The History and Filmography of Famous Mexican Actor Mario Moreno Cantinflas
Mario Moreno Cantinflas was a prominent Mexican actor, filmmaker, producer, and one of the most famous Latin American comedians of all time.
His character Cantinflas became a celebrated icon, gaining the actor worldwide recognition. His other characters to transcend borders and garner international fame included the priest, the firefighter, the musketeer, the congressman, the patrolman, the butler, the street sweeper, and the magician—among many others.
Cantinflas is a true Mexican legend who’s beloved in all Latin America and Spain for introducing a new type of humor to the silver screen.
Read ahead to find the biography of Mario Moreno Cantinflas, the impact of his name, and the most important movies of his career.
Mario Moreno Cantinflas Biography
Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes, Cantinflas, was one of the big figures of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. He shared the set with top artists in Mexico and Hollywood.
His loving public considered him the Mexican Charles Chaplin, while the true Charles Chaplin openly considered him the world’s best comedian.
Mario Moreno Cantinflas created unique combinations of tone, syntax, vocabulary, rhythm, pauses, colloquial phrases, sayings, and body language to entertain—and sometimes even educate—the audience in spite of not speaking clearly or directly. Interestingly, this required a high linguistic expertise to use the Spanish language, more specifically the Mexican Spanish.
Cantinflas was born in 1911 in Mexico City, and grew up in the toughest neighborhood of Mexico, Tepito. He was one of eight children, and stood out for his wit and astuteness—which constantly got him out of complicated circumstances and finally took him to the circus.
Cantinflas married Russian Valentina Ivanova and began to aim at proper theatre performances and a cinema career. He personified many characters, but all of them had the elemental characteristics of Cantinflas first persona: a good hearted illiterate who always won people’s hearts.
His successful career continued as he debuted in Hollywood co-starring with David Niven in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, for which he won a Golden Globe. He was also famous for being a good dancer and bullfighter.
Cantinflas went shopping once with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson in San Antonio, Texas, showing his support for Henry B. González, one of the first Hispanics to be elected as part of the US Senate.
Mario Moreno Cantinflas also served as president of the ANDA (National Association of Actors) and as labor union secretary in Mexico. He made major political changes that led his guild out of the corruption it was in.
Mario Moreno Cantinflas died of lung cancer in Mexico City on April 20th of 1993. Oceans of people flocked to his funeral, which became a national event.
His remains rest in the Rotunda of Illustrious Persons (Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres) next to presidents, writers, painters, philosophers, musicians, and activists. Mexican heads of state and the United States Senate honored him that day.
Cantinflas: A Name, an Adjective, and a Verb
No one really knows where the name Cantinflas came from or what it means exactly. According to hearsay which was later allegedly confirmed by Mexican writer Carlos Monsiváis, Mario Moreno Cantinflas was trying to give a show at a very young age at the Ofelia tent, but he became nervous and his stage fright made him forget his monologue.
He started to say disconnected phrases and confusing sentences that the public perceived as entertaining, brilliant, incoherent innocence. Monsiváis said that his style helped him manipulate the chaos.
The only thing confirmed by Mario Moreno Cantinflas is that he adopted a different name so that his family wouldn’t know he was in show business, which they considered being disgraceful.
From his name, many invented words followed. All of them are even recognized by the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary today.
- Cantinflear: Verb. To act or speak in an incongruous way without saying anything with substance.
- Cantinflero: Adjective. Person who says things without substance or foundation.
- Cantinfleo: Effect of cantinflear.
- Acantinflado: Adjective. Person who says nonsensical and incongruous things in the style of peculiar Mexican actor Cantinflas.
- Acantinflarse: Verb. To adopt the peculiar incongruous way of speaking of the Mexican actor Cantinflas.
Mario Moreno Cantinflas Film Career
The humor style of Mario Moreno Cantinflas followed him from film to film. His first famous character was a clever slum dweller that had no malice, no arrogance, and no agenda. He had no education or profession but possessed charming wit and unparalleled sagacity.
Nosy Cantinflas didn’t have an extensive vocabulary but used every word to say funny truncated phrases accompanied by mimics and body language. People either found it funny or confusing, but always witty.
Cantinflas’ spirit was an underdog with a good heart that was always a winner and never a loser. In spite of the many conflicts he faced, he always found a way of getting out of them gracefully only by being ingenious. His persona always established empathy almost immediately even with characters from a different social or intellectual status.
Mario Moreno Cantinflas later incarnated many other different characters of many professions but always shared the heart and soul of Cantinflas. He always found a way to unmask the villain or to solve the misunderstanding and to become remarkable within his circle.
In 2014, a biographical account of the character Cantinflas made it to the Mexican and US box office.
Keep reading to find a list of some of his most famous and important movies.
1. Ahí está el detalle (1940)
Ahí está el detalle or You Are Missing the Point is the film that established Mario Moreno’s name as Cantinflas. He shared the set with first actors Sara García and Joaquín Pardavé. Critics consider it as one of the best films of Mexican cinema.
