The beginning of the Golden Age is dated to the release of Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1935), directed by Fernando de Fuentes. De Fuentes subsequently released Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936), which is considered a watershed for Mexican cinema. The quality and success of Mexican films continued after World War II, when Mexican cinema became the center of the motion picture industry for Latin America and Spanish-speaking audiences.
A principal cause of the Golden Age was the beginning of World War II in 1939. The film industries of European nations and the United States were severely affected due to the conflict and the scarcity of film-related materials such as cellulose due to rationing, whereas Mexican movie producers were less affected. Mexico eventually joined the Allied cause in 1942, thus gaining an advantageous position in the film markets of those countries. During the war, the French, Italian, Spanish, and American film industries became focused on war-related films, while the Mexican film industry continued to focus on more traditional movie themes. This focus allowed for greater success for Mexican films with Mexican and other Spanish-speaking audiences.
Since the beginning of the first talkies in Mexico, some movies (as Santa (1931) and La mujer del Puerto (1934)), were a huge blockbuster, and showed that Mexico had the equipment and talent needed to sustain a solid film industry. One of the first blockbusters was the film Allá en el Rancho Grande, directed by Fernando de Fuentes, which became the first classic film of the Mexican cinema.
Mexico continued to make works of splendid quality and began to explore other genres like comedy, romance and music. In 1943, the film Flor Silvestre, film crew consisted of director Emilio Fernández, the photographer Gabriel Figueroa, the actor Pedro Armendáriz and the actress Dolores del Río. Films, like Maria Candelaria and La perla (considered the master works of Fernandez and his team) filled the Mexican cinema with enormous prestige in major film festivals. Maria Candelaria was awarded in 1946 with the Grand Prix Award in the Cannes Film Festival, the first Spanish-speaking movie to get it. La perla, was awarded the Golden Globe of the American film industry, being the first Spanish-speaking film to receive such recognition.
The Mexican Cinema in its Golden Age, imitated the Star System which prevailed in Hollywood. Thus, unlike other film industries in Latin America, the Mexican cinema began to develop the "cult of the actor", a phenomenon that led to the emergence of stars by arousing feelings in the public that produced true idols. However, unlike what happened in Hollywood, Mexican film studios never had total control over the stars, and this allowed them to shine independently.
Pedro Infante was an actor who became a Mexican idol of the common people. Jorge Negrete, actor and singer, unlike Pedro Infante, became an idol to more refined audiences. His vocal talent and his physical appearance made him one of the most quoted figures in Mexican Cinema, and the first figure of the Ranchera-music films.
María Félix brought to the Mexican Cinema remarkable beauty and a unique personality. She dominated the roles of "femme fatale" in the Mexican films. Before her success, women often had supporting roles as selfless mothers and submissive girlfriends. Due to the success of Maria Felix, more movies were made with dominant female characters. The film Doña Bárbara (1943) gave birth to the myth of Maria Felix as La Doña, the unattainable and indomitable woman.
Dolores del Río, during her peak, represented the highest ideal of the Mexican female beauty. The myth of Dolores del Río did not start in Mexico, but in Hollywood, where she achieved the status of "Diva" during the 1920s and 1930s. This was an exceptional achievement for an actress of Hispanic origin. After a successful career in Hollywood, Dolores returned to Mexico where she managed to raise the prestige she had enjoyed in the United States thanks to a series of films made especially for her by her eternal admirer, the film director Emilio Fernández. Films like Flor silvestre and Maria Candelaria (1943) spread the image of Mexico around the world. Thus, Dolores del Río became a national symbol after being a symbol of Mexico abroad for many years.
Many comedians managed to achieve stardom in the Mexican cinema. From comedy couples of the style of Laurel and Hardy (like Viruta and Capulina and Manolin and Shilinsky) to independent actor-comedians who achieved huge popularity.
A prime example is Mario Moreno Cantinflas, comedian and mime, who emerged from the popular theatres. He achieved great popularity in the cinema with his portrayal of the character Cantinflas, a charismatic poor man, a "friendly neighbor" with quite a peculiar speech. The character of Cantinflas was to Mario Moreno as The Tramp was to Charles Chaplin. But unlike Chaplin, Cantinflas based his character on joy, rather than melancholy. His characters were always exhilarating funny. Cantinflas enjoyed remarkable success.
Another successful star was the comedian Germán Valdés, "Tin Tan". He was a great versatile actor and excellent singer. He became famous portraying the character of the pachuco (cultural movement which emerged in Chicago during the twenties among the Hispanic community). His films were mainly based on parody and absurd situations, skilled musical numbers portraying visual mischief with an attractive female. "Tin Tan" had a huge cultural impact among some sectors of the Mexican public, and his films reached the status of cult films.
In the "Mexican Star System" other leading figures like Arturo de Cordova emerged. He was a leading actor known for his masculine appeal, voice and impacting demeanor. He became a heartthrob much like Clark Gable and Cary Grant. Joaquín Pardavé was a popular actor who captivated audiences with his dramatic and comic roles. Since the beginning of his film career, which began during the silent-film era, he emerged as the Father of Comedy over all Mexicans comedians from the 1930s to the 1960s. Pardavé was also a composer and film director. Sara García, called "The Mexican Cinema Grandmother", was a prominent actress. Her poignant and funny interpretations of "granny" (grandmother, mother, nanny), catapulted her, in much the same way as Cantinflas and Tin Tan, into Mexican popular culture.
