The Mambo Kings
|The Mambo Kings|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Arne Glimcher|
|Produced by||Arnon Milchan
|Screenplay by||Cynthia Cidre|
|Based on||The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by
|Music by||Robert Kraft|
|Editing by||Claire Simpson|
|Studio||Le Studio Canal+
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||104 min.|
|Box office||$6,742,168 (domestic)|
The Mambo Kings is a 1992 drama film directed by Arne Glimcher. It is an adaptation of Oscar Hijuelos's 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. The film stars Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas as Cesar and Nestor Castillo, brothers and aspiring musicians who flee from Cuba to America in the hopes of reviving their failed musical careers. The Mambo Kings marks the directing debut of Glimcher and features Banderas in his first English language role.
Glimcher purchased the film rights to Hijuelos's novel in 1988, before hiring Cynthia Cidre to write the screenplay. Various studios rejected the film, and after an unsuccessful pre-production development at Universal Studios, the project moved to Warner Bros., with Regency Enterprises and Le Studio Canal+ agreeing to co-finance the film. When Warner Bros. wanted Jeremy Irons and Ray Liotta in the lead roles, Glimcher had to convince executives to cast Assante and Banderas instead. Filming for The Mambo Kings took place in Los Angeles, on sets recreating 1950s New York.
The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, but underperformed at the box office, grossing only $6,742,168 during its domestic theatrical release. For its original song "Beautiful Maria of My Soul", The Mambo Kings earned nominations from several groups, including the Academy Awards.
In the early 1950s, Cuban brothers and musicians Cesar (Armand Assante) and Nestor Castillo (Antonio Banderas) flee from Havana, Cuba after getting into a violent dispute with the mobster owners of a club where they performed. Eventually ending up in New York City, the brothers work at menial jobs while attempting to revive their musical careers. At a nightclub where Cesar briefly crashes the act of mambo star Tito Puente, they make new friends and connections, as well as meeting cigarette girl Lanna Lake (Cathy Moriarty), who falls quickly into a love affair with Cesar.
Nestor, in the meantime, remains oblivious to other women while continually composing his ode to his lost Cuban love, Maria (Talisa Soto). He writes version after version of the same ballad, "Beautiful Maria of My Soul", until by chance one day he encounters Delores (Maruschka Detmers), a shy but attentive young woman who wishes to become a schoolteacher. When she becomes pregnant, they decide to get married.
Fate intervenes one night at a club, where the Castillo brothers have a part-time job. Nestor's love ballad captures the interest of one of the customers, who turns out to be the Cuban bandleader and American television star Desi Arnaz (played by his son, Desi Arnaz, Jr.). After a pleasant evening in Nestor and Dolores's home, Arnaz generously invites the struggling Castillos to sing and act on an episode of his smash sitcom series, I Love Lucy.
Fame does not last, however. Nestor is not as ambitious as his brother and desires nothing more than to own his own small club. He is in love with Delores, but lacks the passion he felt for his beloved Maria back home. Cesar, meantime, suppresses his true feelings, that a woman like Dolores would actually be perfect for him. Cesar eventually reveals to Nestor that Maria left him for a Cuban mobster in exchange for cancelling a contract hit against Nestor.
There are tragic consequences one snowy night when the Castillo brothers' car veers off the road and into a tree. Cesar, in the back seat of the vehicle, is barely hurt, but Nestor, having driven the car, is killed. The life of Cesar, shattered, is never the same. To honor his brother's memory, Cesar opens his own small club, which is well received. Delores pays him a visit and asks him to sing Nestor's song for her.
- Armand Assante as Cesar Castillo
- Antonio Banderas as Nestor Castillo
- Cathy Moriarty as Lanna Lake
- Maruschka Detmers as Delores Fuentes
- Desi Arnaz, Jr. as Desi Arnaz, Sr.
