Río Escondido  (1948) 



Director:     Emilio Fernández.

Starring:     María Félix (Rosaura Salazar),  Domingo Soler (The Priest),  Carlos López Moctezuma (Regino Sandoval, the landowner),  Fernando Fernández (Felipe Navarro, medical student),  Arturo Soto Rangel (Dr. Don Felipe),  Eduardo Arozamena (Marcelino, old peasant),  Columba Domínguez (Merceditas),  Juan García,  Manuel Dondé (El Rengo),  Carlos Múzquiz (Leonardo),  Agustín Isunza (Brígido),  Roberto CaZedo (Assistant to the President),  Lupe del Castillo,  María Germán Valdés (The girl), Jaime Jiménez Pons (Goyito, the boy).

(No English subtitles) a dedicated school teacher works in a poverty-stricken community, set during presidency of Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946-1952)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Rosaura Salazar has been called to see the President of Mexico.  She is a very dedicated person who wants to be involved in some cause for the betterment of conditions for the poorest people in Mexico.  Her enthusiasm and romanticism might be compared to the early Peace Corps volunteers for USA President John F. Kennedy.  She thinks she can make a difference and that's a powerful call for action.  Rosaura goes to the capitol building in Mexico City to see the president.  She is wide-eyed as she goes through the building.  It's as if she can feel the history of Mexico in the building.  The history of Mexico is seen in the building, especially in the murals by Diego Rivera.  The film goes through some of the highlights of Mexican history, including the Indians; the conquest by Cortez; the heroes of the fight for Mexican independence from Spain; the students fighting at Chapultepec in the "North American invasion"; the invasion of France and the resistance of the part Indian President Benito Juárez; and Madero and Carranza in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) in which a million people lost their lives.

There is a large group teachers waiting to see the President.  But she gets her audience before the large group.  The President asks her to go to the small town of Rio Escondido to teach the education-neglected children how to read and write.  She will be fighting against poverty and fighting for liberty through education.  She seems to be in absolute awe of the President, intently listening to every word without saying much of anything.  She thanks the President for the opportunity to serve the nation and its people. 

In a daze she leaves the room and is promptly knocked down by the rush of doctors into the room to see the President.  Two men, including the one who banged into her, help her to her feet.  One, an older man, knows Rosaura  because he was her old teacher.  They talk for awhile.  She tells the older teacher that this is the opportunity about which she has been dreaming.  The teacher is very skeptical, however, because of her heart condition.  He doesn't think she is healthy enough to teach in a rural area. 

Rosaura takes the train headed toward the city of Juárez.  Along the way she gets off at a place that looks like it is in the middle of nowhere.  She walks in what looks like a dried salt lake toward Rio Escondido.  The desert here is very hot and after walking quite a ways she collapses.  Lucky for her a medical student named Felipe Navarro, who tends to some of the medical problems of the people in the entire area, comes across her.  He gives her some water and helps her up.  Rosaura explains that she has to get to the town, but the doctor keeps telling her that she is in no condition to go anywhere.  This just makes Rosaura angry and she insists on going ahead.  He tries to detain her physically, but she is having none of that.  So the doctor goes with her to the town.  At first glance the place looks deserted.  It isn't much of anything.  It appears to be a one-street town. 

In town today is Regino Sandoval, the virtual owner of everything in Rio Escondido.  El Jefe (the boss), as he is called, is a large land owner.  He is performing horse tricks on his horse before a camera.  While doing a trick his horse takes a spill throwing Don Regino on the ground.  Regino gets up and starts whipping the horse.  As he pulls his right hand back to deliver another lash, Rosaura, coming from behind him, grabs his arm and tells him not to whip the horse.  Regino just knocks her to the ground.  An old man tells him not to hit a woman and Regino strikes him twice across the face with the whip handle.  The rich man leaves.  Rosaura gets up to check on the old man.  He tells her that it would be best for her own good to leave this place. 

Rosaura is not easily dissuaded.  She walks over to the school building which is in bad shape.  She knocks on the door.  A cowboy answers but says the school is not open.  Another man tells her that there is no school in the town.  She asks for the president of the municipality and is sent over to the local cantina.  She is prevented from entering by one of the two main supervisors of the men working for the president.  The mayor turns out to be none other than Don Regino.  He tells his man that he doesn't want to talk to her and to get rid of her.  The supervisor has to push Rosaura to get her away from the door. 

