Wednesday, January 14, 2009

RIP Ricardo Montalban

I hate days like these. It's too soon in the new year to be memorializing, and I let slip Tom O'Horgan and Claude Berri. Death, take a holiday.

But Montalban was part of our pop cultural fabric: Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island, Khan (the anti-Mr. Rourke, a vivid portrayal on TV full blown and mythic in 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), "soft Corinthian leather." We take him for granted; of course he was a star presence, and in on the joke (The Naked Gun) when his courtly suavity became a cliche. The "Montalban School of Acting" parody on SCTV was dead-on. How hard it was, however, for a Mexican performer to get such traction in Hollywood, and how adaptable he proved to be, genre-hopping from musicals to Westerns to dramas, then transitioning to TV. His versatility is on display in Anthony Mann's terrific, documentary-like Border Incident and William Wellman's Battleground, from 1949; John Sturges' Mystery Street (1950); Wellman's good try at John Fante, My Man and I (1952), with he and Shelley Winters as lovers; Japanese in Sayonara (1957); Native American in John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn (1964) and his Emmy winner, TV's How the West Was Won (1978); and a friend to apes in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and a lively, wheelchair-bound grandpa in two of the Spy Kids movies. He was perfect casting as Antonio Banderas' dad in those.

I recorded Sturges' Right Cross (1950) just today, not intending to watch it in tribute.

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