Humor and tango in the Argentine movies
he talking technology, the pleiad of ductile artists and singers, the work of scriptwriters inspired by the daily events —at a time of prosperity in our country—, and tango —then fashionable music—, made possible for the national movies the description of situations and characters of Buenos Aires, regarded as a village with traditional customs, which were quite rich according to the anthropological point of view.
The portrayal of those traditional beings mixed with immigrants coming from faraway countries; the idea that our art may be shown to the world; and the influence of sainetes and our popular music, fermented in a masterful cocktail that filled with tasty contents our movies and gave birth to an important industry.
In that mixture humor was present. On occasions like a caricature, at other times because of absurdly comic or strange situations. But most times like a display of the most innocent humor.
In the 30s and 40s there were a large number of movies with tango music. The radio used to let us know voices, magazines allowed us to see faces and movies were the suitable media for us to watch the admired figures playing and singing.
The plots were very simple and, on the established pattern, just a few elements were changed. The main character was accompanied by the leading man or young lady that would play the parts of a love affair always with a happing ending. Among the remaining cast a boy friend of the leading actor or a girl friend of the lady were highlighted in puzzling situations with funny speeches. And, of course, the songs sung by some of the protagonists, the boy or the girl, or many times by both, featuring consecrated musicians.
There were actors specialized in comic roles. Laughs were unavoidable if in the cast were starred Sofía Bozán, her cousin Olinda, María Esther Gamas, Tito Lusiardo, Enrique Serrano, Severo Fernández or Francisco Álvarez. Niní Marshall and Luis Sandrini also played those parts until they became central figures in the movies.
In the first movie with optical sound, Tango, there is room for humor. Even though it is a parade of singers and orchestras with a minimum plot as framework, we find the primitive presence of Luis Sandrini with humorous speeches and even a short song. It was premiered on April 27, 1933 at the Cine Real, directed by Luis Moglia Barth for Argentina Sono Film, with script by Carlos de la Púa. Among others are starred Tita Merello, Azucena Maizani, Mercedes Simone, Libertad Lamarque, Alicia Vignoli, Alberto Gómez, Juan de Dios Filiberto, Osvaldo Fresedo, Edgardo Donato and Pedro Maffia.
A few days later, on May 19, was premiered Los tres berretines starring Luis Sandrini and Aníbal Troilo, for the first time in a movie. It is a splendid portrayal that describes characters of the Buenos Aires bohemian life of that time with naive humor.
Noches de Buenos Aires, premiered at the Cine Monumental on March 27, 1935. Direction: Manuel Romero. Script: Romero and Luis Bayón Herrera. Lumiton Films. Starring Fernando Ochoa, Tita Merello, Irma Córdoba, Severo Fernández and Enrique Serrano. The latter two played the comic parts. When the friends are reunited in a room, Tita reproachs Serrano for being mean with his gifts for her especially if he wants to court her. Then she sang “Cogote” , written by the scriptwriters, to embarrass the addressee.
Radio Bar, premiered on September 10, 1936. Script and direction: Manuel Romero. Music: Alberto Soifer. Another musical parade, this time with Alberto Vila, Juan Carlos Thorry, Gloria Guzmán, Alicia Barrié, the Desmond Sisters (Lidia Desmond y Violeta Desmond) and, among others, Marcos Caplán and Olinda Bozán who, besides their comic parts, perform a song as a laughable duo.
Un bebé de contrabando, premiered on August 14, 1940. Direction: Eduardo Morera. Script: Florencio Chiarello. Comic movie for Luis Sandrini with an innocent police story. Paloma Efron aka Blackie who later would be an important journalist and producer sings an spiritual; Pepe Peña —later a famous sports journalist and father of the monologue speaker Fernando Peña—, plays a piano solo and, finally appears one of the most prolific refrain singers, Carlos Viván.