Other prominent figures of the Golden era were the supporting actors like Ignacio López Tarso, the Soler Brothers (Domingo, Andres, Fernando and Julian); heartthrobs like David Silva, Emilio Tuero, Roberto Cañedo or Ernesto Alonso; beauties like Columba Domínguez, Miroslava Stern, Marga López, Elsa Aguirre, Gloria Marín and María Elena Marqués; character actresses like Carmen Montejo, Andrea Palma, Isabela Corona and Prudencia Grifell; "Ranchero" heroes like Luis Aguilar and Antonio Aguilar; "cinematic villains" like Carlos López Moctezuma, Miguel Inclan, Rodolfo Acosta and the siblings Tito and Victor Junco, as well as other famous comedians like Resortes and Antonio Espino "Clavillazo".
Some other Mexican figures successfully crossed-over into Hollywood. Katy Jurado became an important actress in the Hollywood film industry achieving an Academy Award nomination. Silvia Pinal managed recognition in the "Art cinema" field, especially thanks to her collaborations with the film director Luis Buñuel.
The Musical Cinema was also largely represented by the so-called Rumberas film, a unique cinematic curiosity of Mexico, dedicated to the exaltation of the "rumberas" (dancers of Afro-Antillean music). The main figures of this kind were Maria Antonieta Pons, Meche Barba, Amalia Aguilar, Ninon Sevilla and Rosa Carmina.
Horror and Sci-Fi also had a special niche and reached their heyday during the sixties. Films featuring the Mexican wrestler El Santotwerehe most popular . at the timeOther actors featured in the isenre were Germán Robles, Lorena Velázquez, Abel Salazar and Ariadne Welter.
Mexico was the principal film industry of the Spanish speaking industries and attracted other important figures from other film industries. The most important were the Spanish actress and singer Sara Montiel and the Argentinean actress and singer Libertad Lamarque.
Many highly regarded directors flourished in the Mexican film industry. Fernando de Fuentes is considered the "father" of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, mainly due to his contribution of the first of this era blockbusters such as Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1935) and Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936). One of the most important, influential and recognized filmmakers of the Mexican Cinema was Emilio Fernández. Emilio was the creator of the Mexican folk cinema which contributed to the cultural and artistic awareness that Mexico lived during the 1940s. During this era, film possessed impeccable and unique aesthetics (achieved largely thanks to the assistance of his photographer Gabriel Figueroa). The Emilio Fernández filmography produced around 129 films featuring a plethora of breathtaking images evoking a well-planned image of Mexico through its customs and identity which was defended at all cost.
Fernández was in numerous occasions recognized with the Ariel Award (the Mexican equivalent to the Academy Award), a chair with his name on the Film School in Moscow, among many other international awards. Emilio Fernández was not only known for his instinctual nature, but also for his prowess to put together a film crew that attracted the attention of Hollywood and Europe. With Gabriel Figueroa as a photographer, Mauricio Magdaleno as a writer, and actors Pedro Armendariz, Dolores del Rio, Maria Felix and Columba Domínguez, he directed several productions that promoted customs and values associated with the Mexican Revolution.
Another important figure in the Mexican film industry was the Spanish refugee, naturalized Mexican Luis Buñuel. The so-called "Father of the Cinematographic Surrealism" directed in Mexico most of his extensive filmography, contributing greatly to the rise of Mexican Cinema in the second period of the Golden Age during the 1950s. The film, Los Olvidados (1950), achieved a huge impact in the world so much so that it was considered by UNESCO as a cultural heritage. One of his last films in Mexico was the Mexican and Spanish production Viridiana (1961). Viridiana was, in the Cannes Film Festival, the official representative of Spain, and won the Palme d'Or. However, after the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano condemned the tape, which was attacked as blasphemous and sacrilegious, Viridiana could not be officially shown in Spain until 1977. In 1977, Buñuel won the National Science and Arts Prize of Mexico, awarded by the Government of Mexico.
Some foreign film directors also made collaborations to the Mexican cinema, either in co-productions, or by using their facilities and technical equipment: Fred Zinnemann, John Ford, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah and Robert Aldrich.
The first transmissions of the Mexican television started in 1950. In a few years, the television reached enormous power to reach the public. By 1956, the TV antennas were common in Mexican homes, and new media grew rapidly in the province. The first black and white television pictures appeared in a very small and oval screen, and thus the image was quite imperfect as they did not have the clarity and sharpness of the actual film image. However, not only in Mexico but throughout the world, the filmmakers immediately resented competition from this new media. This competition decisively influenced the history of cinema forcing the film industry to seek new ways both in the art itself, as in the treatment of subjects and genres.
The technical innovations came from Hollywood. Wide screens, three-dimensional cinema, color improvement and stereo sound were some of the innovations introduced by the American cinema during the early 1950s. At the time, the high cost of these technologies made it difficult for Mexico to compete; therefore, not for some years was it able to produce films incorporating these innovations.
On April 15, 1957, the whole country mourned with the news of the death of Pedro Infante. His death also marked the end of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
The world was changing and so was the way film was produced by other countries. The elimination of censorship in the United States allowed a more bold and realistic treatment of many topics. In France, a young generation of filmmakers educated in film criticism began the New Wave movement. In Italy, the Neorealism had claimed the careers of several filmmakers. The Swedish film with Ingmar Bergman made his appearance, while in Japan Akira Kurosawa appeared.
Meanwhile, Mexican cinema had been stalled by bureaucracy and difficulties with the union. Film production was now concentrated in a few hands, and the ability to see new filmmakers emerge was almost impossible due to the impositions of the directors of the Union of Workers of the Cinematographic Production (STPC). Three of the most important film studios disappeared between 1957 and 1958: Tepeyac, Clasa Films and Azteca.
Also in 1958, the Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to discontinue the Ceremony of the Ariel Award recognizing the best productions of the national cinema. The Ariel was instituted in 1946 and emphasized the thriving state of the industry.