Tag Archives: Luis César Amadori

Buenos días, condesita (Luis César Amadori, 1967)

buenos dias condesita

Rocia Dùrcal (1944-206) stopped making films in 1977 with Me siento extraña. Outside Spain she’s probably best remembered as the best-selling female recording artist of her time in all of the Spanish-speaking world, with sales of over 40 million albums. She continues to be venerated in Mexico for her partnership with Juan Gabriel and as an incomparable singer of rancheras. The duet below with Joaquin Sabina on Y nos dieron las diez is a lovely illustration of a ranchera arrangement of Sabina’s pop-rock song, and the difference between Sabina’s singing and Dúrcal’s play with emphasis, tone and notes is as good example as any of ranchera style. It melds beautifully.

In Spain, and over a decade after her death, she’s still beloved as a top sixties female film star, second only to Marisol. Like Lana Turner, how she was discovered is part of her legend. Luis Sanz recounts how he had bought his parents an television set. They were watching a talent show, Primer aplauso whilst he was shaving and he heard this marvellous voice and immediately went out to see who was singing. It turned out to be a pretty adolescent girl with a huge voice. He recounts that when he saw her smile he knew he could make her a star.

Sanz groomed her for stardom; she underwent lessons in various aspects of the performing arts, and Sanz built a starring vehicle for her particular talents, Canción de juventud (Luis Lucia, 1962). It was a hit. She consolidated her stardom with her second film, Rocío de La Mancha (Luis Lucia, 1963) and its success led to her becoming a teen idol on record and a top box office attraction on film in Spain and throughout Latin America. Her last film of the sixties, Las Leandras (Eugenio Martín) was also her biggest box office hit.

Dúrcal, along with Marisol, was one of the few of what in Spain are called ‘Niños prodigios/ Child Prodigy Stars,’ in a cinema unusually driven by them — it was as if through much of fifities and sixties national dilemmas could only be explored through the eyes of children, innocent of the past, hopeful for the future, possibly able to withstand the present. Most of these child stars  (Joselito, Pablito Calvo, Pili y Mili) did not survive and their stardom was left back with their childhood.

However, Dúrcal did survive, and part of the reason she did is because she managed to continue to mean and to symbolise. Throughout the sixties, and as she grew from a teenager to a young woman on film, a lot of the ideological struggles the country was undergoing: tradition vs modernity, the foreign vs the indigenous, the old vs the young, the city vs the rural, changing gender roles in a booming economy; all this and more are articulated in her films and via her changing persona.

Two pop-ock numbers in Buenos dias, condesita, both by Los Brincos, sometimes referred to as ‘The Spanish Beatles’, a group whose music has come to signify and evoke this period, illustrate these changes very well (Dúrcal would go on to marry one of its members Antonio Morales aka ‘Junior’ in 1970). See Rocio Dùrcal singing ‘Creo en ti’ in Madrid’s ‘El rastro’ flea-market. She’s previously sung an old-fashioned song, ‘Flores, Flores’ and some young men ask her if she doesn’t have anything more modern.

As the boys ask her if she has something more modern, she answers that it’s all the same and that she has something in all rhythms for all ages and to all tastes. She puts a record on her old-fashioned victrola. She begins to sing ‘Creo en ti/ I believe in you’ in the ye-ye pop-rock dancing style of the era, dancing with the sharp arm and leg movements so characteristic then. She begins singing with two young boys in the frame. She’s now and they’re the future. But later in the song, around the 1.18 minute mark, the then fashionably current drums and guitar of the soundtrack are paired visually against tradition: a lute, a statue of a matador and the old armour of a knight, ie. the new, foreign and modern is foregrounded unproblematically with tradition and españoladas as background. The new as part of the old, an imaginary resolution to then very real contradictions.

In fact the plot of Buenos dias, condesita brings this out even more. Durcal plays María, a young girl who’s helping her grandfather make ends meet by selling music at the flea-market. The grandfather himself is a caretaker at the City Palace of an Earl and his Countess for whom modernisation has brought some hard-times. They’re selling off the contents of their grand Madrid house bit by bit before selling the place off altogether. Meanwhile Ramiro (Vicente Parra) has been cut off by his rich uncle (Antonio Garisa) due to his dissolute lifestyle. Ramiro hires María to pretend she’s his fiancée and fake an engagement so as to have his allowance restored. The party announcing this, and proving to his rich uncle that he’s mended his ways, take place in the Earl’s palace. At that moment the Earl and his Countess drop in unexpectedly but play along with the young couple and fool the uncle. Needless to say, the fake couple turns into a real one by the end of the film.


