Sunday, August 28, 2011

Distinto Amanecer

Distinto Amanecer (Another Dawn). Mexico City: Films Mundiales, S.A., 1943. Productor, Emilio Gómez Muriel; director, Julio Bracho. With Andrea Palma, Pedro Armendáriz, Alberto Galán, Beatriz Ramos. Based on the play La Vida Conyugal by Max Aub. 

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

Distinto Amenecer
is probably as good a Hitchcock movie you’ll ever see by a director not named Alfred Hitchcock. It essentially takes the Hitchcockian chase story and sets it in an incredibly atmospheric Mexico City in the early 1940s. The basic idea is reminiscent of The 39 Steps, especially the opening scenes at the theater which bring to mind Richard Hanney being cornered by the police at the Palladium in the latter film. 

But another, even more important, quality of Distinto Amamencer is that it may well be the first film noir [1]; its release in 1943 places it a full year ahead of the traditional noir kickoff year of 1944, during which Murder My Sweet and Double Indemnity in particular closed the deal as full-blown examples of the style. 

It certainly has all the hallmarks of noir: crime story; memorable femme fatale; claustrophobic feeling; threatening urban setting; nightclub; sinister looking bad guys who menace the heroine and pursue the hero; and most of all the great nighttime, off-kilter photography of cinematographic legend Gabriel Figueroa. And make no mistake, visually the film is very dark indeed.

Distinto is also probably Andrea Palma’s finest hour along with the below-mentioned Mujer del Puerto [2]. And it’s also good to see a youthful, charismatic Pedro Armendáriz; he and Palma have terrific screen chemistry throughout. My only criticism of the film is that at a leisurely 108 minutes it feels a little longish.

[1] It’s the first Mexican film noir if we don’t count the proto-noir La Mujer del Puerto 
from 1934 (wouldn’t that be something if a Mexican noir anticipated Hollywood by a decade!). Of course we can go on and on about the origins and evolution of noir, and indeed writers have gone on and on. Although Double Indemnity is often cited as the first case where all the noir elements combine in a definitive whole, there were lots of prior films which flirted with the noir aesthetic, Stranger on the Third Floor from 1940 being a much referenced example. But all this is perhaps best left for a future posting. Whatever the case, Mujer del Puerto is also a great Andrea Palma vehicle and probably ranks with Distinto as her best leading role before she settled into the more mature and matronly characters which she essentially played for the rest of her career.

In Distinto Palma plays a woman who leads a double life: respectable wife by day and B girl at night. This seems to be a favorite [sub]plot theme in Mexican cinema, that of an upstanding middle-class or upper-class woman with a dark secret, usually running a nightclub and/or place of prostitution. At least two other Palma films, Casa de la Zorra and Aventurera, use the same idea. In the latter she reprises the shady role but in Casa plays a more virtuous character.

La Mujer del Puerto 

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