Pecado de amor is camp enough at the beginning: Sara Montiel is Sor Bélen, a nun in a woman’s jail. A young female prisoner tries to commit suicide, and by way of comfort, Sor Bélen recounts her own past as Magda Béltran, cabaret singer and baddest woman in Madrid.
Magda’s story is thus told in flashback. We see her trifling with the affections of a young man, Ángel (a very young and handsome Terence Hill acting under the name of Mario Girotti here), so in love with her he forges his father’s name on a check to buy her an expensive bracelet. She has trouble offloading him. The father, Adolfo (Reginald Kernan) gets involved, tries to buy her off, but falls in love with her instead when he discovers she’s really a nice woman from a humble background trying to do her best to raise an illegitimate daughter.
She’s about to achieve happiness with Adolfo when the manager of her nightclub and semi-pimp gets involved and she shoots him in self-defence. She’s taken to jail and at her trial denies knowledge of Adolfo so as not to ruin his career and social position. She expects to be in jail for a long time and gives her daughter up for adoption. Adolfo, however, comes to her defence. But it’s too late. She’s free but has now lost her daughter, her lover and her career and is forced to go outside Spain to seek work, an opportunity to see her garnering applause in the great capitals of Europe.
In Greece, she reunites with Adolfo, they cement their love but then he disappears suddenly. It turns out his wife, who’s been in a sanatorium in Switzerland for all these years, has recovered; and moreover it’s Adolfo who adopted her daughter and raised her to be a lady. This is all too much for Magda. The nuns taught her to pray when she was in jail; and now she decides to find comfort in God.
If the beginning was camp, I nearly fell off my chair at the end (see above) where Sor Bélen is in Church, surrounded by a glorious choir, singing at her daughter’s wedding, as she stifles a sob whilst the camera cuts to her former young lover now married and with his wife, then to his father, the man she loved but can’t have, and then to a stained glass window in Church. The official sinner of the Spanish cinema of those years thus comes face to face with all her sins, in church, even as she gets redeemed and sanctified by a holy spirit voiced by the choir and pictured by the icons in the stained glass window. It’s as great an ending as Barbara Stanwyck’s in Stella Dallas, though this one will make you laugh rather than cry (but in a good way).
Like all Montiel vehicles post-El ultimo cuplé, the film is a musical melodrama. This one has great songs such as Gardel’s ‘El dia que me quieras’. Like other of her films such as El ultimo tango, Montiel does a number in drag, here Pichi (see clip above), which allows the film to show Sara to us as sinner, nun AND pimp; and as her stardom became international, she sang in other languages (here Sous les toits de Parisin French and Tinaini in agape in Greek); and as her stardom became international and the budgets of her films increased, there are little travelogue montages of beautiful and exotic places most of her audience couldn’t then actually visit but possibly dreamed of seeing (here mainly the Greek islands).
One of the IMDB comments notes that, ‘Maybe I saw another version, or the soundtrack is wrong, but I would like to make note that, in this movie, Montiel never sings “Madreselva” (she does in an album appropriately titled “El Tango”) neither (does) she sing(s) “Under the roof of Paris” since she did that in “La Violetera” (in Spanish for the Spanish version, french in the french version). This is not important but accurate.’ But for the sake of accuracy, I’d like to say that my version of Pecado de amor definitely contains both numbers, the first as part of her international tour (see the [suggestive] image on the left), and the second whilst in Greece (image below right).
In an hommage to Montiel from the TV series, ‘El Legado de…’ one of the commentators notes that one of the keys to Montiel’s appeal is that women liked her as much as men. Men may have been drawn to her sex appeal but women loved the clothes (some here by Balenciaga), the jewels, the hair-do’s, and the working out of so many sufferings women were earlier, then and later, condemned to. So many of her films are like a continuation of the ‘fallen women’ cycle of American films of the thirties but in gorgeous Eastmancolour and with highlights of music from the ‘Great Hispanic Songbook’. But unlike in America, in the Spain of the late fifties and through the sixties, sin had to be paid for not only by suffering but by, as we can see in one of the campest endings of all time, Christian redemption.
As I’ve noted before in relation to some of her other films, Montiel breaks the unspoken rule that the actor must never look directly at the camera and often does so in some of her numbers. See example below: