- A Puerto Rican Cinema Produced by a Foreign LensFemale Roles in Maruja and El otro camino
In the 1950s and 1960s, Puerto Rican commercial cinema focused on transitioning from providing a low-cost location for foreign film industries to developing locally produced movies that could be globally marketed. Mostly co-productions with other Spanish-speaking countries, these films often became popular, both at a local and multinational level. Foreign financing contributed to the efforts to integrate the Puerto Rican film industry into the global market of the time. Between 1958 and 1963 there were more than a dozen films produced on the island—a national peak—most of them funded by Columbia Pictures (USA) or co-produced with other Spanish-speaking countries.1 But external funding meant films had to appeal to broader markets in order to turn in a profit. This was often achieved by the use of known actors, sexy women, and famous singers.
Simultaneously, as John King explains, “in an attempt to compete with the Italian divas and the Hollywood stars, [Latin American] film-makers turned to deliberately national and nationalist themes. . . . for example, cinema drew on [national] literary best-sellers,”2 and movie soundtracks became “nationalized.” Mexican cinema popularized ranchera songs and Argentina brought about tango. While the narrative portrayed by images could easily be understood as “universal,” national specificity portrayed through tools such as music and iconic scenarios made each film unique. The coexistence of both universal and localized traits in Puerto Rican films of the 1950s and 1960s make cinema a perfect ground to study the boundaries between the local and the foreign in such a globalized context. [End Page 130]
Here, I will focus on the looks and behaviors of the actresses intended to represent Puerto Rican women. I will exemplify the tensions surrounding notions of femininity in the 1950s and 1960s on the island through the discussion of two internationally known Puerto Rican films: Maruja (1959) and El otro camino (1959), both directed by Argentinean Óscar Orzabal Quintana and scripted by a group of foreigners, but set entirely on the island and with an almost exclusively local cast.3 What was the image of Puerto Rican women being presented to the global market? And more importantly, how did Orzabal’s “foreign lens” influence the films’ portrayals of Puerto Rican women? What were the predominant (social, national) ideologies in these films? In addressing these questions, I analyze the racial implications established through the characters in these films, proposing that mulatto women function as a metaphor for the nation and establish a national, “female” economy. I explain how the (symbolic and literal) female transit through the scenarios in each movie transform these territories—the small town, the countryside—into microcosms organized through and ruled by femininity.
Both Maruja and El otro camino (The Other Road) were produced by Probo Films, the first independently owned film company on the island. But while El otro camino received limited local funds, Maruja was financed and distributed by Columbia Pictures. Known actress Marta Romero, who had gained popularity in Puerto Rican TV and theater, played the title role in Maruja. Together with Romero’s beauty and voice, a theme song by famous singer and composer Bobby Capó4 and the special appearance of the percussion orchestra El Combo de Cortijo guaranteed—to an extent—the film’s popularity. At the time of Maruja’s release, a movie’s soundtrack was often used for marketing purposes and as a means to “nationalize” films, but it also served as a tool to guide the plot. Accordingly, one must pay close attention to Bobby Capó’s opening song for Maruja, a recurring refrain throughout the film:
To the blue sky, and to the green sea,Maruja, Maruja, went to flirt. Maruja, Maruja, went to flirt.Up goes the tide, and down again.Maruja, Maruja, went to flirt. Maruja, Maruja, went to flirt.Maruja is getting married. Lorenzo loves her well.Maruja’s been unfaithful. Why, I can’t tell.Maruja has sinned. Maruja has sinned.God in heaven will forgive you, Maruja, Maruja, your fickleness.5
Al azul del cielo y al...