- Montiel, Sara
- (1928- )Sara Montiel was the most international Spanish star of the 1950s and 1960s. Her musicals were popular in France and Italy, where she was regarded as Spain's answer to Italian "maggioratas" such as Gina Lollobrigida. She was born into a very modest family and had an impoverished childhood. She came to Madrid and found the support of influential older men like playwright Miguel Mihura, who became her gateway into the film industry in the mid-1940s. At the time, she was practically illiterate and had to learn dialogues phonetically. She discusses her affairs candidly in her memoirs, but far from being an ordinary gold digger Montiel worked hard to perfect her art; what she lacked in acting talent she made up for in star personality.Montiel was strikingly beautiful, with the kind of beauty that was gloriously captured by the camera. She had small parts in a series of prestigious productions, such as Bambú (Bamboo, José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1945), Mariona Rebull (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1947), Don Quijote de la Mancha (Don Quixote, Rafael Gil, 1947), and Locura de amor (Madness for Love, Juan de Orduña, 1948). In the last title, she was directed by Juan de Orduña, who would call her back eight years later to offer her the role that would redefine her career.Then Montiel moved to Mexico, where she was featured with great success in a few unremarkable films (the only one still remembered today is Miguel M. Delgado's Cárcel de mujeres [ Women's Prison, 1951 ]) before trying Hollywood, where she was given a series of roles as a Mexican in westerns (Veracruz, Robert Aldrich, 1954; Run of the Arrow, Samuel Fuller, 1957). She became a typical starlet, playing the publicity game (she was in the last picture taken of James Dean before his car crash) and marrying director Anthony Mann. Some performers devote their efforts to stretching their range, but Montiel, canny about her limitations, opted for specialization. She knew her only hope at stardom was to do one thing very well, and she set out to control every aspect of filmmaking that could showcase her best qualities. This spurred her interest in the technical side of film-making, where glamour could be manufactured by the camera.Unhappy about all the Indian and Mexican character roles she was offered, she accepted, without great expectations, Orduña's offer to do a musical in Spain. El último cuplé (The Last Torch Song, 1957), as the film came to be titled, was a surprise hit, a once-in-a-lifetime box-office wonder. For decades, it remained among the highest grossing Spanish films. Here we have all the features of the typical Sara Montiel vehicle for the next 20 years: a musical melodrama, often set in a show business background, centered about her emotional strife, and wrapped into a rags-to-riches narrative.She remained a limited actress, but a consummate star, who knew how to cultivate a certain image, both on screen and off. In the process, she pushed the boundaries of acceptability for film star behavior. Where others, such as Amparo Rivelles or Aurora Bautista, had been manipulated by the regime, she, to her credit, never allowed this, and consequently her films ran into difficulties with the censor. She played fallen women who make up for their transgressions with gorgeous costumes and a rise to stardom. Her star vehicles were often international co-productions that sold well abroad. Although mostly indistinguishable from each other in terms of artistic merit, La violetera (The Flower Seller, Luis César Amadori, 1958), Carmen la de Ronda (Carmen from Ronda, Tulio Demicheli, 1959), and Tuset Street (Jorge Grau, 1967) stand out for the subtle variations in her star image, and Esa mujer (That Woman, Mario Camus, 1969) is, with its knowing excess in handling conventions, the peak of her late career. She retired from the movies in 1974, after the failure of Cinco almohadas para una noche (Five Pillows for a Night, Pedro Lazaga, 1974) indicated that her particular kind of seductiveness was becoming outmoded.This was timely: the end of censorship would have presented challenges to her career that she probably was not interested in taking up. Unlike other actresses of her generation, she felt unable or unwilling to reinvent herself, and cultural change had phased out her glamorous heroines. She had a thriving career in her own theater shows during the 1980s, playing mostly to a devoted gay audience. Her iconic qualities were briefly glimpsed in Pedro Almodóvar's La mala educación (Bad Education, 2004), in which she appears on screen as the priestess blessing the budding romance of two young boys.
Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. Alberto Mira. 2010.