Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Family affair

La Casa de la Zorra
(1945). 89 min. Producción : Compañía Cinematográfica Mexicana. Director: Juan José Ortega. Director of photography, Domingo Carrillo; editor, Juan Jose Marino; arreglos y dirección musical, Gonzalo Curiel; production designer, Paul Castelain; writers, Xavier Villaurrutia and Luis G. Basurto. With Virginia Fábregas, Isabela Corona, Alberto Galan, Sara Guasch, Susana Guízar, Ricardo Montalban, Carlos Orellana, Andrea Palma, Andres Soler, Roberto Cañedo. "Homenaje a la Eximia Actriz Mexicana, Doña Virginia Fabregas.”

More drawing room melodrama than genuine noir, Casa de la Zorra nonetheless has a couple of nifty noirish scenes of limousines prowling sinister back alleys. It also employs to good effect that noir staple, the night club (though here I believe it’s referred to more as a casino). In any case, the film also shares certain, eminently noirish thematic similarities [1] with the better-known hybrid noir-musical Aventurera, though Zorra is a straight drama without musical numbers.

But probably of most interest for American audiences is that this is an early entry in Ricardo Montalban’s oeuvre. On the cusp of rapidly rising stardom, he already displays the smooth self-assurance and easygoing charm that would serve him well throughout his career. Ricardo plays Alberto, a slightly wayward scion of an upper crust Mexico City family. Alberto has a fondness for those two usual suspects of vices, gambling and alcohol. And, yes, he has an eye for the ladies, but his romantic adventures eventually get, as the saying goes, complicated [2].

One of the film’s delights is Montalban’s mostly twilight-of-their-careers supporting cast, which includes among others Mexican film legends Andrea Palma and Virginia Fábregas. My favorite scenes include a silky Montalban/Palma waltz and Fábregas’s drunken, and very public, harangue at her casino. Despite a certain light-weightness and predictability, Zorra can be recommended as a well-heeled representative of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.

style **1/2
substance **1/2

[1]  Family secrets and shady business dealings in particular.

[2] I must admit that I had difficulty accepting the story's basic romantic premise.

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