hair on his temples he made the best middle-aged heartthrob of Mexican cinematography,' wrote distinguished Cuban critic Rodolfo Santovenia in the weekly Orbe in 2009, conferring upon him two essential conditions: charisma and ability."

In 1948 he filmed Medianoche (Midnight, 1949) the first of 11 films where he and Marga López worked together. One of the most popular couples of Mexican cinema, they were romantically linked through the last years of his life until de Córdova's death at 68 by stroke in Mexico City on November 3, 1973. In the mid-'60s he had separated with (though, apparently, never divorced) his wife Enna Arana. He went to live with Marga López, who was his great love, both in film and in real life. Apart from Midnight, they worked together on the hilarious comedy Mi Esposa y la Otra (My Wife and the Other, 1952), where an eight-year-old Angelica Maria appeared as the daughter of Marga López. The melodrama Feliz Año, Amor Mío (Happy New Year, My Love, 1957), based on the book Letters of an Unknown by Stephen Zwieg, is one of their most successful pairings.

There are several online filmographies for Arturo de Córdova, including Turner Classic Movies, MUBI, Fandango, Blockbuster, Amazon, Film Guide and Optimum Gambling.

I guess it should be expected that a star who shines this bright will inevitably cast a shadow of scandal. Although his relationship with Marga López was considered one of the great romances of Mexican cinema, a news item entitled "Neurotic Chronicles: A puddle of blood" published in the September 18, 2006 edition of El Universal implicated de Córdova in a homosexual tryst with fellow Mexican actor Ramón Gay. No one might have given this item much notice had it not been authored by Rafael Pérez Gay, who recalled that his father and Ramón "were cousins and friends inseparable during his teenage years." Rafael Pérez Gay later incorporated this article and expanded his suspicions in his published exposé Nos acompañan los muertos (We accompany the dead) (Planeta, 2009), wherein he expressed that it took his grandparents several years to admit that Ramón was gay and having sex with Arturo de Córdova. Miguel Angel Morales has tried to follow up on the story but hasn't revealed much more than hearsay. The same with Guadalupe Loaeza.

As detailed in the piece for El Universal, Ramón Gay was murdered on the morning of May 27, 1960, in front of actress Evangelina Elizondo by Elizondo's ex-husband, petroleum engineer José Luis Paganoni. Evangelina Elizondo and Ramón Gay were friends and were working together on a play 30 Seconds of Love at the Roundabout Theatre. One of the first people to be notified of Gay's murder was de Córdova and there was no question that de Córdova was emotionally impacted by the death of his protégé, who he had hand-picked to play the character Carlos Lacroix for the film Las Aventuras de Carlos Lacroix (1959); a character he had initially originated on radio to great success.

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