Serenade (1956): Anthony Mann’s Melodrama, Starring Mario Lanza and Joan Fontaine (LGBTQ)

One of the few Mario Lanza movies to lose money at the box office, Serenade, directed by Anthony Mann, is loosely based on the 1937 novel Serenade by James M. Cain (“Mildred Pierce”).

Co-starring Joan Fontaine, Sarita Montiel, and Vincent Price, the film was Lanza’s fifth film, and his first on-screen appearance in four years.

Lanza plays a poor vineyard worker Damon Vincenti, who becomes an operatic tenor. He is torn between two women, high society hostess Kendall Hale (Joan Fontaine), and Mexican bullfighter’s daughter, Juana Montes (Sara Montiel).

Suffering a breakdown because of his unrequited love for the society woman, he finds love with the Mexican girl.

Highly melodramatic, the film features operatic music all of it sung by Lanza.

Of note are the Act III Monologue from Verdi’s Otello and an extract from the duet “Dio Ti Giocondi” featuring Metropolitan Opera soprano Licia Albanese.

The movie differs greatly from Cain’s novel, in which the male protagonist is John Howard Spring, a professional opera singer who has lost his voice and fled to Mexico after being sexually wooed by a male socialite and impresario. Juana Montes is a Mexican prostitute who sees Spring as gay and therefore a trouble-free partner to open a brothel with. But after having sex in a deserted church with Juana, Spring recovers his voice and his sexual identity. The two lovers come into conflict with the local police and flee to Los Angeles, where Spring reestablishes his singing career. But once they move to New York, the singer must struggle against the renewed blandishments of the gay impresario, whom Juana eventually murders with sword. As none of this material could be considered suitable for an American movie in 1956, the story’s male impresario is female instead and the Mexican prostitute is Mexican bullfighter’s daughter.

Mario Lanza as Damon Vincenti
Joan Fontaine as Kendall Hale
Sara Montiel as Juana Montes (as Sarita Montiel)
Vincent Price as Charles Winthrop
Joseph Calleia as Maestro Marcatello
Harry Bellaver as Tonio
Vince Edwards as Marco Roselli
Silvio Minciotti as Lardelli
Frank Puglia as Manuel Montes
Edward Platt as Everett Carter
Licia Albanese as Desdemona in Otello
Jean Fenn as Soprano in San Francisco


TCM showed the movie on June 5, 2020.