The Mambo Kings (1992)

R | 104 mins | Drama | 28 February 1992

Director:

Arne Glimcher

Writer:

Cynthia Cidre

Cinematographer:

Michael Ballhaus

Editor:

Claire Simpson

Production Designer:

Stuart Wurtzel

Production Company:

Northwest Productions
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HISTORY

The Mambo Kings is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, about two Cuban brothers trying to break into the music business in 1950s America. The 23 Feb 1992 NYT reported that director-producer Arne Glimcher purchased the film rights just prior to publication, after reading galleys of the manuscript. Although best known at the time as the owner of the Pace Gallery, a prominent art establishment in New York City, Glimcher had movie experience, having previously served as an associate producer on Legal Eagles (1986, see entry), and as producer on Gorillas in the Mist and The Good Mother (1988, see entries). The Mambo Kings marked Glimcher’s directorial debut.
       The 407-page novel proved challenging for screen adaptation, but Glimcher hired Cuban-born screenwriter Cynthia Cidre. She eliminated the second half of the book, which primarily followed “Cesar Castillo’s” memories. Working together for eighteen months, Cidre and Glimcher wrote twenty-four drafts before completing the final screenplay.
       After several major studios rejected the project, Glimcher convinced Universal Pictures chairman Tom Pollock to finance it on a low budget, according to the 27 Feb 1992 NYT. The book contains scenes in which the fictional Castillo brothers appear on an episode of the I Love Lucy (CBS, 15 Oct 1951—24 Sep 1961) television series, and Pollock’s funding was contingent on being able to use a clip from the show, believing that the I Love Lucy scene would bring in mainstream audiences. However, I Love Lucy star Lucille ... More Less

