Dos tipos de cuidado

Dos tipos de cuidado [Two Troublemakers] is considered one of the best of examples of comedia ranchera, the hugely popular genre of Mexican cinema’s Golden Age. For the first and only time, a film paired two singers and movie stars of phenomenal wattage: Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante. It would be Negrete’s last film before his untimely death in Los Angeles in 1953, and one of Infante’s most affectionate representations of Mexican manhood, before his also untimely death in a plane crash in 1957.

The comedia ranchera, a cowboy musical whose formula crystallized with the enormously successful Allá en el Rancho Grande (1936), directed by Fernando de Fuentes, combines elements of comedy, drama, tragedy, and popular music in a romanticized rural setting, laced with folkloric and patriotic themes. Like other popular genres of the Golden Age – spanning the thirties to the fifties – the ranchera comedy reflects the Mexican fascination with melodrama, a hybrid between humor and tragedy, where emotions take center stage and establish a deep bond with popular audiences who understand comic and dramatic situations involving family, gender roles, work, traditions, faith, and life as a valley of tears. Like other popular genres – the family melodrama, the urban melodrama, the historical epic, the comedy – the ranchera comedias are a mirror that reflects Mexicanness as it was understood and lived across the social spectrum in an era that coincided with the studio-based cinema of the Golden Age.

Dos tipos de cuidado is an exceptionally interesting example of comedia ranchera in that it shows a more realistic setting, not the countryside but a provincial town as a place of transition challenged by modern living, symbolized by the automobile. Also, the protagonists bring to the film two very different public personas: Infante is an icon representing the popular and traditional, mostly in urban comedies (Nosotros los pobres (1948), ATM!! (1951), Ansiedad (1953), while Negrete’s aristocratic demeanor embodies the “noble, valiant and loyal” charro, quoting one of his signature songs, El charro mexicano. Thus, the enduring friendship of the protagonists – male friendship trumps all, is the theme of the film – shows aspects of Mexican manhood that have made some critics read the film as a deconstruction of Hispanic maleness.

Audiences over the years have glossed over this interpretation, and enjoyed the screwball elements of the story, its clever narrative twist, the comic relief characters, and above all, the wonderful song and dance numbers. A lively ten-minute prologue sets the context: Pedro Malo (Pedro Infante) and Jorge Bueno (Jorge Negrete) are best buddies proud of their womanizing reputation, who love each other’s sister Maria (Yolanda Varela) and cousin Rosario (Carmelita Martínez), and propose to them during a picnic in the countryside. After a romantic tug-of-war, with slapstick touches, Rosario accepts Jorge’s proposal, and Maria, Pedro’s. But when the film jumps a year later to the birth of Rosario’s baby girl, after the credit sequence, we see that she has married Pedro, her cousin, thus breaking up the buddies’ friendship. A comedy of errors ensues, with the audience left to make sense of the progressively more outrageous turn of events, that involves a pompous general and an unnamed (and presumed venereal) disease the creates plot mayhem.

One hour into the film, however, the buddies patch up their friend in a key off screen scene, and the story changes direction, with the audience still in the dark until the surprising twist revealed in the picture’s climax. A few minutes before the song-and-dance grand finale, the couples get reconfigured, with a verbal coda delivered at breakneck speed by Rosario’s father’s that stops short of its absurdly incestuous conclusions.

Written by Carlos Orellana, cast as the Lebanese father of Rosario, who steals the scenes with his common sense observations about questionable male behavior served in mangled Spanish, Dos tipos de cuidado is built like a spool of wool that gets bigger and more tangled as the misunderstandings accumulate. The visual motif of animal horns attached Pedro, perceived as a henpecked husband, is a source of comedy – and one of the reason for understanding the film as a undermining Mexican macho behavior.

Director Ismael Rodríguez, who also co-wrote the film, is rightfully credited for managing what must have been a challenging project, with two major stars (think Madonna and Michael Jackson together in a film, or The Rolling Stones and The Beatles in a concert), conscious of their artistic personas and their fan base, and also the subject of a press-manufactured rivalry. He directs the film with a freshness and warmth that has stood the test of time. Rodríguez and Infante worked successfully together before and after Dos tipos de cuidado and Nosotros, los pobres, in some well-remembered titles of the Golden Age: Ustedes, los ricos (1948), Los tres huastecos (1948), Los tres García (1948), A toda máquina!! (1951), Pepe el Toro (1953), and Infante’s intriguing last film Tizoc (1957).

The best scenes of Dos tipos de cuidado are, for my money, those where music and songs are used for characterization and to advance the screwball elements of the plot. There are nine songs in the typical settings of comedias rancheras: parties, community gatherings and cantinas. The serenade scene, for example, begins with Pedro and Jorge each singing with a mariachi group, shown one after the other linked by a swish span. The rest of the sequence is a nicely rendered split screen, where they both seem to be on the same space, singing the same song, in a romantic crescendo. Also lovely is the singing duel in the engagement party, where Negrete’s more powerful tenor voice tends to overshadow Infante’s less robust but charming performance. Infante’s rendition of the song La tertulia celebrating the birth of his daughter (the key to the misunderstanding) is a triumph of staging and comedy: a cantina where ladies of questionable decency (‘chamacotas’) toast to the niceties of tradition and family values. One last example is Negrete singing another signature song, Quiubo, quiubo cuándo? in the flashback scene that supposedly explains Rosario’s defection to the other friend.

Screened in downtown Los Angeles – where Mexican cinema was a staple for many decades – Dos tipos de cuidado will allow audiences to enjoy, on the big screen, the only film made together by two great Mexican stars. Their cinema is still immensely entertaining, and it’s a measure of their enduring success that Infante and Negrete’s prolific film and music career is easily available today in the multiple-DVD and CD collections carried by Walmart in its Hispanic media section, on Spanish-language television, Amazon, and of course YouTube. Cinephilia is made easy by modern means of distribution.

Essential books and other films with Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante
Javier Millán Agudo, Jorge Negrete: Ser charro no basta (2011)
Carlos Monsiváis, Pedro Infante: Las leyes del querer (2008)

Jorge Negrete
Ay Jalisco … no te rajes! (1941)
Fiesta (1941, his only Mexican film)
Cuando quiere un mexicano (1944)
Me he de comer esa tuna (1945)
Gran Casino (1947)
El jorobado (1943)
Allá en el Rancho Grande (1949)
Una gallega en Mexico (1949)
El rapto (1954)

Pedro Infante
Ahora soy rico (1942)
La razón de la culpa (1943)
Mexicanos al grito de guerra (1943)
Vuelven los García! (1947)
Angelitos negros (1948)
Qué te ha dado esa mujer?! (1951)