A Mexican film lost to self-criticism: Peregrina (1930)
Largely, deliberate destruction of film negatives or prints during the 20th Century served to recoup the silver contained in the emulsion, or to make space for new material in movie vaults. Besides, some studios used to destroy films at the end of their commercial runs to avoid piracy.
In a few cases, there were other reasons to obliterate films; among them, self-criticism.
On May 18, 1930, ‘La Opinión’ of Los Angeles, California, reported the intentional burning of “more than seven thousand feet of a Mexican movie”, Peregrina, produced by actress Carmen Guerrero.
Back then, Carmen was only 19 years old, and her career in Hollywood looked promising. After being cast for small parts in Mack Sennett’s comedies for some time, Guillermo Calles gave her a leading role in Dios y ley, in 1929. The movie had successful runs all the way through the Southwest and in Mexico, first in its original, silent version; later, as a sound-synchronized edition. The enthusiastic reception of Dios y ley, both by film critics and audiences, made an impression on the young actress.
Although she got a fifth-credit role in Amor audaz (Louis J. Gasnier, Alfonso Washington Pezet, 1930), starring Adolphe Menjou, and was under contract at Hal Roach Studios for leading roles in two Charley Chase’s vehicles, Carmen was not satisfied. She had a further goal: she wanted to produce movies; nationalistic films portraying the good of Mexico. She knew, by her Dios y ley experience, that success could be met with such an enterprise, both artistically and at the box-office.
So, she chose a project, Peregrina; got financial backing, and gathered her cast and crew. Charles Stevens, the prolific actor and alleged Apache warrior Gerónimo’s grandson was the appointed director. Actually, Charles had not any previous experience in directing films, and there is no indication whatsoever he was interested in Mexico having a better image; at any rate, he accepted to make the film.
Carmen Guerrero and Carlos Alvarado played the leading roles. Other Mexican artists, like Ligia de Golconda and a señora de Bejarano, were cast as support actors. Raúl Lechuga took part in the film’s prologue.
Among the mentioned artists, Ligia de Golconda was the best known. She arrived in California in 1923, with the purpose of pairing an acting career with the production of nationalistic films; in fact, Ligia was the first Mexican actress being cast for a leading role in Hollywood (Her Sacrifice, Wilfred Lucas, 1925).
Carlos Alvarado was a folkloric dancer, while Raúl Lechuga was part of the Romualdo Tirado’s company in the 1920s.
Peregrina was shot in Mexicali and Pasadena. Then, production halted for some months “until a new director was appointed to finish the movie.” The new director took immediate action. First, the film’s prologue was cut out. Then, an attempt was made to take interior shots at some studios, and also to dub the existing outdoor shots.
Still, Carmen and her partners were not satisfied with the outcome. The young producer declared:
But the screenplay did not meet my expectations as a Mexican or as an artist; we wanted to show a genuine Mexico, [our] race and nationality to the world; we intended to underscore our people’s high merits, and the sentiments of our women; but the story of ‘Peregrina’ was dull, with no color or emotion; so, in the believe that it is time for our artistic works to be true to Mexico, showing it as really is, I advised my co producers to destroy the film, if we were to be faithful to our ideals. In that way, I forfeited my own work and that of my colleagues, counting on the approval of our financial backers.
The reporter also interviewed one of the capitalists that had invested in the film. The person, who remained anonymous, told him:
More than seven thousand dollars were invested in this film, which had raised expectations among moviegoers but, isn’t it worth the sacrifice that, in addition to being patriotic, has spared the audiences from attending to an unsatisfying spectacle.
The story of the film was not revealed, but it might be inspired by the song Peregrina, composed by Ricardo Palmerín, with lyrics written by Luis Rosado Vega.
Carmen Guerrero was praised for her integrity by the journalist. Sadly, Carmen never attempted to produce a film again. After a short period of success in Hollywood, she moved back to Mexico, where she resumed her career.
Nowadays, she is remembered mostly by her role in El compadre Mendoza (Fernando de Fuentes, 1933).
Agrasánchez, Rogelio Jr., Guillermo Calles: A Biography of the Actor and Mexican Cinema Pioneer, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.
El Heraldo de México, Los Ángeles, California, 1923-1928
La Opinión, Los Angeles, California, 1926-1932.
La Prensa, San Antonio, Texas, 1926-1932.