Gardel first ventured into cinema before his singing career took off. Flor de Durazno ("Peach Blossom"), an adaptation of Argentine writer Hugo Wast's novel, was released in 1917 directed by Argentine director Francisco Defilippis Novoa. Though it was reputedly followed by another Novoa film, La loba ("She-wolf"), there is no record of such a film existing. Increasingly in demand as a tango singer, Gardel abandoned his film career for the time being.
He returned to Argentine film briefly as sound-movie technology was developing there. In the fall of 1930, ten of his tango song performances, Diez Cortometrajes (Ten Untitled Shorts), were put on film by 89-year old Argentine director, Eduardo Morera using optical sound.
From then on, his film career was in the hands of Paramount. His first four films for the studio were produced in France and the final four in the U.S. The 1931 film, Luces de Buenos Aires ("The Lights of Buenos Aires"), was directed by Chilean director Adelqui Millar with screenplay by Argentine playwrights Manuel Romero and Luis Bayon Herrera. The film featured the orchestra of Julio De Caro, hybrid violin-cornet player and Gardel's friend, and Pedro Laurenz on the bandoneon with music by Gardel and Gerardo Hernan Matos Rodriguez. (Fourteen years earlier Rodriguez had written La Cumparsita that became the most popular tango song of all time). Gardel's co-star was Sofia Bozan. The film's most popular song was Tomo y Obligo, ("I drink and make you drink"). Audiences went crazy over the piece, making the projectionist rewind the film to hear it again, setting a tradition that would be repeated often during Gardel's films.
He made three films in 1932. Melodia de Arrabal ("Arrabal Melody") was directed by French director Louis Gasnier, and La Casa es seria ("The House is Serious") directed by Jaquelux. Both co-starred Spanish-Argentine actress Magdalena Nile de Rio under the stage name of Imperio Argentina. Esperame ("Wait for Me") too was directed by Gasnier. Most of the lyrics for the songs that Gardel composed for his films were written by Argentine journalist Alfredo La Pera.
Though produced in the midst of turbulent economic times, these four films had secured Gardel's box office status. Paramount offered him a new six-film contract, allowing him to establish his own production company for Latin American distribution. He turned to filmmaking full time.
His first two films of the new contract were produced in 1934 and directed by Glasnier. A melodrama, Cuesta abajo ("Downhill") co-starred Mona Maris and contained the hit song Mi Buenos Aires querido ("My Beloved Buenos Aires") as well as Amores de Estudiante ("Loves of a Student). El Tango en Broadway ("Tango on Broadway") was a comedy and wildly popular with audiences who demanded that some scenes be re-run as many as three times.
Considered Gardel's best film, El Día que me quieras ("The Day you love me") was released in 1935. Directed by American director John Reinhardt, it co-starred Rosita Moreno and had a more complex plot than Gardel's earlier films, allowing both stars to demonstrate their acting talent. The film had a small part for fourteen-year old bandoneon player, Astor Piazzolla, who went on to become one of tango's most renowned composers and band leaders. Gardel also finished filming Tango Bar in 1935. It was a musical comedy directed by Reinhardt, again co-starring Moreno and contained the popular tango song, Por una cabeza ("By a Head").
Gardel's future in the movies appeared bright. Now that he was a film idol throughout the Spanish-speaking world, Paramount wanted to make him one in Hollywood too. His poor English an impediment, the studio introduced him in the 1935 film, The Big Broadcast of 1936, a comedy directed by Norman Taurog and Theodore Reed. It starred the comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen and contained several cameo variety acts by among others, Gardel (singing in Spanish), Amos and Andy and the Vienna Boys Choir. With his Paramount contract coming to an end, Gardel also began discussing the possibility of making an Argentine film, Cabello del Pueblo ("The People's Horse") with Argentine director Manuel Romero. It was not to be. In June of 1935, his life ended tragically in a plane crash.
Tango Bar and the Spanish version of The Big Broadcast of 1936 (Cazadores de estrellas) were both released later that year to grieving fans across Latin America. From the English version of The Big Broadcast of 1936, Gardel's scene was deleted.