María Felix plays Angela whom everyone in the film calls Doña Diablo/ Lady Lucifer. But if The Devil is a Woman (another title by which this film is known, though clearly not the Von Sternberg), men have made her so. Before she earned her title, Angela was a nice well-brought up girl from the provinces. She married a well-to-do professional who brought her to the capital and thus started her corruption. She goes places and sees people she otherwise wouldn’t except that it advances her husband’s career. But when she draws the line at a kiss to maintain her honour and that of her husband’s she finds that in fact her husband wants her to do what’s necessary to advance hir career, and moreover, her father, who’d been experiencing terrible difficulties, has basically pimped her out to her husband just as her husband wants to do now with other, more influential men.
That revelation changes Angela and turns her into Lady Lucifer. Henceforth, she’s going to go after men for their money and leave them as soon as she’s ruined them to the last penny. But first she’s got to go on a year-round trip around the world, to have the daughter she’ll love above all things, the only good thing to have come out of that worthless man she once loved.
Doña Diablo is ostensibly based on a Spanish play by Luis Fernández Ardavín, a hit for Maria Guerrero on the Madrid stage. But the story was changed. It’s still about a woman from high society leading a double life. But the original play was more like Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, France, 1967) about a woman from high society’s involvement in prostitution. Here instead the business is the ruination of men, a fashion house is the front, María Felix’s beauty is the bait, and blackmail is the business, at least once she sets out to become respectable halfway through the film.
Davison’s film is a maternal melodrama clearly inspired by Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, USA, 1945). We see a shooting in shadows, the murderess walks around in gorgeous fur coat at night before finding refuge in a church; her whole story is then told as a confession to a priest allowing for flashback; and at the end our first impression of what happened is altered.
It’s far from a great film. But it is an archetypal woman’s film. The film begins and ends with a quotation from Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (the subject of Maria Luisa Bemberg’s Yo, la peor de todas (Argentina, 1990):’Stupid men who accuse women without reason…and without realising that you are the cause of that which you accuse’. The flashback structure allows for an explanatory framework and a religious alibi for all the evil that will give so much joy; and the film can combine its relish in Doña Diabla’s ruthless exploitation of men with its ode to an all-consuming mother love.
Like in Mildred Pierce, there’s a gigolo who comes between mother and daughter. But not for long. Doña Diablo is not very good but hugely enjoyable and a good demonstration of why María Felix was *the* great star of the Spanish speaking world in the 1940s and 1950s, Dolores del Rio being her competition only in Mexico.
Felix’s performance in Doña Diablo is considered by many ((García Riera, Helen R. Olmo) to be amongst her greatest and won her her third Ariel award from the Mexican Academy of Cinematographi Arts and Sciences.