Mario Moreno was a Mexican comedian known around the world as Cantinflas after the hilarious character of the same name he portrays in countless films.
Mario Moreno was a Mexican comedian known around the world as Cantinflas after the hilarious character of the same name he portrays in countless films. The legendary funnyman began his career in the 1920s with humble circuses and modest troops of travelling comedians. He has delighted fans ever since, most notably in the Spanish-speaking world, with his unique and confusing command of language and his endearing personality immortalized in his movies.
Some say Moreno stumbled by chance upon his trademark ability to inspire uproarious laughter by talking quickly and nonsensically. The skill was possibly born out of stage fright during his early years as a circus entertainer. In his first appearances before packed big top audiences, a young Moreno, gripped in stage fright panic, began frantically blurting out nonsense, which to his surprise was an instant sensation with humor hungry audiences. Later, his Cantinflas character also skillfully used the fast babble as an ingenious mask to avoid judgment, to hide behind nonsense and remove himself from ironic criticism cleverly hidden behind swelling tidal waves of words.
After achieving nation- wide fame performing in circuses and theatres, Moreno made his cinematic debut in 1936 with No Te Engañes Corazon. 4 years and several films later, he starred in Ahí está el detalle (Here Is the Point), Moreno’s signature movie, considered by many critics as one of the greatest films in the history of Mexican cinema. Here, as in most of his early work, Cantinflas captures the image and spirit of a type of person known in Mexico as a pelado, an unemployed, down and out person who relies on cunning and wit to survive. Some observers have been critical of the popularity of the character, pointing out that the image could have a negative impact on the integrity of members of Mexico’s lower economic class and Mexican culture itself. The character often appears on screen wearing tattered, poor fitting clothing that exaggerated his lowly economic status and often contrasted with the upstanding, tidy appearance of the characters he confused and subtly ridiculed. However, similar to the characters portrayed by Charlie Chaplin (with whom Moreno is often compared), audiences find the appeal of this loveable underdog irresistible, and he has come to define an entire era in Mexican comedy. Charlie Chaplin even once referred to Mario Moreno as “the funniest man in the world”.
With the success of Ahí está el detalle, Moreno founded Posa films. Moreno also strived to make it big in Hollywood and with American audiences. His specialized skill for poignant babble and seemingly confused speech in his native Spanish however, proved to be particularly challenging for Moreno in his non-native English. Despite the language challenges in appealing to U.S. audiences, in 1946 Moreno signed with Columbia Pictures. In 1956 he starred in a major American motion picture, called Around the World in 80 Days, loosely based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name and which featured a host of Hollywood stars including Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton. The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and Cantinflas won a Golden Globe award for best actor in a comedy. In 1960, he starred in Pepe, another American film with a star studded cast that attempted to capitalize on Moreno’s Around the World Success. Despite the appearances of a seemingly endless list of Hollywood giants such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Jack Lemmon, the film was a critical disappointment. After Pepe, Moreno focused his career on entertaining Spanish speaking audiences. From the late 1950s to the early 80s he made a number of Mexican comedies.
Cantinflas Mario Moreno passed away in 1992. His particular brand of humor has inspired laughter from the four corners of the globe and has become a cornerstone of classic comedy. The figure of Cantinflas, even featured in the vibrant, socially and politically charged murals of Diego Rivera, is celebrated in Mexico as a source of cultural identity and pride. Years after his death, we still see his enormous influence in the comedy performances of today’s actors, and in the cultural impact he had Mexico.