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Leonard Maltin's mini-biography of Cyd Charisse contains a very accurate piece of text: "the producers saw to it that she made the maximum impact in the minimal amount of screen time." In FIESTA she has a painfully small role (roughly fifth or sixth billed in the credits), but when it comes time for her to do what she does best, she does not disappoint. The irony, of course, is that she more closely appears Latin (with enhanced Hollywood makeup) than does Esther Williams- and Williams has the dubious distinction of playing the twin sister (!) of Ricardo Montalban. This, of course, is not something to blame on the actors; it's simply one of those MGM premises you have to buy/accept right off the bat. Montalban's debut film shows him off very nicely as a passionate would-be toreador whose first love is composing music. The family seems to be socially prominent and the outdoor set pieces and colorful costumes enhance the south-of-the-border atmosphere quite nicely. But the highlights are undoubtedly from Montalban and Charisse playing young lovers who pause every fifteen or so minutes to dance: first in a sort of group flamenco in a local salon set to the music of "La Bamba," then in a rapturous formal duet (him in black suit and Mexican hat; her in a multi-tiered white gown). MGM must've liked them together as they paired them in no less than four different films in the late 40's: this one, THE KISSING BANDIT, MARK OF THE RENEGADE, and ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU, almost always in dance duets.
Esther Williams is totally miscast in this attempt to take her out of the swimming pool (though there is one brief sequence at the "old swimming hole"). Twins born to a former matador - the boy wants to be a composer, not a matador. It's the girl who wants to be the matador. Dad pushes the boy, ignores the daughter. We've seen it before. It's all well-handled here, though nothing out of the ordinary. Montalban is fine in his first film. There is an outstanding dance he shares with an almost unrecognizable Cyd Charisse (in an early role) about 45 minutes into the film that brings the whole project to life for about five minutes - magical moment in film charisma and vitality. The star of the film however is the deservedly Oscar-nominated scoring of Johnny Green including an adaptation of Copland's EL SALON MEXICO into a fantasia for piano and orchestra (shades of what he'd do four years later in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and win a deserved Oscar for it). It's Green's musical underscoring of the film that enlivens the scenes, which are filmed in a very unspectacular Technicolor - all the earth tones make it look dirty. This is NOT a musical as some reviewers think it. It has no songs and only two dances. The fantasia is presented as a composer performing a work of his own. Worth a look, especially for the wonderful Charisse/Montalban Mexican dance.
I've viewed this film over and over and my piano training says there's no trick photography in the scenes where Montalban plays Green's adaptation of El Salon Mexico. I'm sure the beat-up old piano is not the actual sound source, but Montalban is hitting all the right keys at the right time! His technique is well above average, and anyone who could even fake that well would have to be able to play well too. Yet there's no mention of musical skill or training in any of his bios, nor does he play in any later films. Can anyone shed some light on this mysterious aspect of the multi-talented Senor Montalban?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Movie designed to introduce Ricardo Montalban to American audiences.
It's a drama--NOT a musical. There are a few musical numbers but that's
it. This takes place in Mexico and has Montalban and Esther Williams
playing twins. No--I'm not kidding! If you can swallow that you might
like this. Their father is a great bullfighter and expects his son to
be the same. However his son Mario (Mantalban) wants be a musician. His
sister Maria (Williams) is better at bullfighting then him. You can
probably guess the rest.
EXTREME PLOT SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH!!! Pretty forgettable as a drama. The situations are just silly, the dialogue pedestrian and you just KNOW how this is going to end. Also Williams isn't much of a dramatic actress. This film could have ended after an hour but this drags it out and gets REAL stupid during the second act. Williams has to bullfight in place of her brother--but nobody notices the difference! Seriously--everybody thought Williams was her brother???? Even for a 1940s movie that's pushing it.
Still it's not completely terrible. It's done with the usual MGM gloss and is shot in bright Technicolor. Montalban, Williams and Cyd Charisse are so young and beautiful and so full of life that it rubs off on the audience. The dance sequences with Montalban and Charisse are just incredible--I never knew he could dance! Williams even has a (brief) swimming scene. There's also some good acting from Akim Taminoff as Chato and Mary Astor as Williams and Montalbans mother. So it's silly but enjoyable as a no brainer. The dancing scenes alone make this worth seeing. I give it a 6.
I applaud the Esther Williams for agreeing to be Ricardo's fraternal
TWIN sister, tomboy, would-be bullfighter. An audience doesn't expect a
fine tuned rendering of a story -- we kind of KNOW it's only a
dramatization, not REAL life.
This was a pro-Mexico film in its day when Mexican-Americans were limited to patronage of Los Angeles movie theaters only one day of the week.
I watched from start to finish expecting to see a dance sequence found on You Tube - where Cyd Charisse and Ann Miller compete for the attention of Ricardo. Maybe it was cut from this film and released as a Music Short Suject???? Anyway it is well written, well acted, a slimmer Akim Taaaroff feigns a nice Spanish accent. Viva Esther, Cyd, and Ricardo in a nice family story -- would have been rated G.
When "Fiesta" played in Tampa, more local Latinos went to see Montalban
than the film or anyone else in it! This was because Montalban was a
well known star from the many Mexican movies that played locally.
