James M Caine’s 1930’s novel about an impoverished vineyard worker (Damon Vincenti) turned operatic tenor who loses his voice and his gay patron, moves to Mexico and falls for a prostitute boosts is given a saccharine Hollywood makeover in this 1956 Warner Bros romantic drama with real-life opera star Mario Lanza taking on the lead.

Wealthy, manipulative Kendall Hale (Joan Fontaine) is the poisonous object of Damon’s affection, while a suave, silver-tongued Vincent Price ramps up the bitchiness as his patron, Charles Winthrop. Helping Damon find true love in this nest of vipers is Sara Montiel (aka Sarita Montiel) as Juana, who battles to her man from straying…

This is a colourful, camp confection that would have been an all-time classic if the story had not strayed from its homoerotic roots – but that would have been much too daring for its day. Plus, one could hardly imagine Lanza in such a vehicle.

It was Lanza’s fifth film (going on release in the US on 23 March 1956), and his first on-screen appearance in four years. At best, its a showcase for his splendid voice which includes Nessun dorma (Turandot), Dio Ti Giocondi (Otello), Il Mio Tesoro (Don Giovanni), Lamento di Federico from (L’Arlesiana), Di Quella Pira (Il Trovatore), Italian Tenor Aria (Der Rosenkavalier), O Paradiso (L’Africaine), and O Soave Fanciulla (La Boheme), while most moving is his rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. An original soundtrack was also released, and is now quite the collector’s item.

But Lanza also acquits himself as a serious actor, even Vincent Price thought so, remarking that he did ‘a thorough job, a sincerely conscientious one. He’s so sincere, he is almost dedicated – like a New York actor.’

Sara Montiel (who was married the film’s director Anthony Mann for six years) is portrayed in Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education by Gael García Bernal as the cross-dressing character Zahara.

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