Born María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete at the turn of the century (that’d be the twentieth century), Mexican actress Dolores del Río was one of the very first silver screen icons. Having started in silent film — often dubbed the female Rudolph Valentino — she seamlessly made the move to the talkies and later still returned to her home country where she worked in Golden Age Mexican classics. Remembered as one of the most beautiful faces to ever grace the silver screen, she worked for over five decades. She made her screen debut in 1925’s Joanna while her final screen credit was 1978’s The Children of Sanchez, where she starred opposite Anthony Quinn and Lupita Ferrer. Crossing over from the U.S. to Mexico (and at point being denied entry back to America due to her apparent sympathies with communists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera), del Río remains a fascinating figure of Mexican and American cinema.
In her lifetime, she worked with the likes of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Elvis Presley, Orson Welles, Henry Fonda, and Pedro Armendáriz. With such a varied career, there are endless films we could point you to if you wanted to have a del Río primer. And to boil our choices down to merely 5 performances was no easy feat, particularly when we wanted to make sure you could screen these from the comfort of your own home. (Yes, this is a PSA to make sure we can soon get films like Maria Candelaria (1944) and Journey Into Fear (1943) on streaming sites across the web!). And so, find below five representative roles that give you a sense of why del Río was the first crossover Latin American actress in Hollywood.
The Trail of ’98
A black and white silent film — prepare to read some inter-titles! — this action adventure flick chronicles the famed Alaskan gold rush of the turn of the century. When a ship from Alaska arrives at the San Francisco harbor with plenty of men boasting about their golden finds up North, it encourages men and women alike to begin their trek up to the Klondike in search of fortune. Based on the 1910 Robert W. Service novel by the same title, The Trail of ’98 features, among others, Dolores del Río, Ralph Forbes and Karl Dane.
Flying Down to Rio
Best remembered now as the first on-screen pairing of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire, Flying Down to Rio actually gave top-billing to Dolores del Río. As Belinha, the Mexican actress played the foreign beauty who dazzles Astaire’s Fred. A bandleader in Miami, Fred eventually follows the woman he becomes infatuated with all the way to Rio where he’s set up an engagement for him and his band (which includes Rodgers’ Honey). In between musical numbers — which include the Oscar-nominated “Carioca” as well as one classic Astaire tap-dance— this black and white studio film is a paean to the talent of its lead trio.
Available to stream on Pantaya
Raymunda (Dolores del Rio) is a widow about to be married to Esteban (Pedro Armendáriz). At first, her daughter Acacia (Columba Domínguez) rejects her new stepfather, thinking all he was after was their family money. But as the years go by, her rejection turns to the kind of illicit love that melodrama films are made of!
La casa chica
This black and white Mexican melodrama follows the doomed love affair between Fernando (Roberto Cañedo), an eminent doctor, and Amalia (Dolores del Rio), his colleague. Despite the obvious bond and chemistry between them, there is one obstacle that seems insurmountable: Fernando is engaged to be married to Lucila (Miroslava), a woman intent on staying with him at all costs. Framed as the memories of an elder Amalia, La casa chica (The Love Nest) takes its title from the way these two lovebirds manage to keep their love alive over the decades — by keeping it safe in the small apartment they end up sharing.
One of director John Ford’s most abstract and self-consciously ‘artsy’ films, The Fugitive follows the travails of a Catholic priest desperately avoiding execution in an unnamed Latin American country where religion is outlawed. While considered a difficult film for fans of Ford’s more straightforward work, it was one of the director’s personal favorites and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa contributed immensely to the film’s powerful visual style.