However, in Mexico he was a serious actor while in Hollywood he was a "latin lover". In his first years more time was spent making him into a musical star than giving him time to display his acting talent.(He had to loose his hair to be taken seriously!) The movie was a vehicle for Esther Williams sans swimming pool (except for one brief scene) but it was Montalban and Cherrise's dancing that made it a hit. This was odd because Montalban was never in musicals in his native country. He sang -well he carried a tune- but actually danced quite well in order to creditably partner Cherrise and later on Anne Miller.
The one dramatic scene -in which Montalban who wants to be a composer and not follow his father's footsteps in the arena - that shows off Montalban's acting. He is in a wayside saloon and on the radio he hears his composition...actually Aaron Copelands "Fantasia Mexicna"..and goes to a piano and interprets with passion, vigor and sensitivity his composition.
An entertaining film and a great vehicle to feature Montalban. Too bad that his early cinematic years did not allow him to display his serious acting ability. Oh well, "That's Hollywood"...Ay Caramba!
This film introduces Richardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse (to the
American public). And it features much festive Mexican music. One of
the highlights of the film is a dance where Charisse is electric--in my
opinion outdoing some of the Rita Hayworth performances that preceded.
Montalban strikes a dramatic figure on the dance floor, in the bull
ring, and (surprisingly) at the piano. Other reviewers have wondered
about his piano technique. It is just a guess, but I think he was a
very good faker (not so good with the guitar). His timing is excellent
and his fingering is even fairly credible. Just good enough to allow
the director to linger on the keyboard more than directors usually do
when non-pianists perform.
Yes the script is fairly predictable, but I found the film enjoyable. Esther Williams may not be at her best here, and the role certainly does not require a great range or dramatic power, but she is, as always, a beautiful breath of fresh air.
I am not a fan of bullfights. If all they did was tease the bull with a cape, bullfights might be purely artistic expressions of athleticism. But those portions of the fight that occur outside of the cape work are brutal and merely sad. Fortunately, this film only deals with the cape work. As such, I found the scenes in the ring interesting. How many times can you watch a bull charge at a cape before it become boring and repetitive? Usually, only a few times. But this film illustrates the variations in cape work and the daring of the matadors.
I've just seen "Fiesta" for the first time. I was especially intrigued by Montalban's piano playing, wondering if he was really playing. If he was, he was outstanding. But what really had me wondering was: in the scenes in the bullring, someone was really 'lidiando' (leading) the bull...who was it? I've seen many bullfights in Mexico around the time that this movie was filmed, and those were excellent 'faenas' (the actual movements with the cape while leading the bull) being executed, not fake. Whoever the real matador was, he deserved to be credited. Also, in one scene there was a group of singers who were dressed in clothing typical of 'estudiantinas' (university students whose specialty is singing in a particular Spanish style)...I wondered which group was performing and couldn't find them in the credits.
If you can accept the notion that ESTHER WILLIAMS and RICARDO MONTALBAN
(his American film debut) are twins and that Esther could substitute
for him in the bull ring--well, then you can sit back and enjoy a few
of the other perks of FIESTA. It's more a drama than a musical, but the
dance numbers are what give it whatever zest it has as entertainment.
It's primarily a showcase for the talented Ricardo, seen here as a man who would rather be a composer of serious music than a bullfighter. He even gets to play his "Fantasia Mexicana" (actually Aaron Copland's "El Salon Mexico") in an exciting piano arrangement that has Montalban looking as though he's actually executing the piece. And colorful too is his dance number with CYD CHARISSE, who was then a rising young star on the MGM lot and got to do some specialty dance numbers in a variety of musical films.
Frankly, Esther became a much better actress in later films. FIESTA is actually one of her weakest dramatic performances and fans only get to see her take a dip in a pool once, and briefly. Her flat reading of most lines does little to advance the notion that she was a star, even when she wasn't wet.
Despite all the trimmings, it's just not on the level with other MGM musical dramas of the era and looks and plays more like a programmer than anything else. But, oh that music!
A famous matador raises his son to be a bullfighter like him but the
boy would rather be a musician. The son's twin sister, however, enjoys
bullfighting and becomes quite good at it. Eventually the son grows
tired of his pushy father and abandons the ring, which leaves his
sister to save the family's honor by pretending to be her brother and
fighting bulls herself.
Middling semi-musical with Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban as the unlikeliest pair of twins you'll ever see. I'm really not sure what MGM was thinking with this one. I can only assume they were hoping it would help make Ricardo Montalban a star. He does a fine job with what he's given. Esther is certainly nice to look at and plays her part well. They do manage to find a way to put Esther in a bathing suit for one scene, which I appreciated but thought amusing given how it was shoehorned in there. She also looks very cute in her matador outfit. Corny John Carroll plays Esther's boyfriend, a character named Pepe. There's a rather creepy subtext to the story as both Esther and Ricardo's love interests openly complain about the siblings' attentions toward each other. Fortunio Bonanova does well as the dad. Nice support from Mary Astor, Akim Tamaroff, and Cyd Charisse.
The most interesting part of this film's plot is that it has a woman proving herself capable of being as good as a man in a masculine "sport" at a time when such a thing was not common in movies. Yeah they cop out a little in the end but it's still pretty forward-thinking for its time. The production was a very troubled one and, unfortunately, some of the bulls were actually killed during the making of this film. Despite some lovely Technicolor and solid MGM production values, it's just such a forgettable movie that I wouldn't bother unless you were an Esther Williams completist.
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