Out on the Big Ranch and Tito Guízar, the movie and star that changed it all for Mexican cinema

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Media folks, including yours truly, are very quick to point out deficiencies and shortcomings of our most prestigious organizations. We’re not nearly as fast with our praise when these same organizations score big time. Such has been the case in film and the Guadalupe, the Alameda, and the McNay Art Museum (to name three), who are consistently presenting highly appealing movie revivals.

In recent memory we’ve seen Buñuel and Dalí at the McNay (Un Chien Andalou and L’Age D’Or), some of the key Efráin Gutiérrez films at the Guadalupe (Chicano Love is Forever and La Onda Chicana), and on Friday the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center will have a screening of the Saúl Landau documentary Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up? which deals with “the Cuban 5” (five men arrested for espionage, terrorism, or freedom fighting, depending on whom you ask; the movie screens at 7 p.m. at 922 San Pedro).

It appears to be the Alameda’s turn next, resuming the solid Golden Age of Cinema/ Alamedita Film Series (launched in May) with 1936’s Allá en el rancho grande (Out on the Big Ranch), the movie that spearheaded Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema that lasted until the late ’50s.

The movie is corny, full of stereotypes, and predictable, but it is also a must-see for at least three reasons: It marked the first time a singing charro appeared in Mexican cinema; it is the first Mexican film to obtain international success; and it was the first big hit by leading man Tito Guízar, who would go on to a successful music and film career before dying in San Antonio in 1999 at age 91 while visiting his son.

But that is not all. The movie is also masterfully photographed by Gabriel Figueroa (Oscar-nominated for 1964’s The Night of the Iguana), who would become Mexico’s greatest cinematographer ever until the advent of four-time Oscar-nominated Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, Children of Men, Y tu mamá también).

Despite the historical success of Allá en el rancho grande, directed by Fernando de Fuentes, it is not considered Mexico’s best movie by the the Mexican Cinematography Industry Council (composed of film critics and historians). That honor falls on Vámonos con Pancho Villa (Let’s Go with Pancho Villa), which was also directed by de Fuentes a year earlier, but premiered three months after Allá en el rancho grande.

Along with Pancho Villa, de Fuentes’ El compadre Mendoza (1934) was also a highly praised work of art that did poorly at the box office. Allá en el rancho grande was de Fuentes’ do-or-die attempt at recovering his losses, but not only did the movie’s success surprise even de Fuentes, it curtailed his creative juices, and the artistic power of those first two movies was never replicated (he wouldn’t repeat Rancho Grande’s commercial success, either).

In the movie (which won Figueroa a Best Cinematography prize at the 1938 Venice Film Festival), Guízar is José Francisco Ruelas, a ranch manager who falls in love with a woman who is also prized by the ranch owner. The movie has all the things you would expect from charro cinema: men, wine, music, guns, and women. Yet you can’t keep your eyes off the screen. The movie’s look (courtesy of Figueroa) and musical importance are undeniable.

Guízar would go on to a successful music and film career, sharing the screen with Roy Rogers, Mae West, and Dorothy Lamour, to name a few. He sang at Carnegie Hall, and arranged some of Mexico’s greatest classics, including “La cucaracha,” “Cielito Lindo,” and, of course, “Allá en el rancho grande,” which the movie is named after. His legacy was long secured, but it could’ve been bigger had he not shared his years with larger-than-life icons like Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete.

“Guízar is Mexico’s first great ranchero singer,” said Jesús del Toro, editor of Rumbo de Houston, a student of the ranchero genre. He mentions the 1949 remake of Allá en el rancho grande, starring superstar Jorge Negrete and compares it with the original one starring Guízar. “Musically, I think the 1949 version is better,” said Del Toro. “Guízar wasn’t a bad singer, but Negrete was a powerhouse and the genre had greatly evolved and was at a superlative level.

“But strictly on cinematic terms, Negrete’s version is not one of his best, while the 1936 version is key to both Mexico and Guízar himself. This is a crucial movie.” •

Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936)

Dir. Fernando de Fuentes; writ. Fernando de Fuentes, Antonio Guzmán Aguilera, Luz Guzmán de Arellano; feat. Tito Guízar, René Cardona, Esther Fernández. (not rated; Spanish with English subtitles)


Alameda Theater
6:30pm Thursday, July 21
101 S Santa Rosa
(210) 299-4300

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