- Roscoe Lee Browne as Fernando Perez
- Celia Cruz as Evalina Montoya
- Vondie Curtis-Hall as Miguel Montoya
- Talisa Soto as Maria Rivera
- Tito Puente as Himself
- Thomas F. Duffy as Mulligan
Arne Glimcher, an art dealer based in New York City and a fan of mambo music, learned that Oscar Hijuelos was writing a novel relating to the subject. In 1988, Hijuelos sent Glimcher a manuscript of his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Glimcher purchased the film rights before the novel was published one year later. He hired Cuban-born screenwriter Cynthia Cidre to write the script. Cidre spent a year and a half working on the screenplay, and after 24 drafts, she had stripped the story down to cover only half of Hijuelos's 407-page book. When asked about the modification of his novel in the film adaptation, Hijuelos said, "My only concern was that the Cuban culture be treated with respect and the music be authentic and accurate to the period."
Various studios rejected the project, until Glimcher persuaded Tom Pollock, chairman of Universal Studios, to financially back the film on a low budget. Before production could begin however, Pollock insisted that footage from the television series I Love Lucy be a key part of the film. Following Lucille Ball's death in 1989, Glimcher was unable to secure the rights to use footage for the film. After Universal cancelled production of The Mambo Kings, the project moved to Warner Bros., with Arnon Milchan's production company Regency Enterprises agreeing to co-finance the film with French-based film studio Le Studio Canal+.
Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas were Glimcher's ideal choices for the roles of Cesar and Nestor Castillo. Prior to The Mambo Kings, Assante had appeared in a number of films but had not yet broken out as a major star; Banderas, a Spanish actor, had moved to Los Angeles, California, hoping to make an international debut with his first English speaking role. Warner Bros., however, wanted to cast Jeremy Irons as Cesar and Ray Liotta as Nestor. Both actors had received critical acclaim for their performances in Reversal of Fortune and Goodfellas respectively, and the studio felt that they would appeal to a wider audience.
Through a translator, Glimcher told Banderas to work on improving his English for one month before performing a screen test opposite Irons. The Spanish actor, lacking the ability to speak English, learned his lines phonetically. Despite Irons's excellent screen test, Glimcher thought he was wrong for the part and insisted on Assante; he thought the charm and seductiveness of Assante made him perfect for the role, and the studio eventually gave in.
Annabella Sciorra was originally cast as Nestor’s new love interest Delores, a role that eventually went to actress Maruschka Detmers when Sciorra was forced to pull out. Detmers was given the role just two weeks prior to filming. Glimcher cast Cathy Moriarty as Cesar's girlfriend Lanna Lake based on the actress's performance in Raging Bull.
Desi Arnaz, Jr. was chosen to portray his father, Desi Arnaz, in a scene in which the Castillo brothers appear on an episode of I Love Lucy. In preparing for his role, Arnaz, Jr. dyed his hair black and wore an ID bracelet, ring and pin, all of which had belonged to his late father. "I wasn't trying to look exactly like him," he explained. "It was more about getting his essence and mannerisms." In an effort to re-create the mambo world of the 1950s, Glimcher hired musicians Tito Puente and Celia Cruz to appear.
Filming and design
The Mambo Kings was filmed in Los Angeles, California, which was used to create a 1950s-era New York City. The Palladium Ballroom, a long-gone New York City concert hall, was recreated and serves as a centrepiece in the film. In describing the look of the film, production designer Stuart Wurtzel stated, "There are lots of photographs and some film from that period. ... There's a film called Mambo Madness from 1955 with some footage of Tito Puente and Desi Arnaz we looked at, and we got pictures from the Cuban Society in New York and from libraries. The Cuban community has been enormously supportive of the film, so we've also been privy to the private archives of many people." Ann Roth served as costume designer, using vintage textiles to create the custom-made wardrobe. The I Love Lucy segment of the film was filmed at Ren-Mar Studios, the former site of Desilu Productions. The set of the Ricardos' living room was re-created, with film editors intercutting footage with Banderas, Assante and Arnaz, Jr. with an actual episode featuring Lucille Ball."
Music and soundtrack
Assante and Banderas did their own singing, and studied to master the instruments their characters use in the film. Assante practiced on drums, preparing for a scene in which his character plays a musical number with Tito Puente. Banderas worked to mimic the correct posture and finger placements for his character's trumpet performances, while the actual playing was performed by Arturo Sandoval.
