Roberto Gavaldón lets it all hang out
Curtis Allan | Seattle, WA | 10/27/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"La Noche Avanza (1952, Mexico) was director Roberto Gavaldon's follow up to his Golden Ariel-winning En La Palma De Tu Mano, and makes a perfect bookend compliment to that film. In fact, it's almost as if he read my criticisms on that and took them completely to heart in making this film. For where that film had a great performance let down by a somewhat formulaic ending, La Noche Avanza rides on a questionable performance from Pedro Armendariz through some quite interesting and uncharted territory as The Night Advances.
Gavaldon was best known for a certain form of imitation of American film noir, and here he takes on a sort of crooked athlete or heist/caper storyline that reminds one a little bit of the Alsphault Jungle or The Killing. But convention ends there. The story is set a couple miles uptown from his last film, almost completely around the Plaza de la Revolution, and more specifically in the Fronton Mexico, home of the little-known Basque game jai alai. It all transpires over the course of about 48 hours. Rather than present a typically imperfect film noir lead, however, Armendariz is cast against type as an arrogant and unlikable star athlete, Marcos, the Barry Bonds of jai alai. It's a delightfully refreshing and innovative idea, even if Armendariz might not have fully pulled it off. How many people in the 1950s made movies where the star was virtually the bad guy? And there was no one else to like either? It was a brilliant idea.
Gavaldon begins by presenting the vain and womanizing Marcos as he proceeds to mistreat his coworkers and the three women in his life at the moment. Once introductions are established, circumstances soon find Marcos being strong-armed into throwing a match (betting is apparently as much a part of jai alai as horse racing), and the twists and turns of that night advancing make up most the rest of the film. Gavaldon manages to insert a number of his trademark cosmopolitan touches (one hears phrases in Cantonese, Basque, and English) plus interesting Tarantino-esque dialogue between a white Basque pistolero and his chistoso Mexican-slanging moreno counterpart. The film is full of such subtle touches amidst an almost Chungking Express frivolity that came as a delightful surprise. The one criticism I might have was Armendariz' performance, as the first time I watched this I couldn't buy into him in this role. Perhaps I was just too used to seeing him in his Emilio Fernandez roles. But in any event as the movie moves forward that seemed to bother me less. And the end product more than makes up for any shortcoming in that regard.
Like all the other DVDs in this series, there are no subtitles at all and the video and audio are fine but nothing special. The only special feature is a three year filmography of Pedro Armendariz Hastings, the green eyed son of a Mexican father and American mother. The price is right so if you like this stuff like I do and can speak Spanish you should buy this. I hope to see Gavaldon's two other prominent films from this period make it to DVD as well: Rosauro Castro (1950) & El Rebozo de Soledad (1952).