Combustible Celluloid Review - Victims of Sin (1951), Emilio Fernández, Mauricio Magdaleno, Emilio Fernández, Ninón Sevilla, Tito Junco, Rodolfo Acosta, Rita Montaner, Ismael Pérez, Margarita Ceballos, Arturo Soto Rangel, Francisco Reiguera
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With: Ninón Sevilla, Tito Junco, Rodolfo Acosta, Rita Montaner, Ismael Pérez, Margarita Ceballos, Arturo Soto Rangel, Francisco Reiguera
Written by: Emilio Fernández, Mauricio Magdaleno
Directed by: Emilio Fernández
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 84
Date: 02/02/1951

Victims of Sin (1951)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Life Is a Cabaret

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This irresistible Mexican film, newly restored, takes place in the world of seedy nightclubs, arrogant crime lords, hot music, and beautiful women. It stars the glorious Ninón Sevilla — all cascading blond hair, cute overbite, and flaring nostrils — as Violeta, the star dancer of the Cabaret Changoo. She's got nowhere to go but up, but then another of the dancers shows up with a baby. It's the child of a sleazy pimp Rodolfo (Rodolfo Acosta), whom we first see in a barber shop, getting a trim before he swaddles himself in the miles of fabric making up his zoot suit. He, of course, denies any responsibility. To get back in his good graces, the dancer literally throws her child in the trash, where Violeta rescues it. From there, her career takes a nosedive, and it's not long before she's walking the streets for cash to raise the little one. And all of it is set to music by artists like mambo king Pérez Prado and Afro-Cuban singer-pianist Rita Montaner.

Victims of Sin was directed by Emilio Fernández, something of a legend in the history of Mexican film, and shot by Gabriel Figueroa, unquestionably one of the greatest cinematographers of all time. (His rich, elegant compositions add nuance and weight to this film's atmosphere.) Together this team had made the excellent films Maria Candelaria (1944) — a dual award winner at Cannes — and Salón México (1949). And, although the bulk of their output was little seen here in the U.S., they had their fans. Director John Ford recruited Figueroa to shoot his beautiful, underrated The Fugitive (1947), and John Huston did the same on Night of the Iguana (1964). And Sam Peckinpah cast the fiery Fernández as the unforgettable villain of The Wild Bunch (1969), "Mapache."

In June of 2024, the Criterion Collection gave Victims of Sin an excellent, and essential, DVD and Blu-ray release, opening a window to a chapter of cinema history that has been too long neglected. The Blu-ray includes a pristine black-and-white transfer and an uncompressed monaural audio track. Bonuses include an interview with filmmaker and archivist Viviana Garcia Besné (17 minutes), an interview with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Killers of the Flower Moon) on Figueroa (16 minutes), an archival documentary featuring an interview with Sevilla (29 minutes), a trailer, and new subtitles. Scholar Jacqueline Avila provides the liner notes essay and Lauren Tamaki contributed the fetching cover art. Highly Recommended.

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