In the meantime, María is also hired by a television show where she sings a paean to advertising, another song by Los Brincos, ‘Cartel de publicidad’. Here is advertising as the coming of consumer culture, so new and strange in a country that had only recently undergone a decade of hunger. The music, the outfits, the theme, the voicing of desire for a man — all so foreign and yet symbolising all that was new, modern, desirable in Spain. That this takes place in a television show, that it is sung by ‘la novia de España/ Spain’s sweetheart’ which Dúrcal was referred to in this generation as often as Carmen Sevilla was in an earlier one, and that the character she plays is really a street hawker needing to take care of her grandfather only underlines this (see clip above).

There’s an interesting interview with Dùrcal on youtube — filmed a decade after the release of Buenos dias, condesita — where the cameras go to the village of Dúrcal in Cordoba to ask its citizenry how they feel about naming a street after her. And you see people going to work with their loaded mules, the streets unpaved, middle-aged ladies coming out of their houses still dressed in the black one remembers from those days — and one realises that the modernity of the film had yet to hit the village of Durcal in any significant way more than a decade after the film’s release.

Dúrcal has said she was proud of all her sixties musicals, and indeed she should be. They were the bedrock of her impressive subsequent career and they gave her opportunities. In Buenos dias, condesita, aside from the pop songs, she’s given coplas, flamenco music, chotis, and even one of Violeta’s arias from La Traviata so she can dazzle the spectator with her skill and versatility. Also, although the vehicles are built entirely around her skills and her persona, the producers don’t skimp on production values (at least for the Spanish cinema of this period) and supporting cast. In Buenos dias, condesita, Carlos Casaravilla, Antonio Garisa, and other beloved comic actors of the era, as recognised and beloved as the star, bring their own particular charm to the film.  Of these the greatest is probably Gracita Morales, who you can see above. She was able to get a laugh out of a simple line reading, one that never resembled the way any real person would speak in ordinary life. She played each character like a turn in a vaudeville sketch. It’s a completely different style than that vaunted by any notion of naturalness yet very typical of the era and still very successful in garnering its effects.

Indeed another reason to treasure these films is because they’re a history of actors and acting styles, often borrowed from the theatre, often adept at particular indigenous forms of comic theatre such as sainete that the films, sometimes lazy as well as low-budget, often lift directly from comic turns on stage and place in the narrative (see example above) thus these films are a repository of acting styles and routines of yore, a whole patrimony of theatrical traditions, one worth investigating.

What was meant to be a short blurb of a teen musical film has ended up way longer than expected, a credit to the film.

José Arroyo


Pecado de amor (Luis César Amadori, Spain/Italy, 1961)

pecado de amor

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.

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Terence Hill acting under the name of Mario Girotti

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.

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A woman of the people, but fully coiffed and in fur.

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.

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Jailbird Sara


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:

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José Arroyo

Mi último tango/ My Last Tango (Luis César Amadori, Spain, 1960)

mi ultimo tano

In the post-war period there were a hand-full of European stars who enjoyed international stardom without recourse to Hollywood: Bardot, Mastroianni, Dirk Bogarde, María Félix, a few others. Sara Montiel was one of those stars. Her films were popular all over Latin America, most of Europe and even in the Middle East. They were so successful, and there was such a demand for them, that the release of Mi último tango had to be delayed so that her previous film, Carmen la de Ronda/ A Girl Aginst Napoleon (Tulio Demichelli, 1959), could enjoy its full run.

Aside from her work in Spain, Montiel had starred in popular films in Mexico, such as Necesito dinero (1952) and Piel Canela (1953).  She’d also been in popular Hollywood films such as Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz with Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper (1954). But after the extraordinary international success of El ultimo cuplé she is reported to have said, ‘why should I return to Hollywood to play Indians’. Her accent and perhaps also her skin colour limited the roles she was offered. Thus even though she was married to Anthony Mann, one of the best and most successful Hollywood directors of the period, she never made a film in Hollywood again.