The Mambo Kings is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, about two Cuban brothers trying to break into the music business in 1950s America. The 23 Feb 1992 NYT reported that director-producer Arne Glimcher purchased the film rights just prior to publication, after reading galleys of the manuscript. Although best known at the time as the owner of the Pace Gallery, a prominent art establishment in New York City, Glimcher had movie experience, having previously served as an associate producer on Legal Eagles (1986, see entry), and as producer on Gorillas in the Mist and The Good Mother (1988, see entries). The Mambo Kings marked Glimcher’s directorial debut.
       The 407-page novel proved challenging for screen adaptation, but Glimcher hired Cuban-born screenwriter Cynthia Cidre. She eliminated the second half of the book, which primarily followed “Cesar Castillo’s” memories. Working together for eighteen months, Cidre and Glimcher wrote twenty-four drafts before completing the final screenplay.
       After several major studios rejected the project, Glimcher convinced Universal Pictures chairman Tom Pollock to finance it on a low budget, according to the 27 Feb 1992 NYT. The book contains scenes in which the fictional Castillo brothers appear on an episode of the I Love Lucy (CBS, 15 Oct 1951—24 Sep 1961) television series, and Pollock’s funding was contingent on being able to use a clip from the show, believing that the I Love Lucy scene would bring in mainstream audiences. However, I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball died on 26 Apr 1989, and when Glimcher approached her children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., they were still grieving and would not consider licensing the show.
       Without I Love Lucy, Universal dropped the picture and Glimcher personally paid pre-production salaries while looking for another studio. About a year later, Glimcher wrote Desi Arnaz, Jr., a letter asking him to reconsider and they worked out a deal. With I Love Lucy, producer Arnon Milchan agreed to finance the film on a $15.5 million budget, along with Warner Bros. and Le Studio Canal +.
       While actor Kevin Kline was announced as the film’s lead in the 25 Aug 1990 Screen International, Jeremy Irons later tested for the part, as reported in the 11 Feb 1991 Var, but Glimcher ultimately selected Armand Assante to play “Cesar Castillo.” Spanish actor Antonio Banderas made his American film debut playing “Nestor Castillo.” The actor spoke little English and worked with coaches before and during production to learn the language, as well as how to play the trumpet.
       Principal photography began on 18 Mar 1991, according to a 15 Apr 1991 DV production chart. Promotional materials in AMPAS library files indicate the film shot on sound stages for three weeks at Ren-Mar Studios in Los Angeles, CA, then began location work in the Los Angeles area. The Embassy Theatre downtown was transformed into Club Babalu, while the Tower Theater became the Empire Ballroom. The Ambassador Hotel served as the location for the Palladium Nightclub, as well as the Starlight Lounge and the Hotel Splendor. A meat-packing plant in Vernon, CA, was used for the Castillo brothers’ workplace, while Lacey Park in San Marino, CA, doubled for New York City’s Central Park, and Westward Beach, near Malibu, CA, was used for the Cuban coast.
       When Glimcher convinced Desi Arnaz, Jr., to let them use I Love Lucy footage, he also persuaded him to portray his father, Desi Arnaz, Sr., marking the first time, save for a brief comedy sketch on television’s Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11 Oct 1975—present), that the son had played his father. The 1 Apr 1991 DV reported that the I Love Lucy living room and Tropicana nightclub sets were recreated on Stage 3 at Ren-Mar Studios, which was known in the 1950s as Desilu Studios. By coincidence, Stage 3 was the stage in which I Love Lucy was filmed. While Desi, Jr., portrayed his father, footage of Lucille Ball as “Lucy Ricardo” in a 1952 episode titled “Cuban Pals” was intercut with the newly shot footage. The movie script was written so that Ball’s dialogue from the “Cuban Pals” episode would fit with the sequence.
       The film was originally scheduled as a Christmas 1991 release, but the 15 Nov 1991 DV reported it was held up in post-production and its release would be delayed.
       The picture opened on 28 Feb 1928 to mixed reviews, as a limited release on thirty-two screens, earning $319,793 from its opening weekend, according to the 3 Mar 1992 DV box-office report. The film expanded to 185 screens on 13 Mar 1992, and after a month in release, had grossed a total of $4.5 million, as noted in the 31 Mar 1992 DV.
       The Mambo Kings received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for “Beautiful Maria Of My Soul.”
       End credits state: “Special Thanks to Mario Bauza, Pedro Knight, Harriet Wasserman, Ralph Mercado, Jeffrey Hoffeld, Hilda Grillo, and the entire Machito Family; ‘I Love Lucy’ appears courtesy of CBS.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Apr 1991.
---
Daily Variety
15 Apr 1991.
---
Daily Variety
15 Nov 1991.
---
Daily Variety
10 Feb 1992
p. 2, 14.
Daily Variety
3 Mar 1992.
---
Daily Variety
31 Mar 1992.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 1992
p. 10, 18.
Los Angeles Times
28 Feb 1992
p. 1.
New York Times
23 Feb 1992
p. 13, 16.
New York Times
27 Feb 1992
---
New York Times
28 Feb 1992
p. 8.
Screen International
25 Aug 1990.
---
Variety
11 Feb 1991.
---
Variety
17 Feb 1992
p. 66.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
and
as Evalina Montoya
The Mambo Kings Band:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. presents
in association with Le Studio Canal +, Regency Enterprises and Alcor Films
an Arnom Milchan production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Chief lighting tech
Asst chief lighting tech
Key grip
Dolly grip
Best boy grip
Still photog
Rigging gaffer
Grip and elec equip provided
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Art dept coord
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
1st asst ed
1st add ed, LA
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Const coord
Leadman
On set dresser
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Set des
Set des
Asst prop master
Const foreman
Standby painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost des
Cost des
Cost supv
Costumer
Costumer
MUSIC
Exec mus prod
Mus score
Orig score comp
Orig score comp
Mus coord
Supv mus ed
Asst mus ed
Mambo arr
English lyrics on songs performed by Celia Cruz
Mus rec eng
Mus rec eng
Mus rec eng
Mus rec eng
Mus consultant
Mus consultant
SOUND
Prod mixer
Boom op
Re-rec mixer
Cableman
Supv sd ed
Supv ADR ed
Sd ed
Sd FX ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst ADR ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley mixer
ADR eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff corrd
Asst spec eff
Titles and spec eff
Addl opticals
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup des
Key makeup artist
Hair des
Key hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Project consultant
Asst to Arne Glimcher
Scr supv
Ballroom seq staged by
Prod coord
Prod controller
Loc mgr
Addl casting
Addl casting
Addl casting
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Unit pub
Dialect consultant
Casting assoc/NY
Extras casting
Asst prod coord
Asst loc mgr
Asst prod accountant
Asst to Mr. Glimcher/NY
Asst to Mr. Reuther
Asst to Mr. Milchan
Asst to Mr. Reinhardt
Asst to Mr. Bernstein
Prod secy
Craft service
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Trumpet coach for Mr. Banderas
Vocal coach for Mr. Assante
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Historical adv
Film and photographic library
Research consultant
Research consultant
Research consultant
Research consultant
Research consultant
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (New York, 1989).
SONGS
“Mambo Caliente,” written by Arturo Sandoval, performed by Arturo Sandoval, courtesy of GRP Records
“Melao De Cana,” written by Mercedes Pedroso, performed by Celia Cruz
“Beautiful Maria Of My Soul,” music by Robert Kraft, lyrics by Arne Glimcher, performed by the Mambo All-Stars
+
SONGS
“Mambo Caliente,” written by Arturo Sandoval, performed by Arturo Sandoval, courtesy of GRP Records
“Melao De Cana,” written by Mercedes Pedroso, performed by Celia Cruz
“Beautiful Maria Of My Soul,” music by Robert Kraft, lyrics by Arne Glimcher, performed by the Mambo All-Stars
“Sh-Boom,” written by James Keyes, Carl Feaster, Floyd McRae, and Claude Feaster, performed by the Crew Cuts, courtesy of PolyGram Special Products, a division of PolyGram Group Distribution, Inc.
“La Dicha Mia,” written by Johnny Pacheco, performed by Celia Cruz
“Ran Kan Kan,” written by Tito Puente, performed by Tito Puente
“Guantanamera,” original music by Fernandez Diaz, musical adaptation by Pete Seeger, Julian Orbon, and Hector Angulo, lyrics’ adaptation by Julian Orbon, based on a poem by Jose Marti, performed by Celia Cruz
“Cuban Pete,” written by Jose Norman, performed by Tito Puente
“Para Los Rumberos,” written by Tito Puente, performed by Tito Puente
“Ahora Soy Tan Feliz,” written by Beny Moré, performed by Beny Moré, courtesy of The RCA Records Label of BMG Music
“In A Sentimental Mood,” written by Duke Ellington, performed by Duke Ellington, courtesy of Capitol Records, by arrangement with CEMA Special Markets
“Mucho Corazon,” written by Emma Elena Valdelamar, performed by Beny Moré, courtesy of The RCA Records Label of BMG Music
“Tango, Rumba-Afro-Cubana,” written by Mario Bauza, arranged by Domenico Savino, performed by the Mambo All-Stars
“Quiereme Mucho,” written by Gonzalo Roig and Augustin Rodriguez, produced by Peter Asher, performed by Linda Ronstadt, courtesy of Elektra Entertainment
“I Love Lucy Theme,” written by Harold Adamson and Eliot Daniel
“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” written by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, performed by Joe Loco, courtesy of Tico Records – Sonido Inc.
“Sunny Ray,” written by Ray Santos, performed by the Mambo All-Stars
“Tea For Two,” written by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar, performed by the Mambo All-Stars
“Perfidia,” written by Alberto Dominguez, produced by Peter Asher, performed by Linda Ronstadt, courtesy of Elektra Entertainment
“Mambo Gallego,” written by Tito Puente, performed by the Mambo All-Stars
“Come Fue,” written by Ernesto Duarte Brito, performed by Beny Moré, courtesy of The RCA Records Label of BMG Music
“Pounce,” written by Noro Morales, performed by the Mambo All-Stars
“Beautiful Maria Of My Soul
” music by Robert Kraft, lyrics by Arne Glimcher, produced by Los Lobos, performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records
“You Belong To Me,” written by R. Stewart, P.W. King, and C. Price, performed by Jo Stafford, courtesy of Corinthian Records.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
28 February 1992
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles opening: 28 February 1992
Production Date:
began 18 March 1991
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc., Regency Enterprises, V.O.F., Le Studio Canal+
Copyright Date:
13 April 1992
Copyright Number:
PA562020
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Color by Deluxe ®
Prints
Prints by Techniocolor ®
Duration(in mins):
104
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
France, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
32495
SYNOPSIS

