Useful Books and Overall Good Reads

Below is a list of both useful reference books as well as some of my favorite novels in Spanish. I have focused on Mexican authors and have included novels that appeal to me personally rather than those that are generally studied in a graduate Spanish Literature class. One of the best ways to improve your Spanish is through reading. Initially, it is very difficult to read anything in a new language and progress is slow, at least at first. But the effort is well worth it and it does pay off to institute a reading program as part of learning a new language. Reading provides a low stress environment for learning new vocabulary.

I will start with the novels first. I will then provide a useful list of reference books that are excellent for those who are specifically interested in learning Mexican or Latin American Spanish.

Favorite Mexican Authors

Luis Spota

Paco Ignacio Taibo II

Rafael Bernal

Bruno Traven

Enrique Serna

Good Reference Books for those Interested in Mexican and Latin American Spanish

Favorite Spanish Language Movies

I must confess that I am an old movies buff. I particularly enjoy the old Spanish movies produced in Mexico roughly from 1940 to the early 1970's. Mexico experienced its Golden Age of Cinema in the middle of the last century and literally hundreds of top-notch films were produced during this time. One can find dramas, comedies, aventure, and romance films from this era. Some of the actors and actresses who characterized this era include: Joaquín Pardavé, Germán Valdés (Tin Tan), Fernando Soler, Andrés Soler, Gloria Marín, Pedro Armendaríz, and many others too numerous to name here. Mario Moreno (Cantinflas) also became famous during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Many of these films can be found and watched for free on youtube. There are a few of them that even have had English subtitles added. In addition, these movies can be seen on satellite and cable television if one subscribes to the Spanish language package on a channel called De Película. Below is a list of some of my favorite films from this era along with a brief plot summary. I will be adding to this list as time allows.

Cada loco con su tema

This comedy features Joaquín Pardavé, Enrique Herrera, and Gloria Marín. The protagonist, Don Cesar Napoleon, arrives home one evening, and upon hearing a violent scene being acted out on the radio that has been turned on by his secretary (who is listening to the program on the protagonist's couch), believes that he is being threatened by intruders. Don Cesar Napoleon rushes out the door in search of the police. Upon returning to his home in the company of the police, his secretary assures him that no one has been in his house nor threatened him. Don Cesar Napoleon believes he is suffering delusions, imagining scenes from the detective novels he writes and calls on a personal friend who is a psychiatrist for help. The psychiatrists suggests he take a few months of rest in the doctor's private hospital and explains that his method of curing people with mental illness is to surround them with the things with which they are obsessed. Thus, Don Cesar Napoleon assumes the identity of the fictional hero in his novels, Justiniano Conquian. He is confused with a real person who is also named Justiniano Conquian. The movie's plot is based on this mistaken identity leading to series of comical adventures and mishaps as the two men come into contact with one another and Don Cesar becomes embroiled in the real plot to steal Justiniano Conquian's inheritance. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. The title of the movie Cada loco con su tema is based on the book written by the fictional psychiatrist and forms the basis of the dicho or saying cada loco con su tema, which loosely translated means to each his own or each crazy person with his own world. Click here to watch the movie on youtube

El río y la muerte

This movie features Joaquín Cordero, a medical student who, upon returning to his native town to visit his mother, becomes entangled in a multi-generational family feud. He is pressured by his relatives to challenge a man to a duel, but the protagonist has other plans and works to end the age-old conflict between the two families, which has lead to the senseless deaths of most of the male members of both families. This drama is among my favorites. Click here to watch the movie on youtube

El rebozo de Soledad

This drama features Arturo de Córdova who plays the role of a medical doctor torn between his ambition to become a leading authority in his profession and working to help those in the rural areas of Mexico, who are largely without access to hospitals or licensed physicians. The rural priest, played by Domingo Soler, functions as a sort of physical manifestation of the doctor's conscience, and constantly reminds the doctor of the importance of his work in the local community. Along the way, the doctor falls in love and must renounce this relationship in order to maintain peace in the community and to protect the lives of the campesinos. This movie is enjoyable and provides insight into the struggle to provide medical services to the rural communities in Mexico in the 1950s. Click here to watch the movie on youtube