Instead, she chose to make films like Mi último tango, light musical comedies, with a loose structure in which to hang some musical numbers, with Sara modelling an endless array of glamorous ‘looks’ (see below,) and co-starring a European or Latin American star, really only there to fall in love with her, watch her triumph marry her at the end, and help with the distribution in at least his country of origin. Here it’s Maurice Ronet (see above), fresh from his triumph in Louis Malle’s Lift to the Scaffold/ Ascenseur pour l’échafaud and René Clément’s Plein Soleil/ Purple Noon


I’ve chosen to put examples of each of Montiel’s many ‘looks’ in the film, and by this I mean not only dresses (by Humberto Cornejo and Rafael Ballester) but also hair-dos (Carmen Sánchez), make-up (Carmen Marin), jewels, accoutrements such as boas and hats, etc, because they not only help tell the story — very evident when, as above, one shows them in chronological order — but also because appreciating and discussing these looks was one of the great pleasures of watching these films for filmgoers of the era.

The plot is a ludicrous one, Montiel is Marta Andreu, the daughter of an impresario that unsuccessfully tours opera across the provinces, where no one wants to see it. They go broke and Marta gets a job as a maid to a temperamental star, Luisa Marivel (Laura Granados). One day the star is so nervous –her impresario doesn’t want to buy her a house — that she loses her voice on stage, and Marta has to sing her song offstage whilst the star mimes, just like Debbie Reynolds in Singin in the Rain. Miravel decides to take Marta and her aunt (Isabel Garcés) to Buenos Aires, where she’s got an engagement. But the impresario buys her the house and she decides to stay but informs her maid that no one must know she’s not on the ship as that will affect the outcome of the lawsuits to come. Thus Marta impersonates Marivel, enjoys enormous success, and renews her acquaintance with Dario Ledesma (Ronet), who falls for her but can’t marry her because he feels obliged to a young woman who’s in a wheel chair. Just as he’s resolved that problem and is about to propose to Marta, she goes blind in a fire after her last triumphant performance in Buenos Aires. She refuses his proposal, fearing its due to pity, and not wanting to limit his future happiness. But he will get her cured and all will be well. It’s all nonsense really, merely an excuse to hang the songs, in this case some of the most famous tangos in the history of popular song; even Gardel makes an appearance, with Milo Quesada miming to Gardel’s records.

I here want to highlight only three things from the movie. One is simply the ‘maniquí’ number which you can see below.

I post this for its reference to Singin in the Rain and for its subsequent deployment in Almodóvar’s La mala educación (1999), which you can see below:

I also want to highlight Montiel’s singing of Gardel’s great ‘Yira, yira’ because the number is done in drag with Montiel’s wearing a man’s suit. At the end she takes her hat off to reveal her flowing hair, thus ‘normalising’ her gender, she’s now a woman again. This might not seem like very much but it was considered very transgressive at the time, when, as Montiel writes in her autobiography, Vivir es un placer, ‘the censors prevented me from even showing leg above the knee’ (p.357) and wearing men’s suits in public was considered scandalous. Its worth noting that all the great stars of these years who became gay icons dragged up in men’s clothes in some of their most famous films (Dietrich in Morocco, Garbo in Queen Christina, Davis in The Great Lie, Garland in various numbers including one of her most famous, Get Happy, etc.

Lastly, I want to point to possible borrowings and influences. I’ve already mentioned Singin’ in the Rain (and you can see it in the ‘maniqui’ number above) but there’s also the scene at the train station, very reminiscent of Crawford’s great moment of longing in Possessed (see images below)

And lastly, a bit of a joke but who knows? Sara Montiel wore it earlier and wore it better:

Mi último is very light fare, occasionally campy and ludicrous but also very glamorous and with a great score that offers Sara Montiel the opportunity to sing classic tangos in her own very imitable way and showcases all that audiences then and now love and admire about her to advantage.

Isabel Garcés, a beloved comic actress of the Spanish cinema of this period, with a very distinctive high-pitched yet raspy voice, is delightful as Montiel’s aunt.

José Arroyo