Part of celebrating and learning as much as we can about Latinx history and culture involves learning about Latinx achievements and accomplishments in pop culture. About the actors and actresses who made their mark, despite having to be trailblazers in an industry that wanted to keep them limited to certain roles, or none at all. The Salma Hayeks, Zoe Saldanas, and America Ferreras of today wouldn’t exist without the Rita Morenos, Katy Jurados, and Beatriz Michelenas of Old Hollywood.
In order to encourage all Latinxs to appreciate Latinx excellence of yesteryear, and to fill us up on all our pop culture, we are sharing 15 Old Hollywood films that star Latinx actors. Many of these you can stream online, or find on DVD. Some of these films go back to the silent film era, while others are as recent as the 1950s. They are part of our legacy, our achievements and accomplishments, and a major source of orgullo Latino. Here’s to a weekend or two of binge-watching these classic films!
Cyrano de Bergerac
The title role in the 1950 film Cyrano de Bergerac created an iconic moment in Latinx and film history. Its star, Jose Ferrer, won the Academy Award for Best Actor, making him the first Hispanic, and specifically Puerto Rican, to receive the honor. Cyrano de Bergerac is about a soldier and poet who is madly in love, but too ashamed of his large nose to confess his feelings to Roxanne, the object of his affection.
Flying Down to Rio
The 1933 classic Flying Down to Rio is one of Mexicana Dolores del Rio’s biggest films. She was one of the first and biggest Latinx faces on the silver screen and stars in this musical rom-com movie, with an aviation theme, alongside Gene Raymond, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers. Del Rio was given top billing in Flying Down to Rio and became the first big actress to appear in a two-piece bathing suit in a film.
Mexicano Anthony Quinn is another actor who was such a talent and source of Orgullo for so many Latinxs. There are so many classic films of his that you should watch, including Zorba the Greek, Lust for Life, and Viva Zapata! The last two of these films won Quinn Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (he was nominated for Best Actor for Zorba the Greek). Although Viva Zapata! had Marlon Brando, a non-Mexican/Latinx in the title role, Anthony Quinn played his brother Eufemio Zapata, and Mexican actress Margo played Soldadera.
Of course, we all know about the classic film, West Side Story, the movie that gave Rita Moreno her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, making her the first Latina and Hispanic to achieve the honor. But have you seen The Ring? The 1954 film stars Moreno and Mexican actor Lalo Rios and has a plot that would still work today (remake, anyone?) A Chicano boxer, Tommy decides to take up boxing in order to be accepted by the white people he is surrounded by. Moreno’s character plays Tommy’s girlfriend, Lucy.
Around the World in 80 Days
Cantinflas is a Mexican and Latinx icon, and one of the most celebrated comedians in history. While he has numerous great Mexican films that demonstrate his comedic genius, we have to mention the film Around the World in 80 Days. The 1956 adventure comedy won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and starred Cantinflas (born Mario Moreno), in the lead role of Passepartout.
Before she passed away at the young age of 39, Dominicana Maria Montez made her mark in Hollywood. In fact, she was called The Queen of Technicolor and appeared in several films including Arabian Nights, The Mystery of Marie Roget, Cobra Woman, and Siren of Atlantis. The 1942 film Arabian Nights stars Montez as Sherazade, a dancer in a wandering circus who becomes queen.
We wanted to highlight Latinx actors and if they were in films with Latinx themes, let you know about those particular movies as well. Mexican actress Lupe Velez was another face of Latinxs in Old Hollywood, known as The Mexican Spitfire. One of the films she appeared in that we think you should watch is the silent film The Gaucho (1927). Although it has Douglas Fairbanks playing the Argentinian gaucho, Velez held it down for the Latinxs in the film, in her role of The Mountain Girl.
Down Argentine Way
Carmen Miranda was The Brazilian Bombshell, the highest paid woman in the United States in 1945 and the actress who inspired others to live colorfully, boldly, and happily, in sky-high platforms and a ton of accessories. While you should also watch films like The Gang’s All Here, That Night in Rio, and Greenwich Village, we wanted to point out Carmen’s first Hollywood movie, Down Argentine Way. Although it has been criticized for not really including any Argentinian culture, it’s worth watching, if solely for Miranda.
Katy Jurado is another Latinx actress who was a big star, both in Hollywood, and during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. The Mexicana was the first Latinx and Hispanic woman to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Broken Lance), and the first to win a Golden Globe (for High Noon). The 1952 Western High Noon stars Jurado as Helen Ramirez, a role Katy learned English for.
At the very beginning of Hollywood, Latinxs were there. Myrtle Gonzalez, of Mexican descent, was one of those Latinas. Making her mark before both Dolores del Rio and Lupe Velez, Gonzalez is regarded as Hollywood’s first Latina and Hispanic actress. Between 1913 and 1917, she starred in at least 78 silent films, including The Kiss. You can actually still watch the 1914 drama online.
Beatriz Michelena, whose father was born in Venezuela, was another Latinx actress who was starring in films during Hollywood’s silent film era. She was also a singer in musical theatre, wrote newspaper articles, co-founded her own production company with her husband, and produced four of her own films. Her 1914 film, Salomy Jane, was re-released in 2008 and can be watched online here.
Mexicano Ramon Novarro was one of the “Latin lovers” of Old Hollywood, and we have already talked about how Lupe Velez was one of the major Latinx stars of the golden era of film. So we were happy to discover that the two actors starred in the same film in 1934. Laughing Boy is a tragic love story between a Navajo man and woman (Laughing Boy and Slim Girl), based on the novel by Oliver La Farge.
What Price Glory
Another Dolores del Rio film you should check out is What Price Glory. The 1926 film stars Dolores, along with Victor McLagen, Edmund Lowe, and Phyllis Haver, and is a silent comedy-drama war film. We are almost positive none of us have seen such a movie!
We Were Strangers
Gilbert Roland was another Mexican actor who played “Latin lover” roles in Old Hollywood, but he was fortunate to have a career spanning seven decades (1920s-1980s) that included a variety of parts. Pedro Armendariz was a star in both Hollywood and Mexico, and also had roles in films in Italy, France, and the U.K. So, it’s a big deal that there is a film starring the two actors together. This film is the 1949 adventure-drama set in Cuba, entitled We Were Strangers.
The final film we are looking at that stars a Latinx actor is the 1954 Western Broken Lance. It stars Katy Jurado, as well as Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, and Richard Widmark. Jurado plays Señora Deveraux, a role that would nab her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Fun fact: Did you know that the part of Señora Deveraux was originally intended for Dolores del Rio? She wasn’t allowed into the U.S. after she was suspected of being a communist sympathizer and the part then went to Katy Jurado.