When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
LA VIOLETERA (Spain, 1958)

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Star vehicles can be a twonky trip when you know zip about the star it’s carrying.  Worshipful costuming, dramatic entrances and exits, and deifying lighting plans can help you interpret what kind of characters this actor generally plays, what fantasy audiences project upon him.  Indeed, few things illuminate Marshall McLuhan’s axiom that “the medium is the message” as the window-dressing that permeates a star vehicle.  The sexy and dramatic musical LA VIOLETERA, a product of Fascist Spain‘s film industry in 1958, is nothing but a star vehicle for Sara Montiel.  But when Sarita is in a film, a slight pretense of a story is all that’s really necessary as an excuse to overdose on the cinematic miracle of her presence.

I first became aware of Sara (“Sarita”) Montiel when I saw Pedro Almodóvar’s LA MALA EDUCACIÓN (BAD EDUCATION), which featured a drag queen impersonation and a clip from her 1969 opus, ESA MUJER (THIS WOMAN).   Early this summer I blogged that I saw her in a Robert Aldrich film, her first Hollywood production.  She had a respectable run in Hollywood during the mid-1950s, also appearing in films by other cult directors such as Sam Fuller and Anthony Mann.   While in Hollywood, she married Mann but returned to Madrid where somehow her former status as a supporting player morphed overnight into mega-superstardom.

violeteramontielLA VIOLETERA was her first post-Hollywood film:  a lollapalooza of a movie filled with lust, heartbreak and the sinking of the Titanic.  Montiel is first seen as Soledad, a humble and gentle violet seller, who catches the eye of a rich and sexy nobleman, Fernando (the always-interesting Italian actor Raf Vallone).  Due to their conflicting stations in life, Fernando ultimately gives up Soledad, who uses her rage, hurt, and beauty to propel herself as an international singing star.  The results are stunning:  few actress can make their bosoms heave with strong emotion, make their eyes flash with passion — or even deliver a song, for that matter — like Sarita.

Tennessee Williams once described Susan Hayward as Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe rolled into one.  In a way the same could be said of Sara Montiel.  While Montiel didn’t have the ferocious, searching acting intensity of Hayward, she had the same firey passion as Hayward that demanded attention on herself in every shot, every angle of the film and had the ability to keep her emotions on the surface, just waiting to explode.  She also had Hayward’s smoldering sexuality that promised to give a man a conscious ride of groans and ecstasy.

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What makes a Montiel movie even more lush and delirious is her sexy singing voice.  [I wondered if her vocalizations were her own or if they were dubbed; a flamenco dancer friend here in Austin once shared the stage with her in Madrid and verified her voice was real.]  Watch her burn up the (72 dpi) screen as she stands and delivers this canción from CARMEN LA DE RONDA, her follow-up film to LA VIOLETERA

I’m in my early stages of discovering Montiel:  she’s still alive and lives in Madrid where Sarita makes occasional appearances, usually smoking a fine Havana cigar.  A few years ago she recorded disco songs with titles like Macho and Touch Me.  Aside from Aldrich’s VERA CRUZ, her other Hollywood films (which I haven’t seen) sound like they could be beautifully fascinating train wrecks.   Her film for future husband Anthony Mann, SERENADE, is based on the novel by James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce).   I read the book years ago, which expounds the idea that for every straight man, there’s a guy out there who will bring out the latent homo.  In the novel, a singer gets deeply involved in a hot relationship with a Mexican prostitute.  She follows him up his career ladder as he becomes a famous opera singer; but among those in his new coterie of friends is THE guy who makes the singer break out in a musk-saturated sweat.  From what I can tell about M-G-M’s 1950s screenplay, the Gay guy has been transubstantiated into Joan Fontaine.  (Great joke somewhere, but I can’t go there, folks.)  The other Hollywood film of Sarita that has me curious is the Sam Fuller western, RUN OF THE ARROW, where she plays an Indian maiden named Yellow Moccasin opposite Rod Steiger.

Whoa, mama! See what I mean about train wrecks???

The DVD is from a faded Eastmancolor print that is screaming to be restored. No extras really on this release by the Navarre Corporation, but the subtitles are fine.

Doug / PoMo Joan
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3 Comments to “LA VIOLETERA (Spain, 1958)”

  1. Marilyn says:

    Wow, love those shots of the matador(?) watching her, and that glisten of a tear in her left eye. I can see the comparison with Hayward, a favorite of mine, but yes, more simmering than smoldering. Good find!

  2. Mark says:

    This review of La Violetera (1958) is very interesting. However the author is wrong when he states that it was Sarita’s first post-Hollywood movie. Actually it was El Ultimo Cuple (1957) which still holds the record as the biggest box office success of Spanish cinema.

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