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La Perla
Remind Me

La Perla

Based on John Steinbeck's short novel, The Pearl, La Perla (1947) is a simple, tragic folk tale starring Pedro Armendariz as an impoverished Mexican fisherman who finds a perfect pearl. This treasure, he believes, will transform his life into one of riches and respect. Instead, the pearl brings only misery and death, ultimately transforming him into a killer.

Steinbeck was so supportive of this project that he not only contributed to the screenplay adaptation but also allowed it to be filmed prior to his novel's publication. The movie, a U.S.-Mexican co-production, was released in America by RKO. Though it has a Mexican director, Emilio Fernandez, and Mexican cast and crew, it was shot simultaneously in English and Spanish versions.

Emilio Fernandez is a famous name in Mexican cinema. In many ways he was the father of that industry, and was the first Mexican director to win international awards and acclaim. He was deeply interested in issues of morality and social consciousness, and his films tended to concern themselves with the simple truths of the human condition. "A work is as important as its thesis," Fernandez once said. "If a film does not have social and moral content, a message or an expression that reveals suffering or another condition of the people, it means nothing to me." He also said, "The cinema is rhythm. Life is rhythm. Stasis is death."

Fernandez, who considered himself "more of a photographer than a director," had a beautiful sense of pictorial style and often acknowledged the influence of John Ford which shows in The Pearl. The film's striking black-and-white cinematography won several awards including the Golden Globe. Fernandez also did some acting in Hollywood, giving a particularly memorable performance as General Mapache in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969).

As a director, Fernandez worked with Pedro Armendariz often. A big star in Mexico in the 1930s, Armendariz's sensitive portrayal in The Pearl made Hollywood take notice. Soon he was working for John Ford in The Fugitive (1947), Fort Apache (1948) and Three Godfathers (1948). His last film was the James Bond classic From Russia with Love (1963), in which he played Kerim Bey. Soon thereafter he committed suicide in his L.A. hospital room rather than die a slow death from lymph cancer.

The Pearl was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002.

Producer: Oscar Dancigers
Director: Emilio Fernandez
Screenplay: Emilio Fernandez, Jack Wagner, John Steinbeck (also novel)
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Film Editing: Gloria Schoemann
Art Direction: Javier Torres Torija
Music: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Pedro Armendariz (Quino), Maria Elena Marques (Juana), Fernando Wagner (Dealer 1), Gilberto Gonzalez (Aid 1), Charles Rooner (Doctor), Juan Garcia (Aid 2).

by Jeremy Arnold