“Ni Sangre, Ni Arena,” (“Neither Blood nor Sand”) was the second major film of Cantinflas that made it to the movie screen by 1941. Cantinflas, who once was called by Charlie Chaplin “the world’s greatest comedian,” played dual roles in this movie.
In one of the characters, he was a meek devoted fan, while in the other he demonstrated to be an egotistical matador. The humor begins when, there’s an identity mix-up, as the humble fan, Cantinflas, is mistaken for a matador.
In the bull ring, just like in film, he brought the same kind of delight — his work in the ring became one of his most famous routines. Away from the screen, Cantinflas takes his bullfight drama on the road, performing in arenas in Mexico, Europe and the United States.
It was in September of 1942 that Mario Moreno, better known as Cantinflas, arrived in Brownsville on a Saturday night on the evening Pan American Airways plane from Mexico City.
Moviegoers, who had seen Cantinflas in the above mentioned film, heard the comedic matador, “Cantinfleando,” talking endlessly without saying anything, and also dispose of a charging bull using unorthodox antics, which kept them in an uproar.
His performance in Matamoros would be a rare opportunity to witness the Charlie Chaplin of Mexico in person. Ticket sales for the five bull corrida indicated a sellout.
As thousands of bullfight fans from this side of the border were anticipated to attend and due to the fact we were engaged in war, the following reminder was issued to local fans:
“Visitors crossing the border from the United States are reminded that no letters, magazines, or other papers are permitted to cross the border either to or from Mexico. In addition, only two dollar bills would be accepted to cross into Matamoros. If Valley visitors will remember these rules — traffic will move much faster over the bridges,” said government officials.
The two dollar bill limit was to prevent European nationals from brining U.S. currency into the country from Mexico during WW II; the government forbade American money to cross the border, except for $2 bills.
El torero “Bufo” enters the ring
With trumpets blaring and the crowd on its feet, the mighty matador, Cantinflas, enters the ring to the thunderous applause of six thousand people.
Just minutes into his routine, he had the spectators roaring with laughter.
When the bull paws the ground, Cantinflas mimics the animal, as he fought and danced to death two young bulls.
Along with the humorous antics, he was at his best when he danced, at a safe distance from his meek adversary, the rumba, a danzon and other pieces to the accompaniment of the music.
Once when the bull fell on a short turn, Cantinflas very arrogantly went and positioned himself close to the animal to read a newspaper while the bull got pleasure from the break in the action.
On another occasion, as the animal lost his fighting spirit and took a break, “El Torero Bufo” (comic matador) first sat, then reclined in the arena and motioned for the animal to charge, but the bull with his tongue hanging, decided rather to pause to draw breath.
The antics continued as the matador was undaunted by the rushing bull — but what happened next brought screams of amusement, as the vain matador’s pants felt off , revealing his pink underwear as he dashed for cover .
Abdon Cepeda, who was 5 years old at the time was in attendance on that day, and recently said, “I remember Cantinflas taking his shoes off and allowing the bull to take a sniff. Inhaling the foul smell brought the animal to its knees, bringing instant laughter. “
In the finale, the trumpets come to life, the brave matador’s routine ends when he uses a phony sword to attack the bull between the horns.
The sword bursts as it makes contact into a beautiful bouquet of flowers — bringing a sigh of relief from the murmuring crowd.
A newspaper report declared, “Amid his funny antics, which included dancing in front of the bull, and at the same time making the animal fight like an good matador, Cantinflas lived up to his name of being Mexico’s ace comedian. “
It is also written that the “matador routine” was so popular that many of his devoted impoverish fans were putting their possessions in “hock” so they could see him perform — many pawnshops were closed to prevent the unimaginable.
Cantinflas comes to Brownsville
By the mid-1940s, El Teatro Mexico in Brownsville and other Valley cities brought Cantinflas to the movie screen.
I consider myself fortunate that as a youth in the 1950s I got to see Cantinflas and other popular Mexican comics, like Tin Tan y Piporro.
With a quarter in hand, I stood in line that snaked around the theater, hopeful to make it in for the first showing, if not, you continued in line for the next performance.
In a 1948 interview Mario Moreno said, “Cantinflas represents the humble Mexican who wants to overcome himself and accomplish something in life.” “This is the message of the films.”