Hollywood's shadow: The American film industry and its Spanish-speaking markets during the transition to sound, 1929--1936

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn


Hollywood, Film industry, Spanish-speaking markets, Transition to sound, Mexico, Spain, Argentina

Subject Categories

Cultural History | Film and Media Studies | Latin American History | United States History


This dissertation analyzes the disorganization caused by the introduction of sound into the commercial cinema in the specific case of Hollywood's Spanish-language markets from 1929 to 1936. Hollywood adopted a series of strategies to retain these markets: direct production in Spanish, dubbing, subtitling, and investment in foreign Spanish-language productions. The first three of these proved inadequate to eliminate competition from locally made films in Spanish, the last strategy developed in recognition of this failure. Still, early sound film industries in Hispanic countries developed in a context largely defined by Hollywood's power over local markets, modes of filmmaking and technological advances. Hispanic film professionals who worked on Hollywood's Spanish-language films and who moved among other national industries had experiences that led them both to criticize and to emulate aspects of Hollywood's filmmaking practices. The intense scrutiny these early Spanish-language films received in their export and domestic markets led to public debates about the role of mass culture in national life.

I argue that the United States film industry's disorganization created opportunities for the nature of international film production, distribution, exhibition and reception to be renegotiated. To effectively market films to a broadly defined Spanish-speaking audience meant defining this new market not just linguistically, but also culturally. Attempts to do so by film professionals, critics, and moviegoers led to new ways of relating cultural identity to a popular entertainment form and international industry that Hollywood had long defined. This experience, I argue, contributed to an expansion of market-based, consumerist, and frequently transnational forms of self-identification that often came into conflict with national, regional, or pan-Hispanic cultural projects. This dissertation contributes to the study of transnational history by considering a transformative period in a key culture industry that led to new cultural and economic relations forged across national boundaries.

The time period covered in this dissertation begins with the production of feature-length films in Spanish in 1929. It ends in 1936, a year that marks the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and the release of the hit film 'Allá en el rancho grande' which sparked the boom years of the Mexican cinema.


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