In 1952 Havana, Cuba, drummer Cesar Castillo and his younger brother, trumpeter Nestor, are rising stars, playing mambo at the Tropicana club. When Nestor’s fiancée, Maria Rivera, marries rival suiter, Luis Fajardo, the Tropicana club owner, Cesar confronts her, but Luis beats him. Maria confesses that Luis, who has mafia connections, would have killed Nestor if she had not married him. She swears Cesar to secrecy, and advises him to take Nestor to America for his safety. In New York City, the brothers stay with family in Spanish Harlem, and get jobs as butchers in the meatpacking district. Hoping to revive their music careers, they go to the ritzy Palladium, where Tito Puente and his band perform. Tito remembers Cesar from Havana, and allows him to join him on stage. When a shootout ensues on the dance floor, Cesar fails to notice, as he is having too much fun drumming. Soon after, Cesar falls for Lanna Lake, a cigarette girl at the Palladium, and makes love to her. Meanwhile, Nestor pines for Maria Rivera and writes many versions of a ballad about her, “Beautiful Maria Of My Soul.” Cesar promises Nestor that they will achieve success. One day, music arranger Miguel Montoya gives them an audition at Club Babalu, a small venue in Harlem owned by his mother, singer Evalina Montoya. The tryout is successful and later, the brothers hold auditions for a band. Their newly formed group, the “Mambo Kings,” books a show at the large Empire Club, opening for Puerto Rican singer Johnny Casanova. The Empire audience loves their sound and Fernando Perez, one of the biggest managers in the music business, offers to represent them. ... +