Yo quiero ser bataclana, premiered in April 30, 1941 by Lumiton films. It was the best choreography in our movies of that time and a romantic musical plot in a Hollywood style. The actor and refrain singer, Juan Carlos Thorry, is doubting whether to choose Sabina Olmos or Alicia Barrié while they dance and sing. Meanwhile Niní Marshall makes the things difficult for the leading player by interrupting the love scenes with her absurdities. This motion picture also showcases Niní in her mimicry of dancing and singing. With the background of the Juan D'Arienzo Orchestra she graciously distorts the tango “El vino triste”. In the film two waltzes with words by Rodolfo Sciammarella and music by D'Arienzo are spotlighted: “Dime mi amor” and “Tres recuerdos”.
Rodríguez supernumerario, premiered on May 26, 1948. Directed by Enrique Cahen Salaberry. Story by Ivo Pelay. With Pepe Arias, Golde Flami, Floren Delbene and others. In a scene Pepe Arias appears on a theater stage and Sofía Bozán enters replying something to the audience and sings “Yo soy la Negra Bozán”. Then Pepe Arias, who is seated among the audience and is seen from behind makes a comment. So an spectator nearby but who is the same actor impersonating someone among the audience sarcastically answers him.
Al compás de tu mentira, premiered on March 22, 1950. For the Cosmos label. Direction: Héctor Canzani. Book: Abel Santa Cruz. With Pedro Quartucci, Francisco Álvarez, Delfy de Ortega, Lalo Maura and Héctor Gagliardi. Even though it is not a humorous plot it is carried out as a slightly romantic comedy with touches of “vaudeville” and tango. Jorge Casal sings the title tune with the accompaniment of the Domingo Federico’s orchestra. Gagliardi recites “Calle Corrientes” and later Osmar Maderna in a scene shot on Radio El Mundo plays, teaming up with Alfredo De Angelis first, and later “Lluvia de estrellas” as a solo.
Buenos Aires a la vista, premiered on September 23, 1950. Book: Carlos A. Petit. Music: Rodolfo Sciammarella. It is a typical comedy with a happing ending. Agustín Irusta is the leading man, with Blanquita Amaro, Dringue Farías, Castrito and Adolfo Stray. The music is by Alberto Soifer and Bernardo Stalmann.
Mercado de Abasto, written by Lucas Demare with music by Lucio Demare. Premiered at the Gran Rex cinema theater on February 3, 1955. Script by Sixto Pondal Ríos and Carlos Olivari. Cast: Tita Merello, Pepe Arias, Juan José Míguez, Pepita Muñoz. Tita sings “Se dice de mí” in a picaresque way with spicy connotations.
Lastly we have three of the many in which Alberto Castillo was starred. His look as a neighborhood boy with a noble heart and expectations, accompanied by his friends, was a promise of funny situations.
El tango vuelve a París, premiered on January 16, 1948. Script and direction: Manuel Romero. Soundtrack by Rodolfo Sciammarella. Besides the singer are starred: Liliana Valmar, Fernando Lamas, the strange Mexican female singer Elvira Ríos and Severo Fernández. Furthermore there is a guest artist featured: Aníbal Troilo —appearing as one more character—, and with his orchestra he backs the vocalist on a small stage in a night club. Castillo sings “Griseta”, “Muñeca brava”, “Ninguna”, “Tiempos viejos”, “La canción de Buenos Aires”.
Un tropezón cualquiera da en la vida, directed by Manuel Romero. Premiered on January 20, 1949 with Virginia Luque, Francisco Álvarez, Fidel Pintos and Domingo Federico with his orchestra. Besides the jolly parts, Castillo sings “Chorra”, a comic tango that tells us a tragic story in an ironic way.
La barra de la esquina, premiered on July 4, 1950. Released by Estudios San Miguel. Directed by Julio Saraceni. Script based on the theater play with the same name by Carlos Goicochea and Rogelio Cordone. Starring Alberto Castillo, María Concepción César, José Marrone and others. The latter who later would become a comic star played the role of a classic drifter, lazy, always tired, who never worked nor cared about anything. He repeated in different scenes: «What do you want?. You work!, you get tired!. What do you get?».
We conclude, after seeing these movies, that they were, in most cases, simple comedies very well built in which music and musicians were the main reason. They reached an important success in box offices, either in our country or in the Latin American market.
When we see them again, after so many years, we are surrounded by the nostalgia and the memories of the happy days when tango was the master of people in Buenos Aires and we pretended to be leading men.