Tag Archives: La noche avanza

In Conversation with Dolores Tierney on the films of Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón


Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón are two of the great directors of Mexican Cinema´s Golden Age. Dolores Tierney is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Film at Sussex University and an internationally renown film scholar who has written an important book on the work of Fernández, Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins, and who has also written extensively on Gaváldon.

If Fernández´films are already well known, Gavaldón´s work is having an incredible and long over-due revival this year, with retrospectives  in New York´s Lincoln Centre and the San Sebastian Film Festival, His work also featured heavily in the Salon Mexico: The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema retrospective at the BFI earlier in the year and  the Cine Doré in Madrid, whose programme names him ´The King of Mexican Melodrama´, is currently showing a range of his films.

As Dolores writes in Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins (Manchester University Press, 2007):

For seven years, from 1943 until 1950, Emilio Fernández (1904-1986) was regarded as one of the foremost puveyors of Mexicanness,’ as one of the most important filmmakers of the Mexican film industry…, and as one of the most famous filmmakers in the Western world. His distinctive, ‘authentically Mexican´ visual style — developed over an extensive collaboration with photographer Gabriel Figueroa of thirteen years and twenty-two films — was praised for bringing international attention and prestige to the Mexican film industry…At the height of his career in the 1940s he was loved by audiences and critics alike, not only for bringing international attention and artistic glory to the Mexican motion-picture industry but also for defining a school of Mexican films. Indeed, he underscored and in some ways initiated this approach to his work by repeated claiming ´!El cine mexicano so yo¡/ I am Mexican cinema´


In his introduction to La fatalidad urbana: El cine de Roberto Gavaldón (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2007), Fernando Mino Gracia writes:

What would Mexican cinema be without the the sure look — distant, reflexive — of Roberto Gavaldón. We would have lost no less that the most rounded, audacious and finished oeuvre, one that explains a fundamental period of Twentieth Century Mexican cinema, that which covers the period of the end of the Second World War to the start of the 70s. Because Gavaldón is the the filmmaker who best diagnosed, over the entirety of his work, the pulse of a society in the process of consolidation. Nothing was the same by the end of the 1950s and Gavaldón was a privileged witness and chronicler. A mirror which re-works with complex subtlety the inequality of that society and which today, for better and worse, gives us sustenance (p. 19, trans my own).


The podcast below is a wide-ranging discussion on the films and careers of Fernández and Gavaldón with the hope of drawing attention to these immense works of world cinema and also to Dolores Tierney´s invaluable writing on both of these directors.

In the podcast, Dolores and I discuss the work of each director, their collaborations with leading stars such as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores Del Rio, María Felix, Arturo de Cordova; Melodrama, Mexican Nationalism and its discourses, how the films, be they noirs or melodramas or even rural sagas, fit into a post-revolution political project whilst also being dialogue transnationally with classical Hollywood cinema.

My hope for the podcast is that Dolores´enthusiasm will lead you to the films and that my own will lead you to Dolores´invaluable work on them.


Those of you wishing to pursue further links might enjoy this video essay by Dolores Tierney and Catherine Grant on the ´cabaretera´films of the period.


I have also written on several Gavaldón films and you can pursue links here:

La Diosa arrodillada/ The Kneeling Goddess (1947)

La Noche avanza/ Night Falls (1952)

Camelia (1953)

La Escondida (1956)

Macario (1960)

…and on a couple of Fernández films:

Las Islas Marias (1951)

…and you can see the incredible clip from Fernández´Victimas del pecado (1951) here:

José Arroyo


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