(1961), Color/Scope, 90 minutes
Filmed in Eastmancolor
Prints by Pathe
Distributed by Trans-International Films
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Presented by K. Gordon Murray
(also credited as “a K.G. Murray presentation”)
Directed by K. Gordon Murray (as “Ken Smith”)
“with special narration by” Hugh Downs
LA SONRISA DE LA VIRGEN
(The Smile of the Virgin)
(1958), Mexico, Color/Scope, 95 minutes
a Peliculas Rodriguez, S.A. production
filmed at Churubusco-Azteca Studios, Mexico City
Produced by Jose Luis Celis (as “Jose Louis Celis”)
Directed by Roberto Rodriguez
Story: Jose Luis Celis, Ricardo Garibay, Roberto Rodriguez, Rafael Garcia Travesi
Screenplay: Jose Luis Celis, Rafael Garcia Travesi, Ricardo Garibay, Roberto Rodriguez
Musical Director & Composer: Raul Lavista
“with the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico”
Musical Conductor: Antonio Bribiesca
Songs: (public domain), Raul Lavista
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Editing: Fernando Martinez (as “Fernando Martinez A.”)
Casting: Miguel Angel Garrido (as “Miguel A. Garrido”)
Production Design: Salvador Lozano Mena
Set Decoration: Manuel Ladron de Guevara (as “Manuel Guevara”)
Makeup: Josefina Cardena
Hair stylist: Margarita Ortega
Production Design: Antonio Guerrero Tello
Art Director: Rodriguez Granada
Assistant Director: Carlos Villatoro
Sound Department: James L. Fields
Sound supervisor: Raul Portillo (as “Raul Portillo G.”)
Sound editor: Rafael Ruiz Esparza (as “Rafael R. Esparza”)
Dialogue recordist: Galdino R. Samperio (as “Galdino Samperio ‘Crucy’ “)
Special Effects: Jorge Benavides (as “Benavides”)
Guitar Solo: Antonio Bribiesca
Color Technician: Francisco Gomez
Lighting: Daniel Lopez
Camera Operator: Ignacio Romero
Title designer: Nicolas Rueda hijo (as “Nicolas Rueda Jr.”)
Drama Advisor: Enrique Ruelas
Actor’s Delegate: Francisco Sanchez Bustos
Continuity: Pablo Alvarez
Assistant Camera: Daniel Lopez
Technical Director and Advisor: Reverend P. Jesus Romero Perez, S.J. (as “Reverend Jose Romero Perez, S.J.”), Lic. Enrique Ruelas
LITTLE ANGEL is a sometimes powerful, sometimes idyllic film with gorgeous color and beautiful settings (primarily the rolling farmlands of upper Mexico), and a winning if slight melodrama about the faith and courage of the innocent.
The film seems primarily a showcase for precocious little Maria Garcia, aka “la Nina de Mexico”, Mexico’s answer to Shirley Temple. She would soon be cast as Little Red Riding Hood in the immortal trio of fairy tales. Here, she’s a good little Catholic girl, and also sort of a fertility goddess, for every where she goes, animals seem to become provoked.
Prudencia Griffel plays Marita’s grandmother, as she does in the first two Red Riding Hood films.
We get a fascinating look at a “modern” Mexican elementary school, helmed by a teacher recruited from the big city, who comes replete with “psychological” training and anti-agrarian prejudices.
Most bizarre is the strange religious festival which Marita and Anselmo attend, a tawdry and well-attended combo of austere religious gathering and the tackiest carnival imaginable, replete with hucksters of all stripe.
One thing is for certain: Marita really believes she communicates with the Sacred Virgin. Is she nuts, very religious or blessed of a true miracle?
During Marita’s spooky trial of faith, there is a very disturbing scene, in which Marita stands outside the gates of the church, as a clearly deranged man approaches her, likely with ignoble thoughts on his mind.
Marita then runs up to the mountains, where God literally taunts her in the form of a violent thunderstorm (a simplistic yet highly effective metaphor for the horrors of faith in turmoil).
The film takes several curious potshots at organized religion, all the while elevating the sanctity of spiritual faith. When oblivious Marita takes a deadly risk by walking on a high ledge to follow a lovely pigeon, a faithless, cowardly priest looks on in terror, but we know that Marita has taken a giant step towards spiritual maturity, by trusting one’s personal god while seeking one’s desires.
Of course, the film also has an unfortunate obsession with birth, and, in the guise of cute, fertile little Marita, with breeders, creating a barely-subtle “Populate Your Country!” message.
This message is, at times, uncomfortably overt: as Marita prays in her room, her eyes pan up a statue of Jesus. She stops at his crotch, and contemplates, before scanning onward and upward. Finally, she pulls Jesus clean off the wall, the better to love him, in a scene that would be downright subversive in a Luis Bunuel film.
There are several pop ditties, which sound quite like beloved old Mexican folk songs.
All in all LITTLE ANGEL is a competent age-of-reason story grafted quite skillfully onto a thoughtful treatise about Mexico’s accelerating cultural apotheoses, wherein animal husbandry gives way to scientific collectivism, and the corporal reign of extended families succumbs to standardized testing and intellectual conformity. Amidst all this is a country in spiritual upheaval, praying to the same gods but unsure of their potency (surely a most accurate depiction of rural Roman Catholicism circa late-’50s).
And its all wrapped up in a vibrant, charming rural melodrama that’s as lively as a Mexican street festival, as vivid as a Rivera mural. Its a shame this film is so obscure; its a good one.
* (effective 05-01-03) After a very brief window of availability, this long-sought K. Gordon Murray title is once again out of print, due to international copyright issues. Used video tapes of this title may be found on online video dealers and auction sites. Stay tuned for further developments!
* According to AFI, LITTLE ANGEL had its US premiere in January 1961.
* According to the Azteca Films Database, LA SONRISA DE LA VIRGEN was finished on December 01, 1957, and premiered on December 04, 1958.
* Hugh Downs is familiar to all Americans for his work on NBC-TV’s popular “The Today Show”; he hosted the popular morning program for an entire decade. Downs, who holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for “greatest number of hours on network commercial television” (!), also hosted network TV staples “Concentration”, “The Jack Paar Show”, and others. In LITTLE ANGEL, Mr. Downs recounts the miraculous story of the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe midway through the film. Downs does not introduce the film, nor does he appear in added US insert scenes, as other sources have claimed.
This is the first time Murray would use a “name” in any of his productions, and he would not repeat the practice until a decade later, at the tail end of his career, with exploitation films THE DAREDEVIL (George Montgomery, Terry Moore) and THUNDER COUNTY (Mickey Rooney, Ted Cassidy).
* Some observers have speculated that the release of this non-fantastic, heavy-handed religious melodrama, hot on the heels of his smash-hit musical-fantasy SANTA CLAUS, might have cost neophyte producer Murray some votes in the exhibitor-confidence department. Although accurate boxoffice information has not been forthcoming, one certainly can’t imagine LITTLE ANGEL having had anything near the impact of Murray’s blockbuster Xmas caper. Had LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, PUSS ‘N BOOTS or even LITTLE BOY BLUE AND PANCHO been available for release during that crucial void after the 1960 boxoffice conquest of SC, any of these would have surely done much to maintain the extraordinary momentum of Murray’s inaugural attack on the Disney gold mine.