Music supervisor Robert Kraft used existing music from the 1950s, all of which had to be re-recorded, as they were originally recorded in mono sound. The song "Beautiful Maria of My Soul" was written for the film by Glimcher, and composed by Kraft. The motion picture soundtrack features a number of original master recordings, re-recorded tracks and mambo music from Arturo Sandoval, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. The soundtrack was released by Elektra Records.
The Mambo Kings was distributed by one entity, Warner Bros., who originally planned to release the film on 25 December 1991. It first premiered at the Miami Film Festival on 7 February 1992 before being released theatrically on 28 February 1992.
The film was released on VHS and laserdisc on 2 September 1992, and on DVD on 17 August 2005. The DVD includes an unrated version of the film that restores one deleted scene. Other features include a behind-the-scenes featurette and an audio commentary by Arne Glimcher.
Film critic Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that the film "runs on pure emotion", and that it "celebrates the mysterious power of a music that can make you feel like dancing and bring you to your knees." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that the film's "story is as old as the movies, but The Mambo Kings is so filled with energy, passion and heedless vitality that it seems new, anyway."  Ebert and his colleague, Gene Siskel, gave the film a "Two Thumbs Up" rating on their syndicated television program, Siskel and Ebert and the Movies. Rita Kempley of The Washington Post praised the film's director, writing that "Glimcher shows an epicure's taste in his choice of both cast and crew. The look of "The Mambo Kings" is doubtless richer than the text, which is, however, strengthened by Glimcher's nostalgia for the teenage, eager America of the '50s." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "The Mambo Kings is most fun when it practically dares you to swoon. It's a movie you don't have to believe to enjoy." Betty Goodwin of the Los Angeles Times praised the film's visual style: "The innocence of the pre-MTV '50s mambo scene is expressed through meticulously real details and honest styling."
Desson Howe of The Washington Post wrote a mixed review, writing that the film is "beautifully filmed and flashily edited", but that it "has nothing to offer." Vincent Canby of The New York Times, gave the film a negative review, writing, "There are times when the director doesn't even seem to know where to put the camera. Scenes unravel without dramatic point. No amount of breathless editing and fancy graphics can disguise the amateur nature of the enterprise." In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Roger E. Hernandez criticized the film for its portrayal of Cubans. Hernandez wrote, "The main problem here was the accents. The characters were supposed to be Cuban, but, with the exception of salsa star Celia Cruz, none sounded it." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times criticized Glimcher's direction, writing in his review, "...when it comes to directing dramatic sequences, he is on his own and lacking in resources to make what drama there is come to a coherent or meaningful point."
Desi Arnaz, Jr. voiced his support of the film, stating that he and his sister Lucie Arnaz, "loved the story being told in this movie." Arnaz, Jr. said, "It is an amazing saga of people in search of the American dream. It is my father`s story. It is the story of many people who came to this country with hopes and dreams." Tito Puente praised the film prior to its theatrical release, stating, "I've seen the movie twice, and I loved it the second time. The first time I couldn't get into it. I was watching for too many details, I guess. But now I've seen it a second time, and I think it's great."
In its first week of release, The Mambo Kings grossed $319,793, having been released in 32 theatres in North America. The film earned an additional $299,418 in its second week. After three weeks of release, The Mambo Kings grossed $2,192,258 domestically. At the end of its theatrical run, the film had grossed $6,742,168, well below its $15.5 million budget.