Los hijos de la calle

This drama focuses on the plight of the homeless children in the 1950s in Mexico City (if I remember correctly the movie is set in Mexico City). It also focuses on one man's struggle to overcome his addiction to drugs as he struggles with feelings of guilt stemming from an airplane accident, caused in part by a mistake he made as a mechanic in servicing the plane. This character is played by Ramón Soler. The movie's villian, who worked as an airplane mechanic and witnessed the accident, uses manipulation and drugs to control Soler's character, forcing him to strip stolen cars in exchange for drugs. This is a powerful drama that focuses on poverty, addiction, and homelessness. Also one of my favorites. Though the movie focuses on urban life in Mexico in the 1950s, the film touches upon many universal themes that are common to all cultures and societies.

El profe

This movie features Cantinflas. In the film, Mario Moreno (Cantinflas) plays the role of Socrates García, a school teacher, who is chosen to leave the city in order to become a school teacher in the small, remote village of El Romeral. Upon arriving, Socrates becomes aware that the local cacique or political boss has run off other school teachers in order to keep the children of the village ignorant so he can continue to exploit them and their parents whose lands he has illegally appropriated through fraud, playing upon the inability of the villagers to read and write. Socrates refuses to be intimidated by the Margarito Váquez, the local cacique - played by Victor Alcocer - and the two quickly become bitter enemies. Margarito uses has henchmen to beat Socrates up and convinces the owner of the building that houses the school to convert it into a cantina, forcing Socrates to conduct his classes outdoors. Margarito goes so far as ordering his henchmen to burn down the makeshift outdoor structure Socrates adopts as a classroom, constructed with only a roof but no walls, in order to force Socrates to give up in defeat, abandoning the children to their ignorance. At this point, however, Socrates begins to win the sympathy of the villagers and he ultimately exposes the crooked Margarito as an exploiter of the poor people in the town to the governor. Socrates also succeeds in convincing the governor to build a new school for the community, and the movie ends with Socrates teaching in the new school. Although the movie deals with many serious topics, it is full of the comical episodes that characterize all the films of Cantinflas. This is a film that is suitable for the entire family. Click here to watch the movie on youtube

Padre contra hijo

This movie features Manolo Fabregas. In this film a young law student Juan de Dios, played by Manolo Fabregas, lives with his mother in poverty, and the two struggle to make ends meet. Juan de Dios learns from a friend that his father is actually alive and very wealthy, residing in a small village, where he essentially runs the town as the local cacique. Juan de Dios decides to go in search of his father in order to force his father to ask his mother for forgiveness for abandoning them and to recognize both the mother and son and to bring them under his protection. The comedy of the film revolves around the battle of wills as the son forces his way into his father's house, and his father does everything in his power to make life hard for his son in order to convince him to go back to his mother. In the end, Juan de Dios wins and brings his mother to live with his father. This short comedy is one of my personal favorites and Julio Villarreal does a superb job in the role of the father of Juan de Dios. Click here to watch the movie on youtube