As she walks down the street, she runs into a boy crying.  He says his mother is sick inside the house.  She goes in.  She finds the woman with her little girl and a baby.  She says that she will bring the doctor to see her.  She has to run quite a ways to find the medical student.  The two return to the dying woman.  Rosaura takes the baby from the mother, who promptly breathes her last breath.  The doctor wraps the body in a rug and pulls the rug out onto the street.  Don Regino and his group of rough cowboys arrive.  Regino says he told Rosaura to leave.  The doctor stands up for Rosaura saying that she can stay in the house to care for the three children.  Regino quickly informs the doctor that the house belongs to him.  In fact, all the houses on the street belong to him.  A cowboy places a rope around the rug and pulls the body behind his horse as the cowboys leave.  The doctor himself has to dig the grave and bury the body. 

After the burial, the doctor, Rosaura and the three orphans go to the cathedral to find some temporary shelter for Rosaura and the children.  The cowboys ride their horse right into the church.  It seems that the boss is a sick man and he needs the doctor.  Beside the bed of Regino, the doctor negotiates with him.  He will only treat the man if he gets the cowboys to fix up the school and open the school for education.  And he wants the cowboys to gather all the town residents into the plaza to vaccinate them.  Regino has to agree or die, so he agrees.  The doctor starts examining his patient.

The cowboys round up all the people, all right, but they are so afraid of the ranch hands that some run from them.  And the cowboys shoot the runners in the back.  Rosaura steps in again and stops one cowboy from killing a peasant.  She then tells the priest to ring the church bell to gather the people in front of the cathedral.  The priest rings the bell and the people gather around.  They are then formed into one long line to be vaccinated.  The main supervisor of the two supervisors is amazed at the sight and tells Regino about it.  Rosaura helps the medical student vaccinate the people.  By herself there is a very pretty woman (named Merceditas) dressed all in black who stands by herself a little away from the people on line.  They have to vaccinate her separately from the others.  

School starts.  Rosaura tells her packed house that they will become good friends.  She gives a moving little speech the importance of education and how it helps bring liberty out from fear and extortion, especially by the wealthy political bosses that so dominate Mexican political and economic life.  She points to the portrait of former president Benito Juárez.  He was part Indian like many of the students in the room and can be used by them as a good example of a success story.  She gets so emotionally involved in her talk to the students that tears run down her cheek.  She starts the class by teaching them the first letter of the alphabet. 

El jefe is up and about now.  He walks to the school.  He hears Rosaura talking about Juárez, who worked for the poor.  He can't like that kind of talk.  Meanwhile, the medical students speaks to the women of the village about the connection between unclean drinking water and diseases. 

The doctor speaks with Rosaura.  He says that his work in town is finished and he should move on to help others.  He says his good-byes.  But before he leaves he gives Rosaura a gift in a box.  He tells her to open it after he leaves.  After his departure, she opens the box and finds a revolver inside.  She is a bit shocked by the "present". 

The two cowboy supervisors go and get Merceditas.  She has a small suitcase and a small satchel and tells them that she is ready.  They ride with her to the town border.  They teell her to go and never come back.  She gives the men her two pieces of luggage and tells them who to give them to.  She starts walking toward the train tracks.  After a short walk the cowboys hear a shot.  The woman committed suicide.   

Saying he has a surprise for her and the children, Rosaura accompanies Regino over to a house.  He says he has provided her with the house and gives her a tour.  The place even has a phonograph with cylinders of music.  Rosaura is impressed at the basinet for the baby, the shower in the bathroom (you just have to fill the barrel on the roof with water now and then) and the soft bed.  But then she sees that Regino has placed a framed photograph of himself on the bedstand.  Also there is a not there from Regino. She reads it and becomes furious.  She is insulted, offended.  So this is why he does this nice thing  --  to have her.  She tells him off, takes the children and leaves. 

Rosaura takes roll call at the school.  Then Regino comes in.  She has the children tell him that he has to remove his hat in the classroom.  Regino tells her that he has to speak with her.  But Rosaura will have nothing to do with him.  She turns to her students and tells them all about this greedy man who wants to satisfy her basest instincts.  She denounces the man and all the other big bosses with her powerful weapon, her education.  Regino has to leave the class.  Rosaura breaks down and cries.  The children gather around her and try and comfort her.  It is apparent that the women at the place to get water heard the whole thing because they seem frozen in place holding their water juggs absolutely still.

Regino is not used to this type of defiance.  To get back at Rosaura he cuts off the water supply to the villagers.  He says that the water is his.  In a dispute with the priest, he pushes the clergyman into a back room away from the parishioners.   He says he wants to marry Rosaura and demands help from the priest to accomplish this.  The priest does not like the idea.  He tells the boss:  "I wouldn't insult the woman like that."  Regino strikes the priest across the face with the handle of his whip. 

The women are singing in the area between the school and the church.  Rosaura asks what's going on and is told that they want agua (water).  It's suggested that perhaps Rosaura should leave the town.  But she says very firmly that she is not leaving.  Her duty is her in the town and she intends to do her duty.  A little student of hers named Panchito walks by stumbling and falls to the ground near her.  Rosaura says that the poor boy needs some water.  But it is not a lack of water that is the problem.  Without water his family let him drink a liquor drink known as pulque, a traditional alcoholic beverage made from fermented maguey juice.   (Maguey or century plant (Agave americana) is an agave plant native to Mexico.)

