Sometime in 1948 I watched the film CURRITO DE LA CRUZ for the first time, and I saw the movie a couple of times more during the same year, but I did not watch it again until July 2003.
The environment and the circumstances now and then when I saw the movie were completely different. In 1948, as a young teenager, I saw the film in a private showing for family and friends on a giant screen in the elegant movie house Cine Becquer, which was located on the street of the same name, just behind my family's residence at Calle Resolana 17 of the Barrio of the Macarena in Seville. Then I was seated proudly beside my first cousin Pepín Martín Vázquez, an extraordinary figura of bullfighting and the star of the film. At that time I was dreaming of emulating his beautiful faenas projected on the screen. Fifty-five years later, in July of 2003, I watched the electronic images of CURRITO DE LA CRUZ, emanating from a videotape, and reproduced on the screen of my television set. This time I was alone, away from the limelight, comfortably seated in my armchair in my living room, and while I was enjoying the film, I started reminiscing about the role of Pepín in bullfighting, and the circumstances which made the film such a tremendous success in an isolated and impoverished Spain, which was still recovering from the struggles of the Civil War.
Before I refer to the film, I will relate a brief biographical sketch of Pepín to help explain why the presence of Pepín in the film had such a tremendous appeal for the audience. The maestro was born in Seville on February 6, 1927. His father, Curro Martín Vázquez, was a well-known matador at the beginning of the twentieth century. Also, when Pepín was a child, his two elder brothers, Manolo and Rafael followed their father's footsteps as toreros. Therefore, it was not surprising that Pepín developed an afición for bullfighting at an early age. But it was unexpected that it took so little time for the youngest of the Martín Vázquez dynasty to become a great star as a matador and to surpass the successes of his father and brothers.
Pepín was a child prodigy who learned the basics of bullfighting by osmosis, since he was not taught formally to fight a bull by his father or brothers. He was a natural, who seemed to have been born being a knowledgeable torero. His rapid raise to stardom does not have any precedent in the history of bullfighting, since during the same year he fought as a novillero without picadors, made his debut as full novillero, and took his alternativa.
The young torero donned the suit-of-lights for first time in Cehejín, (Murcia) in a novillada without picadors in September 1943, when he was 15 years old. Pepín made his debut as a full novillero in Barcelona the following year on February 27. Then he soon appeared as a novillero in Madrid, and after performing successfully in 34 novilladas, the young teenager took his alternativa in Barcelona on September 7, and he still had time to appear in 13 more corridas. Domingo Ortega acted as padrino of the alternativa, and Pepe Luis Vázquez and Carlos Arruza completed the cartel of the eight bull-corrida.
In 1945 the young successful matador fought 60 corridas, confirming his alternativa in Madrid on April 29. The following year he appeared in 50 corridas, in spite of being seriously injured in one of his performances in Madrid. He shared many cartels with "Manolete" and Carlos Arruza, in so many that the critics starting calling him "The Third Man" as a reference to a character of a popular film of the same name. In the winter he went to Mexico where he repeated the successes he had in Spain. Then back in Spain, when he was having his most succesfull campaign of his short career, he suffered a life-threatening goring in Valdepeñas (Ciudad Real) on August 8, 1947, which changed the course of his career.
At that time Pepín was at the top of his game. He was admired by the aficionados for his sophisticated and artistic way of bullfighting, which seemed to be a blend of the classic Rondeño style with the most graceful and inspired 'toreo sevillano'. But, he also had a following like a matinee idol, something similar to what "El Juli" had at the beginning of his career. Therefore, it was logical that Cifesa Studio, which was planning to make a new film with the "Currito de la Cruz" theme, approached Pepín, who was recovering from the Valdepeñas injury, and lured him with a very lucrative offer to start in the new film.