El Barchante Neguib

In this film, Joaquín Pardave plays the head of a Lebanese family living in Mexico. The film starts with Neguib and his family on a train, headed to Mexico City to visit their son, Alfredo. Upon arriving, the family suffers a great disappointment, when they realize that Alfredo has changed. They had planned to move in with their son, but he informs them that they cannot live with him, because his roommate (the villian of the film) would not approve and because, in Mexico City, everyone has to maintain the appearance of being rich and independent. Since Alfredo's other family members are essentially country folk, Aflredo is ashamed of them and the family is forced to move into a hotel. Neguib, the father goes into the clothing business and sets up a small stand which is stocked with clothing. In purchasing the clothing for his small shop, Neguib meets a girl, who has been taken advantage of by his son and is pregnant with Alfredo's child. Neguib, finding out that she is pregant, but not knowing that his son is the father, feels sorry for the girl because of her plight and befriends her, offering to be a second father to her. In the meantime, Alfredo continues to ignore requests from his parents to come to their hotel/apartment for dinner. His mother visits him, and when Alfredo's guests mistake her for a cook or servant, Alfredo refuses to acknowledge that she is his mother and tells her to come back and visit him when he is not busy entertaining guests. In the meantime, Neguib learns from Alfredo's servant, Paco, that Alfredo has been talked into cashing a false check at the bank by his roommate Alejandro. Neguib goes to the bank and pays the balance of the check in order to keep his son from going to jail. His father delivers the cancelled check to Alfredo, and he finally breaks down, realizing that he has treated his family poorly in order to pursue his selfish lifestyle and to maintain the false appearance that he is rich. The film ends with Alfredo marrying his girlfriend and asking his father and mother for forgiveness. They agree to allow Alfredo and his new wife to move in with them and he agrees to earn an honest living by helping his father mangage his small clothing shop. Click here to watch the movie

El hombre inquieto

This comedy stars German Valdés and Joaquín Pardavé. In the movie, Pardavé plays a rich Lebanese immigrant who lives in Mexico. At the start of the film, Pardavé is arguing with his wife about his daughter's desire to marry Roque, a man who is interested in marrying her only for her money. Pardavé or Mr. Rafful, tells Roque he can marry his daughter if Roque finds Rafful's long lost son, who supposedly died of a disease many years ago during an epidemic. Roque hires German Valdés or Tin Tan to pose as Rafful's son. The comedy of the film revolves around Rafful hiding his son's identity from his wife, because she did not know that he had a son or that he had been married before, while at the same time, Tin Tan is hiding his true identity from Rafful since he is actually an imposter. Eventually, the wife finds out that his fake son is his son and throws them both out. At that point, Tin Tan confesses that he was hired to trick Mr. Rafful and that 'hunger is a poor advisor.' In the end, Rafful and Tin Tan make peace and work together to prevent Rafful's daughter from marrying Roque. In the end, Rafful's daughter falls in love with Tin Tan, and, upon discovering that Tin Tan is not Rafful's son, they profess their love for each other. This film is very funny and one of my favorites.Click here to watch the movie on youtube

Pobres millonarios

This movie features the comic, Clavillazo or Antonio Espino. In the movie, Clavillazo works in a pharmacy. The pharmacy is owned by an elderly woman (played by Sara García), whose nephew is a greedy schemer who hopes to take over the pharmacy someday - along with his aunt's fortune after she dies - and hates the honest Clavillazo. In fact, the nephew tries to get Clavillazo fired, but the plan backfires when Clavillazo manages to heal the elderly lady of what appears to be a sprained ankle. Instead of firing him, she gives him a raise. As Clavillazo is working in the pharmacy, a poor lady comes into the store and tries to steal medicine for her father. The lady lives in a colonia (neighborhood) as a paracaidista (literally, a parachutist but used to mean a squatter or an illegal settler on land). At any rate, Clavillazo catches the thief and convinces her that if she returns the medicine to him, he will pay for it himself and deliver it to her father later. Clavillazo does visit the lady and becomes involved in the dispute between the illegal settlers and the property owner. Ultimately, Clavillazo gets the pharmacy owner involved, who in turn hires a lawyer to get an injunction preventing the settlers from being removed from the land, at least temporarily. The elderly lady/pharmacy owner decides to buy the land and give it to the settlers, which makes her nephew furious. The owner suffers a health condition and everyone thinks she has died. The nephew takes over the pharmacy, fires Clavillazo, and schemes with the land owner to get the settlers removed from the land where they settled and built houses. Only Clavillazo attends the vigil held for the pharmacy owner, where he discovers that she has not died, but rather suffered an attack. He tells her of her nephews plans and the two of them rush to save the settlers from being removed from their houses at the last minute. This is a comedy suitable for the entire family.

