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Maruja cover image

Maruja 1959

Highly Recommended

Distributed by LAVA - Latin American Video Archives, 124 Washington Place, New York, NY 10014; 212-243-4804
Produced by Probo Films, Inc.
Directed by Óscar Orzábal Quintana
VHS, b&, 120 min.

College - Adult
Drama, Film Studies, Latin American Studies, Women's Studies

Date Entered: 12/17/2004

Reviewed by Sean Patrick Knowlton, University of Colorado at Boulder

This fascinating classic motion picture offers today’s students of film history and Latin American culture an entertaining glimpse at a major Puerto Rican box office hit from the late 1950s. This film works on many levels and demonstrates how a well-developed melodrama can still effectively work its magic on a contemporary audience 45 years after its initial release.

Maruja contrastively uses the themes of tropical passion and conservative Catholic beliefs to tell the story of Maruja, the beautifully seductive wife of the town barber, as she seeks to improve her lot in life. As a morality play, this film exposes the hypocrisy of the town’s high society by comparing their dedicated and sanctimonious public roles with their immoral private lives. Ironically, this motion picture titillates its audience perhaps more than it succeeds in preaching moral values. When viewed with an eye to women’s issues, this film speaks volumes about a society in which the only means for a woman to advance is through her sexuality. Furthermore, Maruja’s adventurous, independent nature stands out in sharp opposition to the demure, patient girlfriend of one of Maruja’s paramours. The resolution of this melodrama reveals, in no uncertain terms, which behaviors are to be emulated by the young women viewing this film. However, as stated previously, this motion picture nevertheless celebrates the fiery sexuality of Maruja as much as it condemns her actions as a “pecadora” or sinner.

Many of Puerto Rico’s most important television and film actors from the time participated in this film. They include Marta Romero, Roberto Rivera Negrón, Mario Pabón, Elena Montalbán and Manuel Pérez Durán. Puerto Rican music also plays a major role though a soundtrack by Bobby Capó and a performance by Rafael Cortijo and his “combo” and singer Ismael Rivera. In many ways, this film also serves as an advertisement for travel to Puerto Rico through a short lesson on its colonial architecture, the natural beauty of its geography, its music and, of course, its beautiful women.

Technically, the cinematography is masterful; the picture quality is excellent, and the yellow English-language subtitles are easy to read. The Spanish dialogue reveals many nuances of Puerto Rican Spanish from the 1950s and highlights the local flavor in the form of popular expressions. The high quality of the picture’s sound most likely can be attributed to post-production dialogue recording in a sound studio.

This feature film is highly recommended for a library collection with a comprehensive collection of Latin American cinema in support of a film studies, Puerto Rican studies, Latin American Studies, or Spanish language academic program.