March 30 – April 1, 2001

American Cinematheque presents...

Queen of Technicolor: The Delirious Glamour of Maria Montez

Co-Presented with Sabucat Productions

This is the first U.S. retrospective of Montez’s work ever mounted, and provides a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to see original 35 mm. nitrate Technicolor prints of Montez’s most fabulous films!!

Guests will appear schedules permitting.

Series Compiled by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph.

Special Thanks to: Ed Zeier and Merrilee Griffin/UNIVERSAL PICTURES; Robert Gladden; Peter Langs/IPMA.

 

Tickets available 30 days in advance.

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"When I look at myself, I am so beautiful I scream with joy!" – Maria Montez

"At least in America a Maria Montez could believe she was the Cobra Woman, the Siren of Atlantis, Scheherezade, etc. She believed and thereby made the people who went to her movies believe." -- avant-garde filmmaker Jack Smith

Her reign was brief – for a few short years during the early 1940’s, Dominican-born actress Maria Montez (1920 – 1951) ruled over a fabulous kingdom of sarongs, silken turbans, artificial flowers, plaster and paint in films like COBRA WOMAN, WHITE SAVAGE and ARABIAN NIGHTS. One of the few Latina stars in Hollywood at the time (along with Lupe Velez, Carmen Miranda and Dolores Del Rio), La Montez overcame her admittedly-limited acting ability, using her savvy determination and sensual charm to become Universal’s "Queen of Technicolor", starring opposite Jon Hall, Sabu and Turhan Bey in a series of riotously colored Far East/South Pacific/Egyptian fantasias.

Born as Maria Africa Gracia Vidal (according to family, the studio invented the last part of her name "de Santo Silas" -- tagged on after Vidal), the daughter of a Spanish diplomat and a Dominican mother, Montez took her stage name from legendary courtesan Lola Montes. After a stint in New York as a model, Montez signed a contract with Universal Pictures in 1940, appearing in walk-on roles in westerns and mysteries – until producer Walter Wanger cast her as the silken-robed Scheherezade in ARABIAN NIGHTS. While critics sharpened their claws on her (the N.Y. Times’ Bosley Crowther once sniffed, "Montez plays the beauteous dancer with the hauteur of a tired nightclub showgirl"), audiences flocked to her films, until the end of World War II spelled doom for her brand of escapist fantasies. Montez continued her acting career in Europe in the late 1940’s, until she died tragically at the age of 31 her bath tub in Paris, perhaps as a result of a faint caused by overdieting. In one of the strangest twists in film history, Montez was resurrected as an icon by New York avant-garde filmmakers and performance artists in the late 1950’s, including Ken Jacobs and Jack Smith, who wrote in the brilliant manifesto The Perfect Film Appositeness of Maria Montez: "Her eye saw not just beauty but incredible, delirious, drug-like hallucinatory beauty ... one of her atrocious acting sighs suffused a thousand tons of dead plaster with imaginative life and truth."

 

Friday, March 30 – 7:00 PM

35 mm. Nitrate Technicolor Print!!

Maria Montez Look-Alike Contest!!

COBRA WOMAN, 1944, Universal, 70 min. Dir. Robert Siodmak. "Geef me that Coparah chewel!" Montez demands, as she shimmies, shakes and snakes her way through one of the most hilariously demented films ever made in Hollywood. Montez appears in a dual role as twin sisters -- one good and one VERY bad -- who cat-fight for control of snake-worshipping, volcano-trembling Cobra Island, while hunky Jon Hall and sidekick Sabu try to avoid eternal torment in the Pit of Vipers. Astounding, gonzo entertainment. "Montez was a great personality and believed completely in her roles – if she was to play a princess you had to treat her like one all through lunch ... method acting before its time, you might say!" – Robert Siodmak. Montez' niece Raina Paris will Introduce the Screening and judge a Maria Montez look-alike contest! Slink on down to the Egyptian in your most glamorous get-up to be deemed the new Queen of Technicolor!

 

Friday, March 30 – 8:45 PM

Maria Montez/Jack Smith Extravaganza!!

35 mm. Nitrate Technicolor Print!! ARABIAN NIGHTS, 1942, Universal, 86 min. Dir. John Rawlins. "I think you are sublimely worthy ... you are a woman to make men dream!" swoons caliph-in-exile Jon Hall, as dancing girl Scheherezade (Montez) charms and seduces everyone in sight, including Hall’s wicked half-brother Kamar (Leif Erikson), the camels and the desert itself. ARABIAN NIGHTS set the standard for all of Montez’s films to come, with its gorgeous Technicolor photography and tantalizing glimpes of La Montez swathed in silken veils. Co-starring Shemp Howard (of the 3 Stooges), Sabu and Turhan Bey.

