Hollywood produces films starring, of course, a bunch of talented (or not) American actors. But some people coming from other countries also had a career, a long or short one, in the Movie Land. We can think of the German Marlene Dietrich, the Swedish Ingrid Bergman or the English James Mason. Today, I’m participating in the Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen. This blogathon is the occasion for us to explore the legacy of Hispanic actors or filmmakers that had a career in Hollywood or explore some films that relate of Hispanic culture, analyse the influence of Hispanic cinema on Hollywood films, etc. The possibilities are endless.
At first, I was not sure I wanted to participate in this blogathon, not because the idea wasn’t good (Aurora, I’m telling you this personally: I LOVE your blogathons) but because I didn’t really know what to talk about. I don’t know a lot about the Hispanic influences in Hollywood and some of the subjects I might have liked to pick were already taken. Then, I thought about this film: Vera Cruz, a Robert Aldrich’s 1954 western taking place in Mexico. The film stars my dear Burt Lancaster (that smile!), Gary Cooper, Cesar Romero, Denise Darcel, Ernest Borgnine and Sara (or Sarita) Montiel. Sara Montiel was a Spanish actress and she’s quite interesting in this film. So, I had my subject: Sara Montiel in Vera Cruz. It also was the occasion for me to watch this film again, because the last time I had seen it, was about two or three years ago. And well, I always enjoy a good western. Sara Montiel doesn’t play a leading role in this film, but her presence is significant enough to be noticed and to give us enough interesting stuff to say about her.
Sara Montiel was born in Campo de Criptana, Spain on March 10, 1928, and died in 2013 at the age of 85. She was an actress, but also a singer. Coming from a poor family, her childhood was rough due to their financial problems. She was first noticed for her singing talent when, at the age of 13, she won a singing contest. She started her acting career in 1944 in some Spanish films such as Locura de amor. She then continued her journey in Mexico, where she shot movies with some great star. Hollywood noticed her talent thanks to the film Carcel de mujeres. There, she shot two important films: Vera Cruz and Run of the Arrow (Samuel Fuller, 1957). She also starred in Serenade, a musical directed by Anthony Mann, who became her husband for seven years. She then continued a successful acting and singing career in Spain. Until 1970, she used to produce one disc and star in a musical each year. She then gave up her acting career to concentrate on singing performances and was then a real diva. Sara Montiel certainly was an international star and she became a legend. (thanks to Wikipedia for some of these information).
Well, let’s get back to Vera Cruz, her first Hollywood film. This film takes place after the American Civil War during a Mexican civil war, opposing Emperor Maximilian and Benito Juarez and the Juaritas. Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) and Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) and his gang are both solicited by the two camps. Maximilien’s side wins and a mission is given to the men: to escort Countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel) and her carriage to Vera Cruz. They will discover something interesting in the countess’s carriage: money, a lot of money… Here, Sara Montiel plays Nina, a Juarista secret agent.
In this film, each leading man has his girl. Denise Darcel is to Burt Lancaster and Sara Montiel, to Gary Cooper. What I like about her, is the fact that she plays a very strong character. Someone who doesn’t hesitate to let us know what she thinks. Someone who knows how to defend herself and who helps the weak ones. She is not a damsel in distress. She is first introduced in the picture when she is saved by Gary Cooper from some man attacking her. I love this moment when she tells him “Gracias Señor!” with a very joyful and pretty voice, and then, to everybody’s surprise, kisses him. Ok, that’s one trick to steal his wallet. During a battle between the two gangs, she reappears and takes the lead from one of the caravans of Maximilien’s troops. Benjamin (Gary Cooper) is surprised to see her here and she takes the occasion to give him is wallet back (but without the money with which she bought a new dress). These two obviously fell in love with each other, but the movie is not too focused on that. Unfortunately, Gary Cooper didn’t enjoy working with her.
Sara Montiel’s performance is, in my opinion, more interesting than Denise Darcel’s one, because her character allows more possibilities. She is a good girl, but a bad one in a way because she steals. As we are writing about Hispanic heritage, Sara Montiel really is the Hispanic heart of this film, she’s the true Mexican girl (in a context where the movie takes place in Mexico). It’s interesting to see the contrast between her and the French countess, in their manners, way of speaking, etc. And well, in my opinion, Sara Montiel is a better actress than Denise Darcel. She is able to make us live more emotions, she’s more sincere and versatile.
Except for her great acting talent, Sara Montiel also was a real beauty. Those eyes! In the film, she wears some very pretty dresses that accentuate her facial beauty. I’ll let you take a look at some pictures!
Having seen only one of her films, I can’t say I’m too familiar with Sara Montiel, but from what I’ve read of her, she certainly is someone who might be interesting to discover. I’ll be curious to watch some of her Spanish films. Well, Vera Cruz and this text were a start, but there is much more to explore!
Finally, let me thank Once Upon a Screen for hosting such a fun blogathon! I invite you to read the other entries and discover more people, films belonging to the Hispanic heritage of Hollywood! :