Cast & Crew
Fernando De Fuentes
A woman who has sold herself for fortune finally falls in love, only to learn the man loves her daughter.
Fernando De Fuentes
In several cases, the revisionist romance occurs when the woman is the one wearing the pants (and boots, and wielding the whip). Joan Crawford in Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954) and Barbara Stanwyck in Sam Fuller's Forty Guns (1957) have reversed the female stereotype to become leather-clad man-eaters, but they did so in the shadow of the screen's first true devoradora -- devourer of men. This role belongs exclusively to Mexican actress Maria Felix, mainly as a result of her memorable performance in Fernando de Fuentes's 1943 film Dona Barbara.
Set on the dusty savannas of Venezuela, Dona Barbara is a sublimely melodramatic fable of a young woman (Maria Felix) who is raped and her would-be lover killed by a group of brutal seamen. She settles on the arid plains and becomes a cattle trader, ruthlessly building an empire out of violence and cold-hearted determination. According to the film's introduction, "nothing can placate her loathing toward men." She rules the plains with an iron fist, while her daughter, Marisela (Maria Elena Marques), roams the llanos as an almost feral woman-child. When a powerful lawyer, Santos Luzardo (Julian Soler), arrives in the region to sell off his family's ranch, he seems nothing more than another man ripe for crushing. But Dona Barbara becomes fascinated by this handsome stranger.
The ranchmistress is reputed to have magical powers. She does occasionally lapse into interior dialogues, and in one wonderful scene puts a curse on Luzardo over a homemade altar, turning his portrait upside down, lighting religious candles and intoning, "Man, I will see you before me, tamed and humble, just as Christ before Pilate." In time, Barbara's hatred toward Luzardo begins to wane, and she finds herself attracted to the defiant man, but discovers that her daughter (now tamed and beautified) has also become fascinated by him. However, only one woman can have Luzardo, and the decision is ultimately Barbara's.
The film is based on the 1929 novel by celebrated Venezuelan author Romulo Gallegos. Not so much a romantic melodrama, the novel was a work of socio-political idealism about the civilization of the rugged and lawless savannas. Gallegos left Venezuela for Spain, to escape a dictatorship from 1931 to 1935. When he returned, he was appointed minister of education. He entered the political arena and in 1948 became the first democratically elected President of the country. Unfortunately his government was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup eight months after Gallegos took office. He died in 1969.
Born Maria de Los Angeles Felix Guerena in 1914, Felix was so closely associated with her role in Fuentes's film that throughout her life she was often referred to as "La Do¿a" and was frequently cast in similar roles. She took on the persona of the bewitching but cruel woman, becoming muse to several great artists (including Diego Rivera and Jean Cocteau), writers (Carlos Fuentes), and directors (such as Jean Renoir and Luis Bu¿uel), and a wife to a succession of four men. According to one source, Egypt's King Farouk offered her Nefertiti's crown "for one night of love." But Felix refused to let any man control her, and was quoted as saying, "I cannot complain about men. I have had tons of them and they have treated me fabulously well. But sometimes I had to hurt them to keep them from subjugating me."
In 2000 she received the Gabriel Figueroa Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, and in 1996 she was honored as Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (a sort of artistic knighthood bestowed by the French government). Felix was a jet-setter that always maintained her movie star appearance and mystique. When asked her age by a journalist, Felix once responded, "Look, young lady, I have been very busy living my life and I've not had time to count it."
Upon her death on April 8, 2002 (her 88th birthday), The Guardian neatly pigeonholed Felix as "the incarnation of the strong, sexual woman, who would, nevertheless, be tamed by machismo before the end of the movie." Felix herself described herself differently, as "a woman with the heart of a man. A woman of war."
Her death at age 88 was attributed to heart failure (while she slept), but her brother charged that she had been poisoned. To settle the matter, her body was exhumed three weeks later, and the ruling of natural causes was sustained.
Director: Fernando de Fuentes
Producer: Jesus Grovas and Fernando de Fuentes
Screenplay: Romulo Gallegos, based on his novel
Cinematography: Alex Phillips
Production Design: Jesus Bracho
Music: Francisco Dominguez
Cast: Maria Felix (Dona Barbara), Julian Soler (Santos Luzardo), Maria Elena Marques (Marisela), Andres Soler (Lorenzo Barquer), Charles Rooner (Don Guillermo).
Producer: Jesus Grovas, Fernando de Fuentes
Director: Fernando de Fuentes, Miguel M. Delgado
Screenplay: Fernando de Fuentes, Romulo Gallegos
Cinematography: Alex Phillips
Film Editing: Charles L. Kimball
Art Direction: Jesus Bracho
Music: Francisco Dominguez, Prudencio Esaa
Cast: Maria Felix (Dona Barbara), Julian Soler (Santos Luzardo), Maria Elena Marques (Marisela), Andres Soler (Lorenzo Barquer), Charles Rooner (Don Guillermo), Agustin Isunza (Juan Primito).
by Bret Wood