FLAMING CREATURES, 1963, Filmmakers Cooperative, 42 min. "Today ... Ali Baba comes today!" trumpets the opening of filmmaker/performance artist Jack Smith’s orgiastic celebration of transvestitism, male genitalia, sexual and political freedom, and all things Montez. Arguably the most scandalous underground film ever made in America – then-Senator Charles Keating groused, "That movie was so sick I couldn’t even get aroused!" – FLAMING CREATURES became the center of a highly-publicized trial in 1964, after Jonas Mekas, theatre manager Ken Jacobs and a ticket-taker were arrested for screening the film. "A landmark in the underground cinema – simultaneously funny and sad, and wonderfully exuberant ... the decor is dime store, and the transvestites dress in moldy Goodwill finery with a heavy accent on 1940’s padded shoulders and turbans." – Kevin Thomas, L.A. Times.

Plus, BLONDE COBRA, 1959-63, Filmmakers Cooperative, 33 min. Dir. Ken Jacobs and Bob Fleischner. Starring Jack Smith.

 

Saturday, March 31 – 6:00 PM

35 mm. Nitrate Technicolor Print!!

WHITE SAVAGE, 1943, Universal, 75 min. Dir. Arthur Lubin. Insanely-colorful South Seas entertainment, as Princess Tahia (Montez) alternately purrs and pouts with fisherman Jon Hall, while trading post operator Thomas Gomez manipulates Montez’s gambling-mad brother Turhan Bey to gain control of the gold-lined Sacred Pool on Temple Island. Scripted by future IN COLD BLOOD director Richard Brooks. "Those gorgeous white clouds over blue sea, the underwater scenes, the dynamiting of the sacred pool and the final thrilling earthquake make WHITE SAVAGE a spectacularly beautiful thing." – Variety. Q&A following with actor Turhan Bey.

 

Saturday, March 31 – 8:15 PM

35 mm. Nitrate Technicolor Prints!!

ALI BABA & THE FORTY THIEVES, 1944, Universal, 87 min. Dir. Arthur Lubin. More robust khans-and-robbers adventure, with caliph-turned-thief Jon Hall struggling to regain control of his throne while sparring with feisty Khan’s daughter Amara (Montez). ALI BABA features some of the most wildly exotic sets in the entire Universal series, including the Cavern of the Forty Thieves and the Pool of Midnight – where La Montez sensually bathes not once, but twice – "thus setting a cleanly example for the small boys in the audience." (L.A. Times).

GYPSY WILDCAT, 1944, Universal, 75 min. Dir. Roy William Neill. Why change the plot when you can change the sets? Montez stars as black-haired gypsy dancer Carla, unjustly accused of murdering the local count – until soldier-of-fortune Jon Hall gets involved, in this deranged medieval adventure co-scripted (are you ready for this??) by writer James M. Cain. "These were light films ... weak technique, true, but rich imagery. They had a stilted, phony imagery that we choose to object to, but why react against phoniness? ... Because it holds a mirror to our own, possibly." – Jack Smith.

 

 

Sunday, April 1 – 5:00 PM

Double-Feature!

35 mm. Nitrate Technicolor Print! SUDAN, 1945, Universal, 76 min. Dir. John Rawlins. "Sudan ... Oasis of forbidden excitement! Land of lawless lips and love!!" The last of the Montez-Hall films is set in ancient Egypt, with La Montez starring as Naila, spirited daughter of the assassinated King of Khemmis, bent on taking revenge on the bandit leader (Turhan Bey) she mistakenly holds responsible for her father’s murder. With his popularity (like Montez’s) already waning, Jon Hall co-stars as a desert vagabond who helps the two mis-matched lovers unite. Shot in Gallup, New Mexico, with local Navajos standing in for the ancient Egyptians.

Original Sepia-Toned B&W Print! THE EXILE, 1948, Universal, 90 min. A rarely-seen treat from master-director Max Ophüls (who ironically directed LOLA MONTES, based on the life of the courtesan who inspired La Montez’s stage name), THE EXILE stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Charles II, exiled in Holland while he plots to regain the English throne stolen by Oliver Cromwell. Montez appears in one brief-but-crucial scene (played in a bathtub, of course) as one of the King’s former flames. This screening features one of the original sepia-toned prints of THE EXILE. "We did have great fun making the film – perhaps a little too much, because frequently I found myself shooting a scene without knowing who was drawing a sword against whom, why they were fighting, why killing ...!" – Max Ophuls.

Own some of Maria Montez' Films!