The film CURRITO DE LA CRUZ, is a based on a melodramatic novel of Perez Lujín (1870-1926). The plot is simplistic, sentimental, and moralist, and has been repeated in the literature of that time with a great variety of themes. It gives the message that good triumphs over evil. overcoming any obstacles. In this case "Currito", a poor orphan boy dreams of being a matador, with the initial aim of helping his 'brothers' left behind in the orphanage, and later to win the love of Rocio, the daughter of a rich retired matador. Of course, an orphan boy is not up to her standards, and she runs away to Mexico with an established, rich, and successful matador who after fathering a baby abandons her and the baby. Rejected by the girl, "Currito" gives up bullfighting, but when she returns to Spain with her baby, "Currito" decides to go back to the bullring with the intention of winning her love and adopting the baby. The good "Currito" succeds in both endeavors, in the bullring and in gaining Rocio's love, while a bull kills the evil selfish matador. Then Rocio, after reconciling with her father, who had disavowed her when she ran away, accepts "Currito" as her fiancée. The film has a happy ending with the good guys succeeding and everyone living happily ever after.
Another characteristic of this type of popular movies in Spain in the 40's and early 50's was that the action took place in an environment with strong local color. The film "CURRITO" takes place primarily in Seville and in other Andalusian locations. Therefore, the Director of the film, Luis Lucia, entertains the audience with scenes of Andalusian folklore, such as singing, dancing, and the celebration of the Holy Week in Seville, all of which complement the bullfighting theme.
Pepín does a decent job as an actor in the film, considering that he did not have any experience acting, although he was very photogenic and had a special charisma that made him liked by the people. He was supported by George Mistral, Manuel Luna, Naty Mistral and Tony Lebranc, who were well-known movie stars of the Spanish cinema of that era.
The movie was filmed in 1948 en Madrid and appeared in the theaters the same year. The film was a blockbuster that succeeded like no taurine film had done before. Today it is considered one of the best taurine movies ever made, notwithstanding the logical technical shortcomings of cinematography of the time.
For the bullfight aficionados the film offers exceptional taurine scenes, such as tientas and encierros, on the bull breeding ranches of Manuel Gonzalez, Antonio Perez Tabernero, Morube, Maria Teresa de Olivera, and Duque de Pinohermoso. The film primarily offers the chance to see and appreciate the art and skills of Pepín Martín Vázquez in action, one of the best matadors of the 40's.
What happened to Pepin's career after the film? After the serious goring in Valdepeñas, he reappeared on May 12, 1948, fought 32 corridas and was injured a couple more times, but his successes were not as great as he had achieved before the injury and the filming of the movie. Pepín or "Currito", as some people started to call him, fought in 22 corridas in 1949, and in 9 in 1950, and each year he was gored once again. He decided to take a one-year hiatus from bullfighting in 1951, returning in 1952 to appear in 11 corridas in Spain. Finally, the great maestro Pepín Martín Vázquez, without announcing his retirement, fought his last corrida in Caracas, Venezuela, in February 1952.
Based on the success of CURRITO DE LA CRUZ, Pepín acted in a French-Spanish film, the name of which I have forgotten, and I am sure my cousin has forgotten it too, since the movie was a failure. But at that time Pepin's mind was not on the film industry, nor on bullfighting, since he had fallen madly in love with a beautiful girl from Cáceres, and his only thought was to get married, raise a family and enjoy his retirement as a private landowner away from public life.
In the forties Spain was recovering from the struggle of its Civil War and, although Spain was not directly involved in the World War II, was also suffering its effects. Therefore, the people were poor and lacked many of the basic necessities. But they found comfort by going to the movies and entering in the fantasy world of celluloid. Consequently, the simpler people sometimes failed to distinguish between the well-to-do matador Pepín Martín Vázquez and "Currito", the poor orphan, who found happiness after much suffering. I will close this account of my reminiscing by relating two anecdotes that support my observation.
Pepín was leaving his hotel for the bullring in a small town when an old lady, pushing aside the crowd waiting to see the matador at the door of the hotel, approached Pepín. She kissed him on the cheek while handing him a rose, and said 'My son, good luck to you today…you deserve it for all the suffering and hunger you underwent in the orphanage". On another occasion, in Coria, a town in Caceres, we were in a bar having coffee, when the word went around that "Currito" was there. Then, the people started to gather for a look at this legend. A wrinkled old lady approached Pepín and, crying with emotion, she murmured: " Mi hijo--- my son---take this loaf of bread, which is the only thing that I possess. This is for you… for all the bad things that have happened to you in this life".Return to BIOGRAPHY