Al Son del Mambo

Amalia’s work in 1950 included three movies, the first, the melodrama Ritmos de Caribe was filmed on location in Havana and featured performances from Cuban diva Rita Montaner, Los Panchos, Daniel Santos and the Sonora Mantancera. Here Amalia plays a Cabaretera seductress, who whilst hospitalised, falls in love with her consultant, wrecking his marriage, only to eventually die herself of a broken heart.


In her next movie, Amor perdido (another melodrama), Amalia plays another Cabaretera, who suffers facial disfigurement at the hands of a former jealous lover. This film features a stunning performance from Amalia alongside Prado of the song Maria Christina. Unfortunately today, only photos exist, since the scene was edited from later prints, after being judged too ‘racy’ for general screenings.


Amalia’s third movie of 1950 is today perhaps her best known, the musical comedy Al son del mambo. Here she co-stars alongside the actor/dancer Adalberto ‘Resortes’ Martinez and the movie showcases a whole host of musical talent, including ‘mambo king’ Damaso Perez Prado (in his first acting role), Rita Montaner, dance duo; Dolly Sisters and many, many more.
Al Son del Mambo (1950)
At the films premiere the critics raved about how “Amalia’s presence took the movie to a whole different level”, the audiences read the reviews and agreed wholeheartedly, as the movie proceeded to break box office records across the country. Equally importantly, as the movies success and the dance it showcased spread like wildfire across the entire continent, it provoked a severe backlash from the Catholic Church. Enough in fact that in several countries, parents were warned “prevent your sons and daughters from corruption, don’t let them view this immoral movie”.


Aside from the beautiful and very hot choreography contained in this movie, in judging the sensuality of the ‘mambo’ generally and in focusing upon the fuss surrounding Al son del mambo particularly, lyrically Amalia herself offers provocation through the lyrics of the song ‘Sabrosura’ (tastiness), where she sings: “Soy la sabrosura del solar, abrazo a toda la gente con mi fuerza tropical...sabrosura tengo yo pa’ regalar.” (“I am the sexiest one in the neighborhood, I embrace people with my tropical flavor.... I have enough to give away.”). These few words although enwrapped in lyrical ‘double entendre’ are both semi-direct yet openly provocative.


Thus taking all of this together, several South and Central American countries banned both the movie and the dance, with one or two even going so far as to embargo any recordings featuring ‘mambo’ rhythms.
But for all the controversy, the Latin public wanted more, driving the name Amalia Aguilar to even greater heights and subsequently she found herself dispatched upon promotional dance tours and personal appearances wherever allowed.
Amor Perdido (1950)
Que Rico el Mambo (1951)
Al Son del Mambo (1950)
Amor Perdido (1950)
Ritmo del Caribe (1950)
Que Rico Mambo

1951 brought Amalia two more movies Los huespedes de la marquesa (Que Rico Mambo) and Delirio tropical. The first, a lighthearted musical comedy celebrating Perez Prado’s huge selling hit 78rpm disc – 'Que rico mambo' (by then selling in huge numbers across the America’s), although rather surprisingly neither Prado nor his orchestra are actually involved in the film). Equally Delirio tropical is a forceful melodrama, where Amalia delivers a strong performance, as well as a memorable ‘mambo’ style rendition of the song ‘Mexico Lindo’. In Los huespedes de la marquesa Amalia starred alongside the excellent Ramon Armengod, whilst in Delirio tropical she co-starred with Carlos Valedez.
With Mambo king - Perez Prado : Amor Perdido (1950)
Los Huespedes de la
Marquesa (Que Rico Mambo)
(1951)
Delirio Topical (1951)
Female Trouble

1952 brought Amalia three more lead roles, including two excellent and very successful comedies (Las tres alegres comadres and Las interesadas). These comedies brought forward a theme, which until now Mexican cinema had not yet encountered nor addressed. This theme is modern urban women in control of their fate: in both movies Amalia plays one third of a trio of feisty female friends who are unafraid to go it alone.

The three friends (Las tres alegres comadres), shows women unafraid to embrace modernity head on and importantly, proclaiming their independence and camaraderie stating “all for one and one for all” – perhaps the very first ‘girl power’ movie in Mexican cinema? This sets the scene for much forthcoming hilarity with unusually, men as the target.


