The Pearl (film)

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La perla
U.S. theatrical release poster
Directed byEmilio Fernández
Screenplay byJohn Steinbeck
Emilio Fernández
Jack Wagner
Based onThe Pearl
by John Steinbeck
Produced byOscar Dancigers
StarringPedro Armendáriz
María Elena Marqués
Fernando Wagner
Charles Rooner
CinematographyGabriel Figueroa
Edited byGloria Schoemann
Music byAntonio Díaz Conde
Águila Films
RKO Radio Pictures
Film Asociados Mexico-Americanos
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Películas Mexicanas (Peli-Mex)
Release dates
  • September 12, 1947 (1947-09-12) (Mexico)
  • February 17, 1948 (1948-02-17) (United States)
Running time
77 minutes
United States
Languages2 versions:

La perla (The Pearl) is a 1947 Mexican-American film directed by Emilio Fernández. It is based on the 1947 novella The Pearl by John Steinbeck, who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Fernández and Jack Wagner.

In 2002, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


In a fishing village in La Paz, Mexico, pearl fisherman Kino and his wife Juana are in anguish because their infant son Juanito was stung by a scorpion. The nearest doctor, a foreigner, refuses to treat him without adequate payment and he is taken instead to a curandero. The doctor does not want anything to do with the natives. Later, the doctor and his brother, a loan shark, meet Kino after he finds a valuable pearl and they decide to steal it from him.

One day, Kino stumbles upon a majestic pearl. He immediately grabs it and returns to his wife.

Juana, Kino's wife, is convinced that the pearl only brings bad luck and tries to convince Kino to return it to the sea. But Kino refuses to listen, hoping that the pearl will change their lives once he sells it. To Juana, the pearl represents death but for Kino, it represents freedom. Now that Kino is "rich" he wants to buy a gun and new shoes. He also wants his son to be able to read. Kino believes that if his son acquires knowledge, they will also gain knowledge, which will set them free. The villagers follow the family around with the pearl and play music while attempting to get a look at the pearl. The doctor that had refused to help Juanito tries to get the Pearl from the family by claiming he will help the already healthy infant son in exchange for the much more valuable pearl.

Once Kino and his family head to town, the dealers make him a deal that is not near the total worth for the pearl, and try to convince Kino that the pearl is worthless and the deal is the best he will get. The men want to prevent Kino from gaining social mobility, and they want him and his family to remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Kino does not accept the deal and decides to go to the city instead. Kino starts drinking with these men who were most likely only with him to get him intoxicated enough to get the pearl. But when the men try and rob him he doesn't have the pearl. His wife had kept the Pearl on her as she knew something would happen to him.

Later on his brother comes to help and helps Kinos family escape through the night. The family is then chased, only confirming the predictions of Juana.

At one point Juana takes the pearl from Kino because she wants to throw it into the ocean. Kino chases after her, and hits her. The two decide that they are going to run away. They try to take a boat but they it tips over before they are able to get very far. As they run away they are followed by two natives and a man on a horse. The wife eventually gets very tired and she wants to be left alone. She does not have shoes and therefore her feet are very bloody. Kino refuses to leave her and she goes with him because he is her husband. Eventually the men have them trapped on a cliff. One of the men fires a shot which kills the baby. At the end Kino and Juana throw the pearl off of the highest ledge to get rid of it. The pearl gave Kino and his family a chance for a better life, but in their society it was completely unacceptable. The film depicts the issue of colorism where only those with fairer skin can have the money and resources to live comfortably. Kino and his family were considered to be indigenous, and therefore were seen as at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Everyone in the society tried to make sure that they stayed at the bottom of the social hierarchy, and try to steal the pearl from them. So in the end the pearl was not helpful at all, because the problem is how the society is structured and how those with fairer skin are favored.



Spanish-language poster

Critical response[edit]

When the film was released, Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, liked the film, writing, "An exceptional motion picture, both in content and genesis, is the beautiful and disturbing filmization of John Steinbeck's novelette, The Pearl, which reached an appropriate showcase at the Sutton Theatre yesterday. Exceptional it is in genesis by virtue of the fact that it was made in Mexico by a Mexican company with Mexican actors who speak English throughout. And extraordinary it is in content through the benefit of a story of primitive power, told with immaculate integrity through an eloquent camera."[2]

To this day, the film is viewed with very much cultural importance and is highly renowned.



  1. ^ "RKO Mex Studios". Variety. 26 December 1945. p. 19.
  2. ^ Crother, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 18, 1948. Accessed: June 29, 2013.

External links[edit]