20 August 2011

Imperio Argentina

Imperio Argentina (1906-2003) was a singer, dancer and actress, who appeared in more than 30 films. Although she was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was successful all over South America, she was a Spanish citizen. beside in Spain and South America, she also worked in France, Italy and Germany.

Imperio Argentina
Dutch postcard by M.B.& Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam), no. 199. Photo: Cifesa (Cifesa was a big Spanish film distribution company between the mid-1930's and the early 1960's.)

Petite Imperio
Imperio Argentina was born Magdalena Nile del Río, on December 26th, 1906 in San Telmo, the tango district of Buenos Aires, during an artistic tournee of her Spanish parents, guitar player Antonio Nile and actress Rosario del Río, in Argentine. Until the age of 12 she lived in Malaga, where she studied dance. Thanks to Pastora Imperio, she debuted at the age of 12 at the comedy theatre of Buenos Aires. Imperio called her Petite Imperio, her artistic name in those years, when she was successful all over South America. When she came back to Spain in 1926, she adopted the artistic name of Imperio Argentina, singing in the main theaters of the country. Film director Florián Rey discovered her at the Romea theatre in Madrid and enabled her to play in the silent film La Hermana San Sulpicio/Sister San Sulpicio (1927, Florián Rey). Eventually she also married Rey, who would be the first of her three husbands. In Spain and Germany Argentina performed in the late silent Corazones sin rumbo/Herzen ohne Ziel/Hearts Without Soul (1928, Benito Perojo, Gustav Ucicky), which costarred Betty Bird and Livio Pavanelli. After signing a contract with Paramount Pictures, she worked in Paris with the best directors and actors of the moment, at such films as Su noche de bodas/Her Wedding Night (1931, Louis Mercanton, Floriàn Rey) and Lo major es reir (1931, E.W. Emo, Floriàn Rey) with Tony D'Algy. At Paramount she worked with Carlos Gardel in the short La casa es seria/Love Me Tonight (1931, Lucien Jacquelux) (the film is considered as lost) and Melodía de Arrabal/Suburban Melody (1932, Louis Gasnier), singing rare duets with him. In 1934 Argentina returned to Spain, where, thanks to her cooperation with Rey, Argentina became a star and obtained her greatest successes in folkloristic films as the sound version of Hermana de San Sulpicio/Sister San Sulpicio (1934, Floriàn Rey), Nobleza Baturra/Aragonese Virtue (1935, Floriàn Rey), and Morena Clara/Dark and Bright (1936, Floriàn Rey). Adolph Hitler asked her to play in a film about Lola Montes, which she declined but instead she played in both the Spanish and the German version of Carmen, la de Triana/Andalusische Nächte (1938, Florian Rey, Herbert Maisch), shot around Malaga. In the German version Friedrich Benfer costarred as Don José, while in the Spanish version Rafael Rivelles played this part. Argentina is said to have had an affair with Rivelles before she had divorced her second husband Ramón Baillío. Her divorce caused a scandal, as she was married for the Catholic church.

Rossano Brazzi
Rossano Brazzi. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3740/1, 1941 - 1944. Photo: Villoresi/Ufa distribution.

Paseo de la Fama
In 1940 Imperio Argentina travelled to Rome to star opposite Rossano Brazzi in Tosca/The Story of Tosca (1941, Carlo a.k.a. Carl Koch), an adaptation of the story by Sardou. The film was originally directed by Jean Renoir, but when war between France and Italy was at hand and Renoir was knocked down by fascists one day, he fled to France and his assistant Carl Koch took over directing. In his memoirs, Michel Simon, who played her antagonist Scarpia in the film, recalls how he rehearsed the rape scene of Tosca too vividly, unveiling one of her breasts. Fascinated, he tried the same the next day, but Imperio had taken measures, firmly tying up her robe. The film was partly shot on location, at the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Palatine Hill and in front of the Palazzo Farnese (the French embassy). A young Luchino Visconti collaborated as a first assistant and learned the tricks of the trade here. In the 1940's Imperio also worked with director Benito Perojo at the films Goyescas (1942), Bambú/Bamboo (1945), La maja de los cantares/The Songstress (1946) and La copla de la Dolores (1951) with Lola Beltrán. In the 1950's she focused on big musical shows while in the 1960's she did Ama Rosa (1960, León Klimovsky) and Con el viento Solano (1966, Mario Camus) as the mother of Antonio Gades. After years of little activity she was rediscovered at Festival Internacional de Cine in San Sebastián. From then on a new golden age started, full of honors. With Borao she did Tata Mía/Dear Nanny (1986, José Luis Borau) opposite Carmen Maura and with El polizón de Ulises/The stowaway of the Ulises (1987, Javier Aguirre), her last film. She also performed in the stage play of the Expo92, Azabache. In 1996 she was elected 'pregonera' at the Festa del Pilar at Saragozza, to celebate the centenary of the cinema. In 2001 she published her memoirs, Malena Clara, written by Pedro Villora. Imperio Argentina died of natural causes in 2003, in her house in Torremolinos in Andalucia. She lies buried nearby at Benalmádena (near Málaga). In 2011 she was given a star in the Spanish Walk of Fame, the Paseo de la Fama in Madrid. In 1994 she already was honored as Ciudadano Ilustre de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (Illustrious Citizen of the City of Buenos Aires).

Scene with Imperio Argentina in Carmen la de Triana (1938, Florían Rey) singing Los piconeros. Source: Canta Roable (YouTube).

Sources: Miguel A. Andrade (IMDb), Wikipedia (English, German, Italian and Spanish), and IMDb, .

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