Morals

Now whilst it could be argued that Amalia through her very presence as a Rumbera (a cinematic musical seductress), had for some time embraced the role of the emancipated or liberated woman, the importance of these two movies is that we see not one, but a trio of powerful women reliant upon each other rather than men. And these women not only make choices, but also know that they have the freedom to choose and each other to fall back upon if things go bad. This makes for an interesting comparison against Amalia’s melodramatic Rumbera performances (or better still against the hard edged social melodramas of Ninon Sevilla (another well known Cuban Rumbera/actress), where what we all to often see is the eventual and often painful downfall of the female star.
With Rita Montaner : Ritmo del Caraibe (1950)
Las Tres Camadres Allegres (1952)
The three friends pledge eternal friendship
Lilia Prado - Amalia - Lilia Del Valle
That said, these movies are intended first and foremost, as entertainment to large general audiences and are meant as nothing more than simple lighthearted comedies. So however strong the trio of female characters might first appear, both films end with each woman eventually finding her Mr. Right, succumbing to a life of domestic bliss and marital harmony. Thus the underlying message seems; whatever supposed aspirations these ‘modern women’ might have, in the end, they seek no more that their mothers and grandmothers did before them. Of course, given the timeframe and gender politics of the era, what do we really expect? That said, whatever we may read into these movies, above all else, they undoubtedly provide an affectionate and humorous snapshot of the struggle facing the young urban Latina in a period of rapid social transition. Moreover in some small way these movies surely influenced her ideals through the positive visions and storylines portrayed within them.


Substance

Both movies are packed with music and in Las tres alegres comadres, Amalia delivers a splendid vocal rendition of ‘Mambo de la ruletero’ backed by Damaso Perez Prado and his orchestra (who incidentally provide soundtracks for both movies). Los dineros del diablo, the third movie starring Amalia released in 1952, was a crime-based melodrama. Here Amalia reverts to a more conventional Cabaretera role, playing a nightclub singer involved in a world of petty crime, robbery and blackmail and of course, she meets the usual end suitably ‘befitting’ such fallen women..
Las Tres Alegres Comadres (1952)
Las Tres Alegres Comadres (1952)
Las Interesadas (1952)
Dineros del Diablos (1952)
Mis Tres Viudas Alegres (1953)
Las Interesadas (1952)
Las Carinosas (1953)
The Three Merry Widows

The accolade received for the previous years two musical comedies must have been substantial, since 1953 spawned two further follow up movies in a similar vein (again putting Amalia at the centre of two trios of beautiful women). In the first (Mis tres viudas alegres), Amalia again co-stars alongside Adelberto ‘Resortes’ Martinez. It’s an outrageous comedy concerning three beautiful young widows, who meet at the reading of a dead husbands will, not only to find that they are all married to the same man – ‘Resortes’, but the elderly husband has never managed to consummate any of the three marriages (mysteriously disappearing on each wedding night, before managing to deliver his conjugal rights!). As the film progresses, the widows become firm friends, have fun, sing a few songs (mainly non-rumba) and generally manage to enjoy a great time before eventually finding suitable new men to marry, with of course ‘Resortes’ reappearing to marry Amalia.



Las Carinosas

The second movie (Las cariñosas) has the same trio of actresses playing nurses infected with the sex-appelitis virus, which has left almost all men susceptible to their charms. Through a procession of lavish musical numbers and a fairly amusing storyline, the women eventually find three men immune to the virus; every body marries off and of course, lives happily ever after.

Both movies are visually very cute, containing some nice laughs (particularly a very surreal scene in Las Carinosas, where the three scantily clad women advertise washing machines in a department store window, driving the male onlookers into a lather!) and although the production work, sets and costumes for these two movies are generally more lavish than those of the previous year, it is equally noticeable that by the forth movie the basic concept had been stretched almost as far as a single idea could run.
Musically it is also noticeable that the era of the Rumbera in Mexican cinema is closing and both the soundtracks and sets of these last two movies seek to more than a little mimic Hollywood musical style production of the period (grander sets, but less rumba and more chintz), lending overall to a slightly less interesting cinematic experience.
Mis Tres Viudas Alegres (1953)
Las Cariñosas (1953)
Lilia del Valle, Amalia and Silvia Pinal
Les Carinosas
The beautiful Esther (Amalia) : Las Interesadas