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Contexualizing Los Tres Berretines: The Decada Infame And The Argentine Film Industry

By Author: carling
Total Articles: 129

The early Argentine sound film period, during which Los tres berretines was produced and premiered, is framed within the larger sociopolitical disorder of the 1930s. The decada infame was set in motion by the onset of the Great Depression, which "immediately pitted the elites and the middle class against each other in a contest for rapidly shrinking resources" (Rock 1987, p. 215), and advanced by the deposition of the Radical government, led by the democratically elected Hipdito Yrigoyen. Caught in between the elites and the middle class, and unable to satisfy either, the Radical government became vulnerable in the wake of the depression. Strongly debilitated, Yrigoyen was toppled in a right-wing military coup detat spearheaded by General Jose Uriburu. During the rest of the decade, through persistently rigging elections, the conservatives shifted power away from the largely urban middle class toward the large provincial landowners and the pampas' exporting interests (Rock 1987, p. 217).

The Argentine public's first feature length experience with sound film occurred a little over a year before Yrigoyen's fall. On 12 June 1929, Frank Lloyd's The Divine Lady (1929), starring Corinne Griffith, premiered in Buenos Aires at the Grand Splendid Theatre. The film, which lacks dialogue but contains incidental music and a theme song, relied on sound synchronized with discs. It arrived in the Argentine capital two years after the release of the first full-length feature film to implement sound technology, Alan Crosland's The Jazz Singer (1927), and a year before the latter film's Argentine premier. However, Argentines had previously heard snippets of sound as the Phonofilm, a sound camera invented by Lee De Forest, which allowed some famous singers such as Sofia Bozan and Jose Bohr to simultaneously capture their image and voice.3 Fearing the loss of important foreign markets such as Argentina as a consequence of the increasing availability of sound technology, American studios such as Paramount began producing films in foreign languages at its studios in Hollywood and Joinville, a Parisian suburb (Barnard 1986a, p. 149). Initially, several of these early films flopped at the box office in Argentina because they relied heavily on Central American and Spanish actors. In order to succeed in Argentina, which, at the time, was one of the largest film markets outside of the United States and Great Britain, Paramount signed the tango star Carlos Gardel to a multi-film contract. The first of these films, Las luces de Buenos Aires (The Lights of Buenos Aires, Adelqui Millar 1931), was an unequivocal blockbuster. The film represents two well-known twists on the city-country formula, with a distinctly 1930s Argentine flavor. It is the story of the disillusionment of the country man, the gaucho Don Anselmo, who rejects the values and social realities of the metropolis and the country woman, Anselmo's girlfriend Elvira, who is convinced by exploitive portenos to leave her pastoral life in search of fortune and success in the modern city of Buenos Aires.

The financial success of Las luces de Buenos Aires, coupled with a decrease in cost in sound production equipment, inspired two groups of Argentine entrepreneurs to found the production companies Argentina Sono Film and Lumiton, the first optical sound studios in Latin America.4 Producing their first films in 1933 Tango! (Moglia Barth) and Los tres berretines respectively - the companies helped see Argentine film production increase from four films in 1931, to six in 1933, to 28 in 1937, and to 50 in 1939 (Barnard 1986a, pp. 148-149). This growth in film production, tempered somewhat by "a market dominated by foreign releases" (Schmitman 1984, p. 30), saw the Argentine film industry become the continent's largest and most successful. The success of the Argentine film industry at this time hinged on its ability to produce films whose genres, plots and themes sold well both in the domestic and international markets.
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