Whatever happened to South America in movies, after the 40's?

I apologize if this is the wrong thread, please move if necessary.

So I sit here and watch TCM and back in the 40’s, South America, Brazil, Argentina, all that Carmen Miranda stuff - even cartoons - was all the rage. Havana! Carioca! Exotique nightclubs. And it occurs to me, it disappeared. Gone. Watching those old movies is like glimpses of forgotten worlds. In fact, you never hear about South America at all any more. So tell me, why is that, what happened?

In the 1930s FDR opened an initiative to Latin America commonly called the “Good Neighbor Policy.” A large part of the policy was frankly propoganda. In later years there was even a movie office to promote positive images of South America. However, most of the initiative died away after World War II and the dawn of the Cold War, when the U.S. focused its attention on Europe.

We get movies with Colombia as a hotbed of drug traffickers.

Romancing the Stone?

Moved to Cafe Society.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

Nitpick. Havana is not in South America. It is in Cuba which is not that far from Miami and firmly in North America as are most of the other popular Caribbean islands. It think you meant “Latin America” which includes also includes Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama - all of which are Latin American but North American countries.

A lot of the things you see movies back then romanticize Cuba and, to a lesser extent, Mexico because they were near the U.S. but they were very different places back then. Cuba had a largely western but somewhat exotic culture that was still accessible if you had money. People with money could take short airplane flights from Miami to Havana to experience something completely different but be still fairly close to the U.S.

You can even see it on the I Love Lucy Show with her Cuban husband, Ricky Ricardo. All of that changed with the Cuban Revolution in the 50’s when Castro took power and the Cold War heated up. Suddenly Cuba wasn’t just not cool anymore - it was forbidden for Americans at least and an active enemy up until almost now. Mexico developed its own political problems as well over time and, while it never quite reached true enemy status, it became the sketchy neighbor that you wish would just go away or at least clean up their own yard (unless it is Spring Break!).

I never noticed any true South American countries get lionized in movies from that era except Brazil in a few examples. Do you have examples of other Latin American countries besides Cuba or Mexico?

Argentina was doing fairly well for a long time but that is so far away that it might as well be South Africa or Australia. Even if there are examples, Argentina has huge economic problems these days and they have had their share of political crises as well so that take much of the romantic edge off. Even if that weren’t the case, they got into a kerfuffle with the British over the Falkland Islands in 1982 and Americans are always going to retro-side with Reagan and Thatcher in general over the Argentinians.

kunilou has it. In a larger picture, the U.S. was generally getting more isolationist and anti-Europe in the 1930s. It became harder to do non-political pictures about Europe and some films ran into resistance from Germany. The movie moguls looked to open up new sources of revenue. Havana was increasingly popular as a gambling destination and a route for entertainers to move to America. Desi Arnaz was one such success. Carmen Miranda was only a year or so earlier.

The fad peaked as the war cut off virtually all European markets and stars. After the war, the country was no longer isolationist and had millions of people now acquainted with Europe. South America couldn’t compete. It was only a temporary substitute.

There were some entertainers before and after, of course, and some pictures focused on the area. But fads are like that.

One ventures to guess that the spread of Socialism through South America didn’t help any.

Most of South America was right-wing dictatorships before and after Castro. And Castro was 20 years after Carmen Miranda. Heck, Desi and Lucy were separated by then. Might as well blame it on the Zika virus.

Cuba was not the only socialist or potentially socialist nation in South America. The Cold War was mostly fought in South America and the Middle East and started just after the 40s. You’ll still see plenty of Latin America in TV after the 50s, but all in espionage shows, like Mission: Impossible.

In general, if your country is popularly portrayed (through a dummy name) on Mission: Impossible, your country is not a prime tourist destination.

Erm…Africa? Asia?

Disney had to shift gears during World War II. Europe wasn’t their target export market any more, and Asia wasn’t one yet. In between military training/VD films, they made iSaludos Amigos! with an eye towards Latin America. After the war, this was no longer necessary or their focus (although there was one more South American-themed cartoon, The Emperor’s New Groove, decades later). I would assume the rest of Hollywood followed the same trajectory.

Fitzcarraldo and Quantum of Solace are outliers, I suppose.

That was pretty hot.

Blame It on Rio, the (I think) screen debut of Demi Moore and Michelle Johnson. The Mission, with Robert DeNiro. I think part of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was set in South America.

Oddly enough, I can think of more American movies set in Central America than South America at the moment. (Mosquito Coast, Walker, License to Kill, Romero…)

I’m referring to things like the CIA turning in Nelson Mandela to the Apartheid junta or assassinating Patrice Lumumba, or events like the Taiwan Straits crises and the ASEAN Declaration, not necessarily the Korean or Vietnam War or the various African proxy wars.

Although why do those not count but the South American and Middle Eastern conflicts do?

  1. What is ‘potentially socialist’?
  2. Cuba isn’t in South America.
  3. Only Cuba, Nicaragua and Guyana ever had Marxist/Soviet orientated governments, and the last of those isn’t really in ‘Latin’ America (South America and Latin America aren’t the same thing). Peru had a quasi-socialist military government for a while as well. The rest of the region stayed firmly in the hands of the right.

The Right Wing dictatorships we propped up in the fight against Evil Socialism weren’t that attractive. Overthrowing a legally elected government because it angered American Business Interests isn’t the sort of inspiring story that Hollywood likes.

(Where in South America? Or do you mean Everything South of the Rio Grande River?)

Right. After the “Good Neighbor Policy” portrayal of South America (as well as Cuba and Mexico) as partyland, you get Mission: Impossible (the TV show) setting the missions in fictitious “Latin American” dictatorship countries with names like “Santo Fulano.” They were gross caricatures of the classic banana republic stereotype. From that, as Rick Kitchen notes, you get South America–primarily Colombia–as the generic scary place where only bad things can happen to the protagonist, usually related to drug trafficking.

So, essentially, in mainstream U.S. film, Latin America serves as quick, easy simplistic backdrop of one type or another which rarely has much to do with the reality of life in its various and varied countries. (However, the original partyland trope continues today in the practice of college students going to Cancun and other destination in Mexico for spring break.)

I have my answer, I don’t know why I never thought of it before, so thank you! (The European market for movies was cut off during WWII so they concentrated on South America.)

Some of the titles around those years: The Three Caballeros, Down Argentine Way, Flying Down to Rio, Holiday in Mexico, Weekend in Havana, Carnival in Costa Rica, That Night in Rio. Wartime musicals, mostly. There seemed to be so many of them.

(I know Cuba isn’t in S. America, but it is seen as being part of “Latin America”).

Once upon a time the expression “as rich as an Argentine” was the equivalent of “as rich as an oil sheik”. Get a few loony socialist governments in place like the Peron regime and the wealth disappears as fast as a snowflake in 100 degree weather.