Mambo Kings (1992): Cuban Musicians in New York

New York art dealer Arne Glimcher made his feature directing debut with Mambo Kings, a romantic melodrama about two brothers who flee Cuba in the 1950s to make it as musicians in the America.

Cynthia Cidre wrote the literate screenplay adapted from Oscar Hijuelos’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

Cesar (Armand Assante) and Nestor Castillo (Antonio Banderas) are popular musicians on Havana’s club circuit, but when they get into trouble, they are forced to leave for New York City.

In New York, the brothers work as meat-cutters during the day as Cesar tries to organize a band and break into the New York music scene.

The Mambo Kings get club bookings and Cesar falls in love with a sharp-tongued cigarette girl, Lanna Lake (Cathy Moriarty), and Nestor with Delores Fuentes (Maruschka Detmers), who wants to be a teacher.

Cesar concentrates on singing and managing the band, while Nestor plays the trumpet and writes emotional songs of love. All goes well until Cesar antagonizes the moneymen on the Latin nightclub circuit and they are reduced to playing bar mitzvahs.

But after being discovered by Desi Arnaz (Desi Arnaz Jr.), the group is prominently featured on I Love Lucy. Their popularity soars and they cut a successful album called “Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.”

Cesar is glorying in his success, but Nestor is disappointed and longs to return to Cuba.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Song: Beautiful Maria of My Soul, music by Robert Kraft, lyrics by Arne Glimcher

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Song Oscar were Alan Menken and Tim Rice’s A Whole New World, from Aladdin.

MPAA: R

Running time: 85 minutes.

Directed By: Arne Glimcher

Released: February 28, 1992

DVD: August 16, 2005

Warner