The movie is about how Cantinflas gets involved in a misunderstanding and goes to trial for having committed a crime against a man named Bobby. The real crime is having followed Don Cayetano’s orders to end the life of a dog, named Bobby, that had rabies. While he is on trial, he keeps falling on the traps of the prosecutor in an environment of hilarious chaos.
This film will give you a fresh perspective on language and an overview of the actor’s personification and verbal talents. In the last scene, Mario Moreno Cantinflas was inspired by the words of the real life criminal Álvaro Chapa to create his own monologue, the most memorable of his career.
2. Los tres mosqueteros (1942)
Cantinflas and his partners are compelled to recover a precious necklace that a thief stole from actress Reina. He reclaims it and as a form of appreciation Reina invites him to spend a whole day with her. Someone hits him in the head and after being unconscious, he starts to imagine that he is D’Artagnan and his colleagues are actually the three musketeers.
This bold film takes a classic tale and turns it into a part of the Cantinflas’ imaginative movie world. The improbable and the hilarious come together to entertain all audiences.
3. Si yo fuera diputado (1952)
Cantinflas is a barber who takes law classes from a neighbor in exchange for free haircuts. His sagacity allows him to learn quickly and eventually starts advising the underprivileged at court. People find out and soon enough people elect him to be a congressman.
The most relevant scene of this movie happens when Cantinflas gives a speech after his political rival. In essence, he says nothing, but the word choice, the puns and his attitude seals the scene, and everyone is happy with him as a candidate. This is meant to be a criticism of how easy it is to win an audience over when it comes to politicians.
4. Abajo el telón (1955)
In Drop the Curtain, Cantinflas is a window cleaner who works for the famous actress Lulu Duval. Her agent steals a jewel of hers but they accuse our beloved main character as he was cleaning her windows at the moment of the robbery.
The only way of regaining his freedom is to accept a weird proposition from the authorities. Now Cantinflas has to become a spy and infiltrate the criminal band that bought the jewel from the agent.
Christiane Martel, French actress and 1953 Miss Universe, portrayed Lulu Duval, debuting in and becoming part of the Mexican Cinema Golden Age.
5. El bolero de Raquel (1957)
This is a very important milestone in Mario Moreno Cantinflas’ career, not only because it is the first color movie he made but also because people started to notice him as a great dancer.
Cantinflas is a shoe shiner that takes care of his best friend’s kid after he dies. He tries to get better jobs and ends up working at a fancy nightclub where many incidents happen including the sabotage of the main event. The song Bolero de Ravel starts and Raquel, the nightclub dancer, starts moving to the sound of music. All of the sudden, Cantinflas jumps to the stage and dances with her. This iconic scene explains the pun of the film’s title: the bolero (Mexican Spanish for “shoe shiner”) de Raquel (instead of Ravel).
This emotive movie evokes the humanity of Cantinflas not only as he finds romantic love, but as he sacrifices everything for Chavita, his godson.
6. El padrecito (1964)
The Little Priest is a Mario Moreno Cantinflas’ character who arrives in a small town where he is not well received. Everyone gives him the cold shoulder as he tries to win them over. Sure, his unorthodox ways are unique but he assures people he remains true to Catholic ideals.
He refuses to baptize a baby because of his name, gets into politics, and preaches ideas that might resemble those of communism, but at the end, he solves everything up and has a kind gesture towards the previous Father, who was rude to him at first.
Although it has some controversial parts and it partially criticizes the church, the movie was well-received by the public, and some important people within the Catholic church praised him for his portrayal.
7. La vuelta al mundo en ochenta días (1956)
Around the World in Eighty Days, based on Jules Verne’s book, is Cantinflas most important film on an international level. An Englishman makes a wager with his friends claiming he can navigate the entire world in eighty days. His funny valet, Passe-partout, helps him in his adventures to get to all of the destinations faster.
The film director took many licenses in order to accommodate Cantinflas, portraying the valet and giving him the spotlight as he is the focus of the plot many times.
La vuelta al mundo en ochenta días catapulted Mario Moreno Cantinflas to Hollywood and the American public. This audience was tough to get since all of Cantinflas’ work is based on Mexican Spanish.
The film received 8 Oscar nominations and won 5 times, one of which was the best movie.
Ready to Cantinflear?
Are you ready to cantinflear? Take your Spanish knowledge to a new level by watching Mario Moreno Cantiflas’ movies. Or practice your Mexican Spanish by traveling to Mexico. Knowing the language will make your travels easier and more relaxing—ask for directions, opinions, or help in Spanish!
The best way to fine-tune all the things you are learning with this experience is to practice with a native Spanish speaker. Here at HSA you can tailor a Spanish package that accommodates your needs and artistic interests.
Become part of our 24,000 actively enrolled students community and trust our 10 years of expertise. You can ask one of our friendly teachers from Guatemala for some tips to understand Cantinflas’ movies better during your individualized lessons. Sign up for a free class to practice your Spanish comprehension and begin to sound more natural around native speakers!
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