The opening sequence of The Mambo Kings unfurls a nightclub production number the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1940s. It’s no wonder: The scene, meant to evoke 1952 Havana, is lifted intact from the 1949 MGM musical, Neptune’s Daughter.
”I liked the monkey,” says director Arne Glimcher, ”and being able to start with it scampering down this row of drums.” By intercutting the stock scene with new footage of a backstage brawl between Armand Assante and a club owner, Glimcher felt he could introduce the story line with a period-flavored bang. ”We staged our own club numbers for the New York sequences,” he says, ”but this had to look more exotic. I felt the audience would buy the time if it was real and not a re-creation.”
Glimcher’s use of stock footage didn’t end there. He also wove parts of an I Love Lucy episode into a scene in which Desi Arnaz (played by Desi Jr.) invites the Castillos to appear on the sitcom. ”If I had cast a Lucy,” says Glimcher, ”the audience would be saying, ‘Look how perfect her hair is.”’ Instead, he found a show about two Cuban friends visiting the Ricardos, then plugged continuity holes by stringing together bits of Lucy’s dialogue from other shows. Arnaz Jr. says the technicians did such a good job it was like ”working opposite Mom again.”