Spanish cinema has suffered one tough blow after another over the past several days. Even as we celebrate a mini-revival of the work of Luis Buñuel, we lost Jess Franco last Tuesday, Bigas Luna on Friday, and today, Sara Montiel. Twitter is aflame, but as I write, it’s only the Spanish-language news organizations—El Mundo, for example—that are reporting that the renowned actress and singer passed away this morning at her home in Madrid, aged 85.
I turn, then, as we all do, to Wikipedia for the time being: “After her unprecedented international hit in Juan de Orduña’s El Último Cuplé in 1957, Montiel achieved the status of mega-star in Europe and Latin America. She was the first woman to distill sex openly in Spanish cinema at a time when even a low cut dress was not acceptable…. Her films El Último Cuple and La Violetera netted the highest gross revenues ever recorded for films made in the Spanish speaking movie industry during the 1950s and 1960s. She also played the role of Antonia, the niece of Don Quixote, in the 1947 Spanish film version of Cervantes’s great novel. She was portrayed in the Pedro Almodóvar film Bad Education by a male actor in drag (Gael García Bernal) as the transsexual character Zahara, and a film clip from one of her movies was used as well…. Among the films that kept her immensely popular during the 1960s and early 1970s were La Violetera (1958), Carmen, la de Ronda (1959), Mi Ultimo Tango (1960), Pecado de Amor (1961), La Bella Lola (a 1962 version of Camille), Casablanca, Nid d’espions (1963), Samba (1964), La Femme Perdue (1966), Tuset Street (1967), Esa Mujer (1969), Varietes (1971), and others.”
Update, 4/11: In a two-part biography at Alt Film Guide, Andre Soares notes that Montiel appeared in Anthony Mann’s “poorly received romantic melodrama Serenade (1956), in which singer Mario Lanza is torn between American society dame Joan Fontaine and Mexican wife Montiel” and in “Samuel Fuller’s post-Civil War Western Run of the Arrow (1957), as a Sioux Indian named Yellow Moccasin (and reportedly voiced by Angie Dickinson) who ends up as U.S. soldier Rod Steiger’s wife. According to online sources, at that time Columbia’s Harry Cohn offered Montiel a seven-year contract, which the actress turned down because she didn’t want to be typecast as Mexican spitfires and Yellow Moccasins in Hollywood movies…. Also in the ’50s, Sara Montiel acquired Mexican citizenship. ‘Mexico is my home away from home,’ she would remark in a 2007 interview in Miami. ‘When I arrived in Mexico in 1950 all doors were soon thrown open to me, I have great memories from those years.'”