The song "Beautiful Maria of My Soul" received a Best Original Song nomination at the 65th Academy Awards. It was also nominated at the 50th Golden Globe Awards for Best Original Song, and at the 35th Grammy Awards for "Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television" category. The film received a second Grammy nomination for "Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television" for the song "Mambo Caliente" which was composed by Arturo Sandoval.
|35th Grammy Awards||Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television||Arne Glimcher and Robert Kraft for "Beautiful Maria of My Soul"||Nominated|
|Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television||Arturo Sandoval for "Mambo Caliente"||Nominated|
|50th Golden Globe Awards||Best Original Song||Arne Glimcher and Robert Kraft for "Beautiful Maria of My Soul"||Nominated|
|65th Academy Awards||Best Original Song||Arne Glimcher and Robert Kraft for "Beautiful Maria of My Soul"||Nominated|
The Mambo Kings inspired a musical stage play of the same name in 2005. It was produced by Daryl Roth and Jordan Roth, with lyrics by Arne Glimcher and music by Carlos Franzetti. The Mambo Kings premiered at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco, California, opening on 31 May 2005. The stage version featured Esai Morales and Jaime Camil as Cesar and Nestor Castillo, with supporting performers including Christiane Noll, David Alan Grier, Cote de Pablo and Justina Machado. The production cancelled plans to open on Broadway theatre after a critically panned tryout engagement in San Francisco.
- Grimes, William (27 February 1992). "An Art Dealer Realizes His Hollywood Dream". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- "The Mambo Kings (1992) - Weekly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- McKenna, Kristine (23 February 1992). "FILM; The Cuban Beat of 'The Mambo Kings'". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
- Passafiume, Andrea. "The Mambo Kings". Turner Classic Movies Film Article. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- Fernandez, Maria Helena. "Antonio Banderas: Reunites with Pedro Almodóvar and Reprises Puss in Boots". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
- Goodwin, Betty (27 March 1992). "Pure '50s, Down to the Undies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
- Koltnow, Barry (17 March 1992). "Desi Arnaz Jr. Returns To `Lucy` Set". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
- Barrios, Greg (5 December 1991). "Latinos Land Featured Roles in Several New Movies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
- "`MAMBO KINGS' TO LAUNCH MIAMI FILM FESTIVAL". Deseret News. 26 January 1992. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
- Stevens, Mary (28 August 1992). "`Mambo Kings` Pours On The Salsa". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
- Nichols, Peter M. (3 September 1992). "Home Video". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
- "Mambo Kings, The DVD". wbshop.com. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Schorn, Peter (2 September 2005). "Mambo Kings - DVD Review at IGN". IGN. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- "The Mambo Kings - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Travers, Peter (28 February 1992). "The Mambo Kings | Movie Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Ebert, Roger (13 March 1992). "The Mambo Kings :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (29 February 1992). Siskel and Ebert and the Movies.
- Kempley, Rita (13 March 1992). "‘The Mambo Kings’ (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Glieberman, Owen (6 March 1992). "The Mambo Kings Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Howe, Desson (13 March 1992). "‘The Mambo Kings’ (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Canby, Vincent (28 February 1992). "Movie Review - The Mambo Kings - Review/Film; Tale of Cuban Brothers in New York". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Hernandez, Roger E. (28 March 1992). "Hollywood Could Use Some Lessons On The Different Hispanic Accents". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
- Turan, Kenneth (28 February 1992). "MOVIE REVIEW : Tapping Into Power of 'Mambo'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
- Kolhaase, Bill (22 February 1992). "'El Rey' Is Still on Top : Tito Puente, Due in Costa Mesa Tonight, Adds a Film Appearance, a 100th Album and Another Grammy Nomination to His Resume". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
- "Weekly Box Office Results for February 28-March 5, 1992". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- "Weekly Box Office Results for March 6-12, 1992". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- "The 65th Academy Awards Winners | Oscar Legacy". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- "HFPA - Awards Search". Golden Globe Awards. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
- "35th Grammy Nominees | The 35th Grammy Awards Nominations : General Categories - Page 4". Los Angeles Times. 8 January 1993. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Hernandez, Ernio (27 June 2005). "The Mambo Kings Will Not Reign on Broadway This Summer". Playbill. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- "'Mambo Kings' ends N.Y. bid". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. 28 June 2005. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
32. Powell, Josephine, Tito Puente: When the Drums are Dreaming", Author House, 2007
- The Mambo Kings at the Internet Movie Database
- The Mambo Kings at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Mambo Kings at Box Office Mojo
- The Mambo Kings at allmovie