Pepe el Toro versus Rocky Balboa: Navigating Mexican Cinema on YouTube

Curator's Note

Pepe el Toro (1952) is the third film in director Ismael Rodriguez' musical trilogy starring Pedro Infante, icon of Mexico's golden-age cinema. Pepe—a carpenter of humble means, widower, and single father—takes up boxing as a way to get himself out of financial debt. At first comically inept, Pepe manages to win several fights, and the film ends with his unlikely triumph against a professional boxer.

Searching for the title or title character on will bring up results that include the film itself complete or in twelve parts, key scenes from the trilogy, and a humorous short film titled "Pepe el toro vs [sic] Rocky Balboa," parenthetically labeled as "the original" to distinguish it from a number of remakes and spin-offs of this clever spoof.

As one might predict, "Pepe el toro vs Rocky Balboa (el original)" is an assemblage of black-and-white footage from Rodriguez' film and from different films of the Rocky series, constructing an imagined boxing match between these two working-class heroes. Jumping back and forth between close-ups of Infante and Sylvester Stallone, and between shots of the ring, the spectators, the fight commentators, and the supporting female characters, the film is a roll call of the key elements of any boxing film's climatic scene. The editing creates a cinematic time warp that juxtaposes the 1950s Mexican version of these elements to 1970s Hollywood style. What makes watching the film enjoyable is that the desire to engage in a chronologically impossible face-off forces the viewer to self-consciously overlook the blatant technical errors and continuity issues that come from combining various films with rudimentary editing and no digital manipulation. The Spanish subtitles reinvent the English dialogues to offer narrative coherency, and a bit more humor.

The juxtaposition of texts (and symbolically of rival film industries) within "Pepe el toro vs Rocky Balboa" facilitates an easy entry for students into a discussion of larger issues in film studies, such as comparing genres across cultures and/or historical periods. The online navigation in public audiovisual archives such as YouTube offers further examples how classic cinema is fragmented in its contemporary consumption and its icons and cultural significance have been re-appropriated by viewers to make it relevant to timely issues.


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