It’s no exaggeration to call Pedro Infante the idol of Mexico. But if you’re not ready to concede that fact, we can always use his other nickname: “El Inmortal.” His life was one of the ultimate rags-to-riches stories: Born in humble Sinaloa, Infante became one of Mexico’s greatest actors. As one of los tres gallos mexicanos (a trio that included on-screen rival Jorge Negrete), he was dubbed king of rancheras, though he was always more of a crooner than a crower. Infante’s dulcet tones and undeniable charisma earned him comparisons to such American contemporaries as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and even Humphrey Bogart. But he never forgot his roots, and the majority of his work examined class differences.
At the time of his death in a plane crash on April 15, 1957, Infante had starred in over 60 movies and recorded more than 300 songs. November 18, 2014 would have been his 97th birthday. So let us celebrate with this definitive list of Pedro Infante movies (you’ll offend my dad, his No. 1 fan if you disagree), which are all available online, a fact that would have suited Mexico’s working-class hero just fine.
Also, check out Hulu’s collection of Películas de la Época de Oro del Cine Mexicano (films from Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema) that you can stream for free!
Nosotros Los Pobres
This is the first installment in the Pepe el Toro trilogy, on which Pedro Infante collaborated with director Ismael Rodríguez. Infante plays Jose “Pepe” del Toro, a poor carpenter trying to raise his adopted daughter, Chachita (Evita Muñoz, Veracruz’s answer to Shirley Temple), while wooing La Chorreada (María Blanca Estela Pavón). There’s a Dickensian element, what with all the stiff upper lips in the face of poverty — and names like “La Tísica”, literally “The Tuberculous”. The film tempers its stark look at the class divide in Mexico with an uplifting score and boleros galore.
Ustedes Los Ricos
Nosotros los Pobres struck such a chord with audiences that it became one of Mexico’s highest-grossing films ever, inspiring two sequels (and a 1970s telenovela). Director Ismael Rodríguez ratchets up the melodrama in this first sequel: Pepe must fight to clear his good name when he’s accused of murder, while also fighting for Chachita (who’s revealed to be his niece) when a rich aunt tries to tempt her away. Social differences are once again central to the film, which depicts the poor as paragons of virtue while turning most of the rich characters into Snidely Whiplash.
A Toda Máquina
By the 1950s, Pedro Infante was a bona fide matinee idol with admirable range, playing everything from penitent priests to charming charros. Though he had established himself as a leading man, he was comfortable sharing the screen with other stars. A Toda Máquina, a kind of Mexican Odd Couple, was his first Martin-Lewis style collaboration with Luis Aguilar, who was also a well-known actor. As traffic cops, they battle it out for women and promotions through song and dance, as well as motorcycle tricks. The two actors shared a chemistry that hasn’t really been seen since.
Escuela de Vagabundos
Hollywood and Mexico experienced concurrent Golden Ages of Cinema, so it’s no surprise that the storyline for this 1954 film was borrowed from the 1938 American film, Merrily We Live. (I’d also argue that there are Marx Brothers undertones). But with Infante’s help, this adaptation became one of Mexico’s finest comedies ever. As Alberto Medina, he takes advantage of some upper-class guilt while playing a disadvantaged musician. Czech-born actress, Miroslava (no apellido needed), the love interest whose wide eyes saw the ruse for what it was, provided a sad footnote: she committed suicide just after the film opened.
Though it’s mostly a comedic romp, El Inocente manages to touch on the class issues that made up the Pepe el Toro trilogy. Infante returns to his working class origins as Cruci, a mechanic who falls in love Mané (Silvia Pinal), a woman from a different social stratum. They get a little too familiar a little too quickly one New Year’s Eve, and must get married to save her good name (though the two were too drunk to do, well, anything). Cruci must woo his wife under his in-laws’ noses, while maintaining pride in his humble background.
This was Pedro Infante’s final film, so there’s something poetic about the fact that it was also one of the last films of la Época de Oro. As Tizoc, an Indian from the Oaxacan mountains, he falls for La Doña herself, María Félix, who stars as María, a rich Creole woman from the city. Tizoc struggles with the townspeople’s prejudice while also literally fighting off competitors for María’s love. Infante reunited with frequent collaborator Ismael Rodríguez, and was posthumously awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 7th Berlin International Film Festival for his performance.