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Ricardo Montalban and MY MAN & I

With the recent passing of Ricardo Montalban, I’d like to reflect on a neglected jewel of a film he made for M-G-M in 1952: MY MAN AND I, directed by William A. Wellman.

Ricardo Montalban & Shelley Winters in <em>MY MAN AND I</em>

Ricardo Montalban & Shelley Winters in

The screenplay was by John Fante with help from Jack Leonard.  Fante was a key influence on Charles Bukowski and a master of capturing the dark and debilitating flipside of sun-and-orange-blossoms Southern California.  The A-Plot of MY MAN AND I focused on Montalban’s exploitation as a Mexican-American laborer. The B-Plot was a romantic story between Montalban and Shelley Winters, lifted in large part from Fante’s most revered novel, Ask the Dust.

In 2006, Robert Towne made a film of Ask the Dust with Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek.  I don’t know how well it was received (I was working in Asia when it was released), but it seems to me that a movie based on an underground, American literary masterwork would have done better in the 1970s instead of this decade, when cinema-as-video-game rules.

To accommodate M-G-M in the 1950s, Fante’s novel had to go through some alterations to make it to the screen.  The studio’s guidelines for acceptable screen representations are amusing in retrospect:  in Ask the Dust, the girl was Latino, in MY MAN AND I the girl is Shelley Winters.  The girl in Ask the Dust was partial to smoking reefer.  Winter’s character enjoys tippling Muscatel.  And so on.

The other plot in the film (not from Ask the Dust) involved Montalban working as a migrant farm laborer.  The husband and wife who own the farm are played by Wendell Corey and the brilliant Claire Trevor.  Trevor gives a nuanced and layered performance (as always) as the wife whose husband legally and financially screws Montalban out of his pay.  As an actor, she conveys compassion for Motalban’s plight [for she is similarly exploited in her marriage] and a sexual subtext in that she craves the physicality that Montalban exudes as he labors shirtless in the field.

This was Montalban’s first film after his back accident while filming ACROSS THE WIDE MISSOURI in 1951, and despite the spinal injury he was in incredible shape.  As I discovered from reading Montalban’s obits, his physique was a question of debate after displaying his bare chest in THE WRATH OF KHAN. Many thought his pecs were prosthetic, but both Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner went on record as saying they were legit and that Montalban worked out to keep himself buffed well into his seventies.

Doug / PoMoJoan

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7 Comments to “Ricardo Montalban and MY MAN & I

  1. Bill Aken says:

    My mother played a bit part as a bride in ‘My Man and I.’ Have only seen a film clip from the movie and although I have most of Mother’s 31 films, this one is not available to buy. But… still looking.


    • Doug says:

      What a terrific claim to fame for your mom to have, Bill. I always wished there was more of me on film from my early days. Regarding finding a copy of the film, there are probably some dubious copies out there on auction sites, but hopefully the Warner Archives (which has the rights to the film) will have the title in its ‘burn-on-demand’ library soon. Thanks for posting!

      • Bill Aken says:

        Warners finally released the film into their archives. Received dvd today. Thanks for your earlier tip… kept an eye on the archive store til it showed up…. took a while, but I finally got it. Thanks again.. The kids will be tickled to see their grandmother on the screen again…

  2. […] This earnestly melodramatic film was co-written by novelist John Fante, who (according to Doug Bonner) modeled the love story between Montalban and Shelley Winters on the romance from his most famous […]

  3. Arsaib says:

    Now available from Warner Archives!

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