THE WOMAN OF THE PORT (MEXICO / 1934)
Hollywood's dominance of international film markets, especially those south of the border, didn't begin with the blockbuster phenomenon of Jaws (1975). As early as 1920s, distributors in Mexico and a few other Latin American countries were being lured in to promote American cinema instead of the largely mediocre products produced by their own flailing movie industries. However, things started to change at the dawn of the new decade when sound films became prominent at the domestic level (partly thinks to the Spanish-language industry of Hollywood -- see, it wasn't all bad). In Mexico, while the emphasis early on was to seduce the audience at large, and understandably so, filmmakers such as Fernando de Fuentes, Juan Bustillo Oro, Gabriel Soria, and Russian-born Arcady Boytler (1893-1965) implemented a more artistic approach for their processes.
A one-time associate of Sergei Eisenstein (¡Que viva Mexico! ), Boytler came to the country after brief stops in Germany, Chile and the U.S., where he directed a few shorts for the Mexican film industry. He achieved his first major success with The Woman of the Port (La mujer del puerto), a tragic melodrama which practically introduced the talents of Andrea Palma to the cinematic world. She plays Rosario, a Córdoba-based young woman who loses her poor and sickly father and her fickle beau within a matter of minutes, and is forced to fend for herself once she refuses the advances of her father's much-older employer. Boytler, to his credit, chooses not to wallow in her misery. Instead, he promptly cuts to a handful of jovial, seasick sailors aboard a ship about to arrive at a port in Veracruz (the montage, which culminates with the ship's arrival at the harbor, is a true highlight), where we eventually rediscover Rosario who'd been working the docks.
Based on short stories by Tolstoy and Maupassant (a hint of Shakespeare can also be found when considering Rosario's gossipy neighborhood witches), the film is regarded as one of the first to show traces of the brothel-cabaretera genre. The atmospherically noirish bar-cum-brothel, where the second-half largely unfolds, is strikingly captured by ace Canadian-born DP Alex Phillips, whose expressive work here is clearly indebted to German Expressionism (not to mention French Poetic Realism). Officially remade in Mexico on at least two occasions (in 1949 by Emilio Gómez Muriel and in 1991 by the great Arturo Ripstein), this stylistically and thematically audacious effort, which Boytler directed with technical assistance from American-trained Raphael J. Sevilla, served as a potent early avatar of the "fallen women" films that became the norm during the Golden Age and beyond.