La Noche avanza/ Night Falls (Roberto Gavaldón, Mexico, 1952)

la noche avanza poster

A great Mexican noir from director Roberto Gavaldón. Pedro Armendáriz, earlier in his career the pretty and poetic peasant of Emilio Fernández’ Flor Silvestre (1943) and  María Candelaria (1944)the enraptured revolutionary of Enamorada (1946), so often the embodiment of the best of Mexican masculinity, here represents the worst. His Marcos Arizmendi, jai alai champ and national celebrity, is arrogant, selfish, conceited, eager to raise his fists and happy to give a good kicking to any old stray dog that gets in his way: ‘A man who doesn’t triumph doesn’t deserve to live,’ he says.

He’s got three women on the go: Lucrecia (Eva Martino) is his main squeeze, and as the song she sings in the nightclub tells us (see below), she’s so crazy for him, she accepts his cheating on her with other women because, as he tells her, having a fifth of a first rate man is worth than getting the whole of a fifth rate one. He’s also reconnecting with a former flame, Sara (Anita Blanch). He squeezed her out all her personal fortune years go in Manila. But now her husband’s dead, and as soon as she tells him she’s inherited, his interest in reviving their old affair increases exponentially. He’s also been screwing around with Rebeca (Rebeca Villareal), a timid, underage, girl from a respectable family who he’s gotten pregnant.

 

It’s how Marcos attempts to run away from his responsibilities towards Rebeca that seals his doom. Marcos is already familiar with betting. Gavaldón depicts that world, not unlike the American boxing films of the period, as one intimately connected with the underworld. But so far, Marcos’ movements through the night have been in nightclubs, hotels, bars, places for drinking, smokin, sex; he’s been around criminality but not connected to it. His trying to trick his pregnant and underage girlfriend out of marriage changes everything. A gangster uses the threat of making this public to blackmail him into throwing the game. Rebeca’s brother double-crosses both by telling him he doesn’t need to, thus setting the gangsters on his trail, plunging him further into a world of fedoras, guns, moonlight reflections on dark canals were bodies get thrown.

Gavaldón and cinematographer Jack Draper film all of this beautifully. We often see people through bars, nets, even the nightclub seems encased in a spider’s web (see below). The film’s locations are archetypally noir, nightclubs, betting in arenas, hotels (see below, second row); and so is the imagery (see third and fourth row).

La noche avanza is all hatred, jealousy, cheating, double crossings, uncontrolled passions. It’s all darkness and pessimism leavened only by black humour. What’s interesting about this film is that Arméndariz is the homme fatale and that he hasn’t committed any actual crime. His failings are all moral ones. Women are crazy about him. But it’s his own love for himself that will seal his doom; and Armendáriz’s depiction of a toxic masculinity unleashed with glee is a delight. When the dog he kicked at the beginning gets his revenge at the end, the comeuppance is rendered even more enjoyable by the cynic’s snook through which it’s represented.

The script is credited to Luis Spota. But José Revueltas, for many years a communist revolutionary and political activist, worked on the adaptation, which might account for the film’s unusual critique of the middle and upper classes in the film and of those who, like Marcos, attempt to move through their ranks.

The film also offers an opportunity to see Mexico City as it was at night in the 1950, an urban view, a rare one, of Mexico’s capital, and the sight of many landmarks will bring pleasure to those who know the city.

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 10.06.31.png
The entrance to Mexico’s Central Airport as it was in 1950.

José Arroyo

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