The Golden Age began symbolically with the film Vámonos con Pancho Villa (1935), directed by Fernando de Fuentes. Eventually, de Fuentes filmed the blockbuster Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936), which became considered a watershed securing blockbuster status for Mexican Cinema. The quality and success of Mexican films continued after World War II, when the Mexican Cinema became the focus of popular movies from Latin America and the Spanish speaking audiences.
Although several explanations have been exposed for this golden era, the most common one attributes the phenomenon to the war effort. In 1939, European nations and the United States became involved in World War II, with film industries of those regions severely affected. Europe, due to its inherent location and the United States due to the fact that materials used for film making (such as the cellulose), became scarce or were rationed. In 1942, when German submarines destroyed a Mexican tanker, Mexico joined the Allies. Mexico, with that action, won a temporary status of favored nation. Thus, Mexican film industry found new sources of materials and equipment; and, at the same time, secured a position of privilege for worldwide quality film production. During the conflict hiatus, French, Italian, Spanish, Argentinian and American film industry became focused on war films, while Mexican film industry focused on other thematics. This allowed deeper penetration with the Mexican and Spanish speaking audiences which found no echo with the belligerent themes.
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, brought a film crew consisting of the 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 with the Golden Globe of the American film industry, being the first Spanish-speaking film to receive such recognition.
The Mexican Cinema in his Golden Age, imitated the Star System prevailing in Hollywood. Thus, unlike other film industries, in Mexican cinema began to develop the "cult of the actor", a situation that led to the emergence of stars that caused the feeling in the public and became into true idols, one way very similar to the Hollywood film industry. However, unlike what was happening in Hollywood, the Mexican film studios never had a total power over the stars, and this allowed them to shine independently.
Pedro Infante, was an actor who became into a Mexican idol. Similarly highlighted Jorge Negrete, actor and singer who, unlike Infante, became an idol of a 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 was a woman of beauty and personality who dominated the roles of "femme fatale" in the Mexican films. Before her success, women often had supporting roles (selfless mothers, submissive girlfriends). Based on the success of Felix, more movies were made with dominant female characters. Doña Bárbara (1943), gave start to the myth of Maria Felix as La Doña, the unattainable and indomitable woman.
Dolores del Río represented, in her best times, one of the highest ideals 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" in the 1920s and 1930s, very difficult for an actress of Hispanic origin. After a more than decent career in Hollywood, Dolores returned to Mexico, where she managed to maintain and even raise the prestige that she enjoyed in the United States thanks to a series of films made especially for her by his eternal admirer, the film director Emilio Fernández. Films like Flor silvestre and Maria Candelaria (1943), wandered the image of Mexico over the world, and Dolores del Río became into a national symbol, after being for many years, symbol of Mexico abroad.
Many comedians managed consecration in the Mexican cinema. From comic couples of the style of Laurel and Hardy (like Viruta and Capulina or Manolin and Shilinsky) to independent actors who achieved a huge popularity.
Mario Moreno Cantinflas, comedian and mime, emerged of the popular theatres, achieved great popularity since his entry into the cinema with his portrayal of the character of Cantinflas a charismatic poor man, a "friendly neighborhood" with a very peculiar speech. The character of Cantinflas, was to Mario Moreno which The Tramp was for Charles Chaplin. But unlike Chaplin, Cantinflas based his character in joy, rather melancholy. His characters were always exhilarating. Cantinflas enjoyed unusual success. .
Another highlight star, was the comedian Germán Valdés "Tin Tan". He was a great and versatil actor, and was also an excellent singer. Became famous in his time the character of the pachuco (cultural movement emerged in the twenties in Chicago, among the Hispanic community in the United States). His films were mainly based on parody and absurd situations, gifted musical numbers with an attractive female visual mischief. "Tin Tan" has a huge cultural impact among some sectors of the Mexican public, and his films has reached the status of cult films.
