If you see only one 1930’s Mexican musical this year, make it Allá en el Rancho Grande. OK, so maybe Rancho was the only Mexican musical to make it north of the border, or maybe the only Mexican musical ever... that’s not important. This is a heck of a good movie and a lot of fun to watch.
Let me clarify that by “musical” I mean something more along the lines of a Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy kind of “singing movie” rather than a full-blown Oklahoma! kind of song-and-dance film. Or maybe more accurately, it’s like a Roy Rogers singing cowboy film but with a bit more plot. The one big hit is of course “Rancho Grande” with words that I’ve never heard before... at least with the subtitles I saw. In this version there’s something about having a pair of underwear made of wool and leather. But hey, why not? It’s a hard ride out there in the cactus.
By 1936, director Fernando de Fuentes was coming off a string of politically charged films about the recent revolution in Mexico, and all were, for the time, pretty hard-hitting stuff. He must have needed a change of scenario (although not a change of scenery — much of Rancho Grande seems to have been shot in about the same area and perhaps with the same extras as his “war” films).
In Rancho Grande, the hard-working peasants, instead of rising up to throw off their chains, come off the fields to be greeted by the paternal don of the hacienda. Everybody shows everybody else much love and respect. Clearly this is an idealized fantasy, but again, what musical isn’t?
Occasionally some of Fuentes’ dark political roots show through the blonde music with asides about communists and class differences between the “little ranch” and the “big ranch.” The number one hero José (Tito Guízar) is from the little ranch. He was orphaned in the first reel, and is raised by the padrone of el Rancho Grande with the boss’ own son Felipe (René Cardona) who is sort of the extra main character. The two are best friends, quasi-brothers, and when Felipe inherits the ranch, they are boss and worker, all with out a hint of conflict. There’s more of that fantasy again.
All Together Now
There is often a theme of moral testing and temptation in a Fuentes film and this one is no exception. Felipe is tempted with taking advantage of José’s girlfriend, the lovely Cruz (Esther Fernández). At the last moment he doesn’t, mainly because she is José’s true love, and only incidentally because what he was about to do was wrong on general principles.
Fuentes is at his populist best when he shows us crowds of common folk as in the scene at the cockfight. (Animal rights activists can return to their seats, the fight never takes place.) He seems to enjoy showing us a wide range of characters and types. Indeed there is even a token gringo in the crowd. Of the combatant roosters is red, so it is the “colorado” one. The Yankee says he’s betting on “Colorado” because he is from Colorado... Denver, Colorado! His neighbors look on in stone-faced tolerance of his bad pun. But in the spirit of this good natured film, the gringo isn’t simply portrayed as a pushy loud buffoon. He’s just another one of the boys down at the Saturday night cockfight looking for a good time.
Some social critics might see this as just a Mexican version of Green Pastures with all the muchachos ( y muchachas) out shuckin’ and jivin’ and being real-life versions of Speedy Gonzales... not so. Sure, it’s romanticized, but again what musical isn’t? Fuentes is pitching this one from the heart and in all seriousness and respect. Since it was the first Mexican film to get any exposure out of the country, Rancho would be about the only Mexican film many English-speaking audiences would have ever seen. More likely Speedy is a caricature-spawn of Rancho’s cast.
Allá en el Rancho Grande is corny, sentimental, and dated, but if you can only laugh at this film and not with it, then I think the fault lies with you and not the movie. Its good-hearted buoyancy makes it a real treat to watch and it deserves an new audience to enjoy it.
Picture and Sound
If there is one serious flaw to this DVD it is the poor condition of the film. It could use some serious restoration. Still I’d rather have this than nothing at all
How to Use this DVD
Leave your political correctness at the door and enjoy the show.