El solitario

This is a fictional account of Billy the Kid's life in Mexico. Billy is played by Mexican actor Rodolfo de Anda. The movie begins with Billy on the run crossing the border between Mexico and the United States. His horse is shot in the pursuit and he is left on foot in the middle of the desert. While walking, a man approaches on horseback, who is later identified as a Sr. García. The man helps Billy giving both water and a ride on his horse to the nearest town. Before they arrive, however, both García and Billy are shot by a man with a rifle. While Billy is only slightly wounded, his companion is severely injured and unconscious. Billy carries the man to the nearest dwelling (which turns out to be García's house and the man's wife comes out and helps Billy carry the injured man inside. Billy subsequently becomes involved in a conflict between García and a greedy landowner. Billy helps García defending both the man and his wife several times. This is an interesting take on the Billy the Kid story. If you enjoy westerns, you might enjoy this movie. Rodolfo de Anda is the son of the famous Mexican movie producer Raúl de Anda. Rodolfo de Anda appeared in many westerns throughout his career. This is one of his better ones. He also played the son of el Charro Negro, appearing in several westerns that describe the adventures of el Charro Negro's son. Click here to watch the movie on youtube

Días de combate

This is a Mexican detective film based on the detective fiction of Paco Ignacio Taibo mentioned above. The protagonist, Hector Belascoaran Shayne must find a serial killer who strangles his victims. The action takes place in Mexico City. Belascoaran Shayne is played by Pedro Armendariz jr. son of the famed actor. I really enjoyed this movie as well as the remake that features Sergio Goyri. Click here to watch the movie on youtube

El gran calavera

This comedy features two of the Soler brothers, Fernando Soler, who plays the protagonist Don Ramiro, and Ramón Soler, who plays his brother-in-law. The movie begins with Don Ramiro being released from jail for being drunk, and we soon learn that he has become an alcoholic in response to the recent death of his wife. He is a rich business man, but in his grief-stricken state, he squandors his money as his children, sister, and brother-in-law sit idly by. Finally, his business associate, worried about the iminent financial ruin of Don Ramiro, writes to his brother making him aware of the situation. His brother arrives to find Don Ramiro in a drunken stupor making a fool of himself at his daughter's wedding announcement party. He goes so far as to tell his daughter's future mother-in-law to “shave your mustache.” Don Ramiro falls unconscious at the party and he is in a semi-conscious state for several days. His brother concocts an elaborate scheme in order to save his brother. He convinces the family to rent an apartment in the poorest part of town and trick Don Ramiro into believing that they have lost everything due to his irresponsible behavior. The plan almost backfires as Don Ramiro attempts to jump from a building but is saved by a young electrician who lives in the neighborhood and ultimately falls in love with Don Ramiro's daughter. Don Ramiro quickly discovers the plan when he asks the young man about the date, discovering that his family has tricked him. He then confides in his brother and the two decide to carry the plan a step further, convincing the family that he really did lose everything to cure them of their laziness and reliance on Don Ramiro's fortune. This is a good comedy and one of my favorite movies. Click here to see the movie on youtube

The Masked Wrestler Motif or Luchador Enmascarado

A prominent motif in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema is the masked wrestler/hero or luchador. Although many of the movies are short on plot and long on action, I really enjoy watching a lot of these older movies and would be remiss in failing to mention a couple of the more popular series of films featuring the masked hero or luchador enmascarado. Perhaps the most famous Mexican wrestler of all time is Santo, who played the protagonist in many such films throughout the fifties and sixties. As time perhaps, I will list some of my personal favorites and provide a brief synopsis of each, so stay tuned and visit the site again for more details in the not-too-distant future.