Rita Moreno is a legend. An icon. One of the greatest of all time. She has an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony (aka as an EGOT). If you’ve been enjoying her as Lydia on Netflix’s One Day at a Time it’s because you’re seeing a consummate performer know exactly when to pause to get a laugh and when to nod her head to make you ugly cry. With a career spanning close to seven decades (her first screen credit, as “Rosita Moreno” was 1950’s So Young So Bad), there’s just too many performances and shows and movies to list when wanting to showcase the range of this Puerto Rican’s talent.
That won’t deter us, though, from highlighting five films where the celebrated performer shines. And we’ve gone further: we chose 5 movies you can stream at home (that means we had to let the Marlon Brando-starrer The Night of the Following Day off, leaving us without any way of seeing just how great of a chemistry she had with the Oscar winner). Find these below and create your very own Rita Moreno Appreciation Film Festival from the comfort of your own couch.
The King and I
The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical got the glossy, big-budget film adaptation it deserved in 1956, just years after wowing audience on the Great White Way. Based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam, which tells the true tales of the governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, The King and I stars Yul Brynner as the King and Deborah Kerr as Anna. With sumptuous costumes and breathtaking musical sequences, the film also features Rita Moreno as Tuptim, one of the King’s many wives — and the only one who seems to be truly unhappy with her place in the palace.
West Side Story
A film adaptation of the musical stage adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that changes the Montagues and the Capulets for the Jets (a hodge-podge of white guys) and the Sharks (a gang of recent Puerto Rican immigrants), West Side Story is a classic Hollywood sing-a-long schmaltz-fest.
Like any good neo-noir, Marlowe begins with a missing persons case. Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe (James Garner) is hired by Orfamay Quest, who desperately wants him to find her brother Orrin. The clues of Orrin’s disappearance soon lead Marlowe to meet, among others, an exotic dancer called Dolores Gonzáles (Rita Moreno) and a Kung-Fu expert (played by Bruce Lee). In between those meetings and as he keeps finding dead bodies (all killed by ice picks), Marlow begins uncovering a larger story that doesn’t just involve Orrin but something much more dangerous.
Fathers will do anything for their children. And movie fathers? Well, they truly go the extra mile. Take Popi (Alan Arkin). The Puerto Rican single father is clearly struggling to raise his two young boys in a rundown neighborhood in Brooklyn. Looking around, he knows his kids don’t stand a chance to move on up from the ghetto they live in. Nevertheless, he dreams of a life where he can marry his girlfriend Lupe (Rita Moreno) and find a better future for them all. One day, upon seeing just how wonderful Cuban refugee kids are treated, he cooks up a plan to have his boys wash ashore on a raft off the coast of Miami. The 1969 comedy is as improbable as it sounds, and thankfully as a happy ending befitting its farcical storytelling.
Terrence McNally’s The Ritz is a farce set at a gay bathhouse in New York that opened on Broadway 1975. It was turned into a film the next year. It follows Gaetano Proclo (a straight guy played by Jack Weston) who takes refuge at the bathhouse as he takes refuge from his homicidal mobster brother-in-law, Carmine Vespucci (Jerry Stiller). While walking around, Gaetano mingles with the toweled patrons, which include an entertainer by the name of Googie Gomez (Rita Moreno, reprising her Tony-winning role). To give you a sense of how this skintastic plot weaves its comedy of errors, know that Gaetano first thinks Googie is a drag queen, while she thinks he’s a producer she vows to seduce at all costs. Hilarity, of course, ensues in this gay classic.