LATINOS AND LATINAS ONSCREEN
A Selective Filmography of Law-Related Movies and TV Shows
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since October 19, 2001
Hollywood has given us few Hispanic lawyers, but among them is the passionate Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) from L. A. Law. The gifted Raul Julia played Sandy Stern in Presumed Innocent; Hector Elizondo took over the role in the TV miniseries Burden of Proof.
Julia also played a detective in the film Compromising Positions (1985), based on a Susan Isaacs novel, opposite Susan Sarandon as the bored housewife turned journalist. Ricardo Montalban played Lieutenant Morales in Mystery Street (1950, also called Murder at Harvard) a well-acted and uncliched story about a smart Boston detective. Montalban also played other ethnic roles including the Japanese Nakamura in Sayonara (1957) and the Italian hero Pietro in The Saracen Blade (1954), based on a Frank Yerby novel.
Hispanic actors and actresses have tended to be cast in very traditional roles, including maids, gardeners, gang members, and drug dealers. Only recently have we begun to see them cast as "regular" characters, regardless of ethnicity.
American Me (1992). Edward James Olmos, one of the few Hispanics to achieve stardom in Hollywood, directed this story of Hispanic gang members in Los Angeles.
The Border (1979). Thriller about smuggling across the Mexican border.
The Border (1982). Jack Nicholson as a federal agent trying to stem the flow of illegal immigrants across the Mexican border. Various Latino actors have supporting roles including Elpidia Carrillo and Manuel Viescas.
Burden of Proof (1992). Hector Elizondo as defense attorney Sandy Stern deals with his wife’s suicide and his brother in law’s legal problems.
Manhunt: Search for the Night Stalker (1989). Dramatization of the investigation into several brutal rapes and murders in the L. A. and San Francisco areas in the 1980s. Gregory Norman Cruz stars as the killer Richard Ramirez, A Martinez and Julie Carmen also have roles.
Mi Vida Loca (1993). Another gang film, very realistic and touching.
The Milagro Beanfield War (1988). Robert Redford spent several years raising funding for this adaptation of the John Nichols novel. Singer Rubén Blades stars as Sheriff Montoya, who tries to keep order in town amid fights over water rights and ruthless land developers.
The Old Gringo (1989). Based on an acclaimed Carlos Fuentes novel, this film featured Jimmy Smits as a Mexican general.
Presumed Innocent (1990). Terrific courtroom drama starring Harrison Ford as a bewildered prosecutor accused of murder. Raul Julia turns in a strong performance as the clever defense attorney Sandy Stern. Hector Elizondo played the same character in the adaptation of Scott Turow’s novel Burden of Proof.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Ricardo Montalban reprises his role as the intellectually and physically superior being Khan trying to take over part of space in the second ST movie. The role is not specifically written for a Latino, and Montalban, like Olmos and Jimmy Smits, is one of the few actors cast in such roles.
A Walk in the Clouds (1995). Returning from the war a young soldier meets a pregnant Latina; he agrees to pose as her husband and they fall in love.
West Side Story (1961). Film adaptation of the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical based on Romeo and Juliet. The leads are played by non-Hispanics, but notable is Rita Moreno’s performance as Anita; she won an Oscar.
The Cisco Kid (1950-1956). The best known version of the Cisco Kid adaptations starred Duncan Reynoldo as Cisco and Leo Carrillo and Pancho. Lots of humor, lots of action. Jimmy Smits updated the story in a 1994 series that featured Cheech Marin as Pancho; it faded after a few episodes.
Common Law (1996). Perfectly awful comedy about an Hispanic grad of Harvard Law School and his Caucasian wife and law partner. Tiresome update of the theme in 1972-1973 comedy Bridget Loves Bernie.
Condo (1983). Next door neighbors (a white family and an Hispanic family) find they must get along when their children fall in love.
The Cosby Mysteries (1994). After his successful comedy series went off the air, Bill Cosby tried his luck at a mystery show, which lasted only a few episodes. Rita Moreno was his good friend Angie Corea.
Falcon Crest (1981-1990). Cesar Romero, the New York born grandson of liberator José Marti, played (the non-Latino) Peter Stavros from 1985 to 1987. Lorenzo Lamas, son of "Latin lover" Fernando Lamas and swimming star Esther Williams, played Lance Cumson. Romero often played Latin lovers, but also "mainstream" roles. He is probably most celebrated for his performances as the Joker in the 1966-1968 cult series Batman.
I Married Dora (1987). Thin comedy about a white professional (Daniel-Hugh Kelly) who marries his charming housekeeper (Elizabeth Peña) to prevent her from being deported. Lots of jokes about the INS, very little recognition of the crime being committed.
L. A. Law (1986-1994). Before N.Y.P.D. Blue, Jimmy Smits played Victor Sifuentes (1986-1991) in this long-running legal drama.
N.Y.P.D. Blue (1993-1998). From 1994 to 1998 Jimmy Smits played Detective Bobby Simone. Smits has since gone on to stardom in numerous films, sometimes playing Latino roles, but often portraying non-ethnic characters.
The Rockford Files (1974-1980). Rita Moreno played Rita Kapkovic, a recurring character and friend of detective hero Jim Rockford. Moreno also played a Congresswoman in an episode of Miami Vice. Like Cesar Romero, Moreno has played various non-Latin roles throughout her career.
What a Country! (1986-1987). Comedy set in a night school class for recent immigrants. Among the characters are Maria (Ada Maris), a Beverly Hills housekeeper, and her boyfriend Victor (Julian Reyes).
Zorro (1957-1959). The most famous of the cinematic tellings of this hero’s tales starred Guy Williams (later Dr. Robinson on Lost in Space). Many archetypal characters in this series; they included the perpetually evil governor, good guys Don Diego de la Vega (Zorro) and his father, who defend the rights and independence of the locals, some idiot soldiers, and various villagers. Set in California during the colonial period.
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