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Calabacitas tiernas

Calabacitas tiernas(1949)

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Calabacitas tiernas (1949)

German Valdes, better known as "Tin Tan" was second only to Cantinflas as the most popular comic actor in Mexican films of the 1940s and '50s. As a music-hall comedian, Tin Tan developed his pachuco character, an energetic, streetwise, zoot-suited hipster who spoke a slangy Spanish sprinkled with English. The character had its roots in Tin Tan's childhood, growing up in the border town of Juarez, and heavily influenced by U.S. culture. Tin Tan also was a talented song-and-dance man, and many of his films were musicals. Starting in 1943, he performed musical specialty numbers in Mexican films, but it wasn't until Calabacitas Tiernas (1949) that he carried a film. It was also his first of dozens of collaborations with director Gilberto Martinez Solares.

In Calabacitas Tiernas ("Tender Little Pumpkins") Tin Tan plays a frustrated singer who pretends to be an impresario and puts on a musical show featuring a pan-American cast of beautiful showgirls - the "tender pumpkins" of the title. (The subtitle, by the way, is "Ay que bonitas piernas!" which translates as "Oh, what pretty legs!") The film is part of a genre of Mexican cinema known as "rumberas," so named because the stories usually dealt with poor-but-honest country girls who go to the big city and end up becoming nightclub performers, dancing rumbas, mambos, and other Latin dances.

According to the book, Mexico's Cinema, edited by Joanne Hershfield and David R. Maciel, Calabacitas Tiernas set the template for the Tin Tan movie: "Tin Tan sings, dances, romances, pretends to be what he is not, doubts what he is....he walks to the beat of the barrios....He improvises, charms the camera, addresses the not afraid of sentimental uncertainty, becomes bored with old-fashioned dignity, does not protect his honor, and does not respect proper speech." In other words, he's thoroughly modern, thoroughly urban, and totally irresistible. Tin Tan's quick, improvisatory comedy would influence generations of Mexican comedians.

Director Gilberto Martinez Solares was already a well-regarded director when he began working with Tin Tan, and was somewhat contemptuous of the comedian. In an interview in Cuadernos de la Cineteca, Solares recalled, "At first I didn't really trust him, nor did I have a great desire to work with him because he was a bit crass in the characters he played and in the places where he worked, no? Circus tents, theaters....I wrote stories, but I've never been able to write street language, especially from the barrio. That was the specialty of my colleague, Juan Garcia." Garcia would write more than two dozen of the films Martinez Solares and Tin Tan made together, including Calabacitas Tiernas and El Rey Del Barrio (1949). Martinez Solares's prolific career would include 150 films, and last until his death in 1997 at the age of 90. His final film, Crisis (1998), was released after his death.

Tin Tan would also work right up until his death in 1973, at the relatively young age of 57, but by then his best work was behind him. According to Mexico's Cinema, Tin Tan was a "great comic actor squandered, misunderstood, and abandoned by an industry that used him without ever recognizing his enormous genius." But in the years since his death, Tin Tan has finally been recognized as one of the comic innovators of Mexican cinema's Golden Age.

Director: Gilberto Martinez Solares
Producer: Salvador Elizondo
Screenplay: Eduardo Ugarte, Gilberto Martinez Solares, and Juan Garcia. Based on a story by Eduardo Ugarte
Cinematography: Agustin Martinez Solares
Editor: Jorge Bustos
Production Design: Jesus Bracho
Music: Rosalio Ramirez, Emilio Rente, Federico Ruiz, Gabriel Ruiz, German Valdes
Cast: German Valdes (Tin Tan), Rosita Quintana (Lupe), Amalia Aguilar (Amalia), Marcelo Chavez (Marcelo), Rosina Paga (Rosina), Nelly Montiel (Nelly), Jorge Reyes (Reyes), Gloria Alonso (Gloria).

by Margarita Landazuri

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