Fifty years ago, a new movie superhero entered the national consciousness. The nation was Mexico, and its hero was the masked wrestler known as El Santo. After first gaining prominence in the ring and then in comic books, Santo next took on the challenge of film. It was in this medium that the wrestler would cement his legend as a larger than life action hero. It quickly became clear to movie producers that puny human villains no longer presented Santo with a proper challenge, and so in his first two films (a low-budget double bill), Santo is pitted against supernatural and science-fictional foes, Cerebro del Mal (Evil Brain) and Santo Contra los Homres Infernal (Santo VS the Infernal Men). The movies were hits in Mexico, and Santo’s appeal soon extend beyond his native Mexico.
With all the hoopla circulating around the platinum anniversary of what was arguably Hollywood’s greatest year, 1939, it’s worth remembering that this entire era was rich for more than just great movies. The decades on either side of 1939 were also the golden age for the screen’s great character actors. While the stars usually managed to squeeze out two, maybe three pictures a year, it often appeared that the character actors of this time were sprinting from one sound stage to the next. The good ones were very, very busy, and one of the greatest was Thomas Mitchell.
Born in 1892 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Mitchell, the oldest son of immigrant Irish parents, got his start on stage after briefly pursuing a career in journalism. For a while, he toured with a Shakespearean theater company headed by fellow character actor Charles Coburn. He then turned his sights to Broadway and appeared in more than twenty plays between 1916 and 1960, some of which he also wrote and/or directed.