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Afternoon Delight Dance Series #4: Another Dancer You Weren't Expecting

by Jerome Weeks 5 May 2011 12:59 PM

You may have known him as Khan, battling Kirk, or Mr. Roarke, befriending tourists. But in his American film debut, Ricardo Montalban showed he also could dance.


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to get back to work. Check back tomorrow at 1 p.m. for another one

With Afternoon Delight Dance Series #2 earlier this week, we got a glimpse of the remarkable dance talent of the young George Raft, of all people, although this was before he became typed as a frozen-faced gangster. The fourth in our series this week is another mostly forgotten, early-in-his-career moment from a performer you probably didn’t realize was a fine dancer: Ricardo Montalban, best known for his wrath as the Star Trek villain Khan, for greeting people on Fantasy Island and rolling his Rs while pitching the “rich, Corinthian leather” of the Chrysler Cordoba.

This musical number with Cyd Charisse is from Fiesta, Montalban’s American film debut in 1947. (He’d been appearing in Mexican films for five years by then.) Montalban would team up with the great Charisse again in On an Island With You (and even later, on episodes of Fantasy Island). But it shows how much his later career overshadowed his early dance-team performances that when he died in 2009, many obituaries never mentioned them.

Charisse was celebrated for her long legs, so initially, it seems odd that the filmmakers covered them so completely here. But Charisse works that skirt, tossing and swirling it beautifully, and it was a brilliant idea, layering it with bright orangey-red. As a result, she’s the center of attention here, until towards the end when Montalban gets to take off in a trio of leaps and then closes in. Compared to Raft’s steamy bolero with Carole Lombard, this is more exuberant and happy, almost a case of youthful high spirits. But it certainly proves Montalban was more than just a handsome Latin accent and a self-mocking twinkle.