Rosaura's little boy Goyito goes to the well anyway and starts to fill up a water jug with water.  Regino sees him.  When the boy sees Regino he starts running away, but Regino shoots the boy in the back.  Rosaura is shocked by the brutal act and calls Regino an infamous beast.  A funeral is held for the boy.  The church bell rings. (In the cantina, Regino tells his cowboys that he is sick of hearing that bell.)  Goyito's sister cries over the coffin.  Rosaura comforts her.  The women tells Rosaura that Don Regino is up to something no good. 

At night with his cowboys watching, Regino breaks into the school and starts to assault Rosaura.  She scream and cries but the cowboys just stand there outside listening.  And then all of a sudden a shot is heard.  Don Regino comes out and stumbles down the steps.  Rosaura comes out and shoots him two more times.   The cowboys are absolutely stunned by this turn of events.  But they don't have long to consider the matter, because the villagers with lighted torches descend on the cowboys from two directions.  As they become surrounded they start to panic and begin shooting.  But they can only get four or five shots off before they are completely submerged in the sea of villagers.  All the cowboys are killed. 

Rosaura collapses.  The doctor has to make a house call.  He doesn't think he can save her.  The doctor goes outside.  Then he hears Rosaura screaming that she doesn't want to die.  She wants to live.  The children need her.  The doctor tells her that she must rest.  But he insists that they write a letter for her to the president of the Republic of Mexico.  The doctor finally agrees.  She dictates the letter. 

Sometime later the doctor is handed a letter from the president himself.  He reads it to Rosaura.  The president congratulates her for her struggle against impossible obstacles and her many sacrifices in order to do her duty excellently.  Shortly after finishing the reading of the letter, Rosaura dies.  The doctor cries. 

Rosaura is buried in the town with the writing:  "Died for her country; she reposes here at the express desire of the people of Rio Escondido." 


Good movie with a shocking ending.   María Félix as the character Rosaura Salazar did an excellent job as the woman who was almost religiously devout in the performance of her duties to fight ignorance and illiteracy among the un-schooled children of the town of Rio Escondido.   The movie is also good historically because it brings attention to a big problem for Mexico  -- the all too important influence of wealthy men serving as political bosses who taint the democracy, if it can be called that, in Mexico. 

The movie received the Ariel award in 1949 for the best Mexican film.  Emilio Fernández was named best director. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

1900  --   Alemán born in Sayula, Veracruz, Mexico. 

He could not attend his hometown schools because his father had been a revolutionary general.  So he studied in other areas.

1920-1925  --  he attended the National Preparatory School, Mexico City.

1926-1928  --  National School of Law.  He started his practice representing miners suffering from silicosis. He got compensation for dependents of railroad workers killed in revolutionary battles.  And he got indemnities for miners injured at work. 

1934-1936  --  he was a senator for Veracruz state (representing the Party of the Mexican Revolution (later known as the PRI).

Manlio Favio Altamirano, the governor-elect of Veracruz, is assassinated.  Aleman is appointed Governor of Veracruz.

1936-1939  --  he served as Governor of Veracruz.  He served as the director of the presidential campaign for Manuel Ávila. 

1940-1945  --  Secretary of the Interior under Manuel Ávila. 

1942 (August)  --  worked with the USA on the Bracero Program (i.e., a temporary contract labor program) through an exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico.

1946  --   ran for president as candidate of the PRI.

1946 (July7)  --  wins the election, running against former foreign minister Ezequiel Padilla.  He was the first nonmilitary candidate to win the Presidency of Mexico.

1946 (December 1)  --  inaugurated President of the Republic.

1946-1952  --  term of presidency.  His administration was marked by widespread political corruption and crony capitalism.  This problem still affects Mexico to the present day. 

1947  -- he got a major loan from the U.S.A. and extended Mexico's rail network, improved highways and constructed schools.

With his visit to American President Harry S. Truman, he became the first Mexican President to visit the United States.  He rode in a parade in Washington D.C. with Truman. 

Working with irrigation and farming, the national production of rice, sugar, bananas, coffee, oats, and pineapple was increased.

He played a major role in the development of the city of Acapulco as a major tourist destination.

He gave women the right to vote in municipal elections.

1951  --  he oversaw completion of the diversion of the Lerma River, ending Mexico City's water supply problems.

1952  --  Baja California elevated to a state. 

1961  --  is named president of the national tourist commission.

1968  --  influential in bringing the 1968 Summer Olympics to Mexico.


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