In 1952 Havana, Cuba, drummer Cesar Castillo and his younger brother, trumpeter Nestor, are rising stars, playing mambo at the Tropicana club. When Nestor’s fiancée, Maria Rivera, marries rival suiter, Luis Fajardo, the Tropicana club owner, Cesar confronts her, but Luis beats him. Maria confesses that Luis, who has mafia connections, would have killed Nestor if she had not married him. She swears Cesar to secrecy, and advises him to take Nestor to America for his safety. In New York City, the brothers stay with family in Spanish Harlem, and get jobs as butchers in the meatpacking district. Hoping to revive their music careers, they go to the ritzy Palladium, where Tito Puente and his band perform. Tito remembers Cesar from Havana, and allows him to join him on stage. When a shootout ensues on the dance floor, Cesar fails to notice, as he is having too much fun drumming. Soon after, Cesar falls for Lanna Lake, a cigarette girl at the Palladium, and makes love to her. Meanwhile, Nestor pines for Maria Rivera and writes many versions of a ballad about her, “Beautiful Maria Of My Soul.” Cesar promises Nestor that they will achieve success. One day, music arranger Miguel Montoya gives them an audition at Club Babalu, a small venue in Harlem owned by his mother, singer Evalina Montoya. The tryout is successful and later, the brothers hold auditions for a band. Their newly formed group, the “Mambo Kings,” books a show at the large Empire Club, opening for Puerto Rican singer Johnny Casanova. The Empire audience loves their sound and Fernando Perez, one of the biggest managers in the music business, offers to represent them. However, a drunken Cesar insults Perez, believing he is a crooked mafia manager like those they knew in Havana. Perez withdraws his offer and makes a veiled threat that they will never succeed without his help. The brothers expect to get more gigs at the Empire after the success of their show, but the owner reports the club is booked for the next month. Turned away at other venues, the band finds work at wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, and birthday parties. They start playing clubs in New Jersey, and a dispirited Nestor wants to return to Cuba, but Cesar reminds him that Maria is not waiting for him. In time, Nestor marries a maid named Delores Fuentes, and they have a son. However, he still longs for Maria and calls out her name in his sleep. Meanwhile, Cesar dreams of meeting a nice girl and starting a family of his own. Band leader and movie star Desi Arnaz is impressed after seeing the Mambo Kings at Club Babalu, and invites them to come to Hollywood, California, to appear on his television show, I Love Lucy. They film scenes with Lucille Ball, and perform “Beautiful Maria Of My Soul,” to the delight of friends and family watching at home. While staying at the posh Garden of Allah hotel in Hollywood, Nestor has an affair, and Cesar chastises him for not being faithful to Maria. As they argue, Cesar reveals the true reason for their move to America, reporting that Maria’s husband planned to kill Nestor. Back in New York City, the brothers release an album, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,” and start making money. While Cesar dreams of becoming a star, Nestor is not as ambitious, and wants to open a small club. Nestor secretly has dinner with manager Fernando Perez, who offers to represent him. Perez notes that Nestor is a songwriter and can succeed without Cesar. When Cesar’s girl friend, Lanna Lake, learns of Nestor’s plans to leave the band, she reminds him that Cesar will be devastated, and champions the importance of family. Club owner Carlo Ricci invites the brothers to perform at the Palladium, and Cesar attributes the show to their appearance on I Love Lucy. However, Nestor knows that Perez arranged the gig, and that it will be the last time they will perform together. Perez has arranged for Nestor to join a show in London, England. The Palladium gig is a success, but as the brothers drive home, the car spins out of control in the snow, hits a tree, and Nestor is killed. Afterward, Cesar drinks heavily and refuses to perform until singer Evalina Montoya advises him that the music in his soul must be released. In time, Cesar opens a small venue, Club Habana, where he sings “Beautiful Maria Of My Soul” in honor of his brother. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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