In the "Mexican Star System" emerged other leading figures like Arturo de Cordova, important actor, with a strong and masculine appeal, personality, voice and presence, which became in one of the most recurrent heartthrobs in the films of his time (in the style of Clark Gable and Cary Grant); Joaquín Pardavé, was a popular actor who captivated same with dramatic or comic characters. Pardavé was also a composer and film director, and his beginnings in the film industry, since the Silent Cinema, which became a kind of "symbolic father" of all Mexicans comedians from the 1930s to the 1960s; Sara García, called "The Mexican Cinema Grandmother", was a prominent actress. Her poignant or funny interpretations of "granny" (grandmother, mother, nanny), converted her, in the similar way to Cantinflas and Tin Tan, in part of Mexican popular culture.
Other prominent figures were the supporting actors like Ignacio López Tarso or the Soler Brothers: Domingo, Andres, Fernando and Julian; heartthrobs guys like David Silva, Emilio Tuero, Roberto Cañedo or Ernesto Alonso; filmic beauties like Columba Domínguez, Miroslava Stern, Marga López, Elsa Aguirre, Gloria Marín or María Elena Marqués; character actresses like Carmen Montejo, Andrea Palma, Isabela Corona or Prudencia Grifell; "Ranchero" heroes like Luis Aguilar and Antonio Aguilar; "cinematic villains" like Carlos López Moctezuma, Miguel Inclan, Rodolfo Acosta or the siblings Tito and Victor Junco and other famous comedians like Resortes and Antonio Espino "Clavillazo".
Some other Mexican figures achieved recognition for foreign level. Katy Jurado became an important actress in the Hollywood film industry, achieving an Academy Award nomination, while Silvia Pinal managed recognition in the field of the "Art cinema", especially thanks to her collaborations with the film director Luis Buñuel.
In other genres, The Musical Cinema was represented largely by the so-called Rumberas film, a unique cinematic curiosity of Mexico, dedicated to the film exaltation of the figures called "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, had a very special niche and reached its heyday in the sixties. Films featuring the Mexican wrestler El Santo, are the most popular at the time. Other actors featured in the genre 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 for contributing 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 in this stage of Mexican Cinema, was Emilio Fernández. Emilio was the creator of a Mexican folk cinema that contributed to the cultural and artistic discovery that Mexico lived in the 1940s, possessing impeccable and unique aesthetics (achieved largely thanks to the help of his photographer bedside Gabriel Figueroa). The Emilio Fernández filmography, bequeathed a sum around 129 films, countless beautiful images, hundreds of evocations of a Mexico that was planned, customs and identity, defended at all costs.
Fernández was recognized repeatedly 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 visceral nature, but also to achieve the integration of 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 films, was the Spanish refugee, naturalized Mexican Luis Buñuel. The so-called "Father of the Cinematographic Surrealism", performed in Mexico most of his extensive filmography, contributing greatly to the rise of Mexican Cinema in the second period of the Golden Age in the 1950s. The film Los Olvidados (1950), achieved a huge impact in the world, to the point of being considered by the UNESCO, as a cultural heritage. One of his last films in Mexico was the Mexican and Spanish production Viridiana (1961). Viridiana was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival as 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 project in Spain until 1977. Buñuel won the National Science and Arts Prize of Mexico, awarded by the Government of Mexico in 1977.
Some foreign film directors also made collaborations with Mexican cinema, either in co-productions, or using his 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 penetrate the public. By 1956, the TV antennas were common in Mexican homes, and new media grew rapidly in the province. The first television pictures in black and white, appeared in a very small and oval screen, and were quite imperfect: they did not have the clarity and sharpness of the film image. However, not only in Mexico but throughout the world, the film makers immediately resented competition from new media. That competition decisively influenced the history of cinema, forcing the film industry to seek new ways both in art, as in the treatment of subjects and genres.
The technical innovations came from Hollywood. Wide screens, three-dimensional cinema, improving color and stereo sound, were some of the innovations introduced by the American cinema in the early 1950s. The high cost of this technology made it difficult in Mexico are eventually produce films with these features, at least for some years.
The April 15, 1957 the whole country trembled at the news of the death of Pedro Infante. With it, symbolically, also died the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
The world was changing and film was increasingly being 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 appeared Akira Kurosawa.
Mexican cinema, meanwhile, had stalled by bureaucratic and union trouble. Production is concentrated in few hands, and the ability to see new filmmakers to emerge was almost impossible due to the difficulties imposed by section 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 to the best of the national cinema. The Ariel was instituted in 1946, and emphasized the cancellation state of crisis in the industry.