You don’t become known as “The Queen of Technicolor” for nothing. And you really only need to take one look at Maria Montez’s filmography, to see why she was so dubbed. Born in the Dominican Republic, the actress arrived at Hollywood in the 1940s and slowly became the go-to gal for any kind of part that asked for an exotic-looking girl. Playing everything from a South Pacific woman called Melahi to the famous Sherazade in an adaptation of Arabian Nights (she even jockeyed for the role of Cleopatra which eventually went to Liz Taylor!), Montez became a bonafide movie star while working at Universal Pictures. By the time she died at age 39, she was hoping to transition out of those exotic damsels in distress roles she was so well-known for, working successfully as a freelance performer in Europe with the help of her second husband, actor Jean-Pierre Aumont.
Already the subject of a 2014 biopic (María Montez: La película), the Dominican actress remains one of the most well-known Latina performers of the twentieth century. She may have only worked in films for a little over a decade, but her striking allure is unavoidable. Sadly, because older movies aren’t as readily available on streaming platforms, you can only stream three of Montez’s 26 films right now. Though, for those eager to see more of her work, many of her hits are very easy to find on DVD. Nevertheless, we wanted to give you a good primer on the actress so find below 5 her must-watch films.
The first film by Universal to use the three-strip Technicolor film process, this Middle-Eastern action adventure film follows a beautiful dancing girl Sherazade (Maria Montez) who has found herself in the middle of a romantic triangle with two brother who both seek to fulfill a prophecy that says she will be the Queen of Baghdad. When Haroun al-Rashid (John Hall) ends up taking refuge in the circus where Sherazade works at after being nearly killed by his brother Kamar (Leif Erickson), he falls for the enchanting dancer — all without knowing his brother is also pursuing her. Their brotherly rivalry fuels this escapist romp which went on to earn 4 Oscar nominations in 1943.
Typical of the overseas adventure flicks Universal was making at the time, this 1944 romp starred frequent co-stars Maria Montez, Jon Hall, and Sabu, with the actress doing double duty. When Tollea (Montez) is kidnapped and taken to a Pacific Island that worships the cobra, her fiancé Ramu (Hall) and Kado (Sabu) set sail to rescue her. Unbeknownst to them, though, Tollea has been brought to the volcano-riddled island to help unseat her evil twin sister Naja (Montez, also) — the Queen of the island, it turns out is the girls’ grandmother. Shot in vibrant technicolor and featuring plenty of exotic and floral costumes, this fiery adventure is great showcase for the beautiful Montez, and a perfect example of what she excelled at while at Universal.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Ostensibly an adaptation of one of the stories in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, this Universal pic was yet another excuse to flaunt as many exotic costumes and far-flung sets as possible. Starring John Hall as the eponymous Ali Baba, whose adopted by the forty thieves after his father is ambushed and killed by the Mongols, this Middle-Eastern adventure follows the story as Ali seeks revenge on those who made him an orphan. As is requisite, the film also has a romantic subplot involving Amara, a woman Ali knew as a child, who’s played by Maria Montez. With epic battles and a meet-cute by an oasis, this Montez/Hall vehicle further showcased their on-screen chemistry.
Siren of Atlantis
Based on Pierre Benoit’s novel Atlantida, this fantasy adventure starred husband and wife pair, Jean Pierre Aumont and Maria Montez. Aumont played Andre St Avit of the French Foreign Legion who’s discovered unconscious in the African desert where he claims he’d stumbled upon the lost kingdom of Atlantis alongside fellow soldier Jean (Dennis O’Keefe). Ruled by the mysterious Queen Antinea (Montez), the mythic world soon seduces the young man and drives him to make near-unconscionable decisions to stay in the queen’s good graces. Much more philosophical than the rollicking flicks for which Montez was known for, this black and white trip to Atlantis nevertheless shows off the actress’ chops when playing a strong-willed vamp.
With gorgeous scenery and costumes — as was de rigueur on projects like these — Sudan transports audiences to the ancient Egyptian kingdom of Khemis. There, young Naila (Maria Montez) has suddenly become Queen when her father is killed in a slave revolt. Not one to stay put in the palace, Naila continues her forays into her kingdom as anonymously as possible, in hopes of finding the rebel leader only to find herself captured and enslaved. As luck (and Hollywood plotting) would have it though, Naila will come face to face with the rebel leader (John Hall), who immediately takes her breath away. Popping in technicolor and boasting the war-time epic scenes that audiences had come to expect, Sudan is, if nothing else, a desert-filled romantic adventure with yet another alluring Montez performance.