The story focuses on Mario Morales (Montalbán), a bullfighter who wants to be a composer, and his twin sister, Maria Morales (Williams), who wants to be a bullfighter even though she is a woman.
The film was shot on location in Puebla, Mexico. This was Montalbán's first credited role in a Hollywood film, and resulted in him being offered a contract by the studio. It was also the first of three films pairing Williams and Montalbán, the other two being On an Island with You (1948) and Neptune's Daughter (1949).
Retired matador Antonio Morales is anxious when his wife gives birth, disappointed when the baby turns out to be a girl, then thrilled when a twin brother is born. He names them Mario and Maria.
As the children grow up, Antonio's wife dreads the idea of her son facing the danger of becoming a bullfighter, particularly inasmuch as Mario has an artistic side to his nature, an affinity for music. Maria, meanwhile, becomes quite expert in the ring, taught by her father's right-hand man, Chato Vasquez.
As a gift on their 21st birthday, Maria honors her brother by getting a copy of Mario's new music composition to Maximino Contreras, a famed orchestra conductor. Maximino, thoroughly impressed, pays a call on the Morales family just before Mario's first bullfight. Antonio prefers not to distract his son prior to entering the ring, so he promises to pass along Maximino's personal regards later. But he does not.
Before a second bullfight, Mario is approached by Maximino, who wonders why he never responded to his previous invitation to meet. Realizing that his father ignored it, Mario angrily walks out of the ring, disappointing spectators and infuriating his father, who feels the family's honor has been disgraced.
Maria attempts a ruse, disguising herself as Mario and confronting the bull. Her life is in danger before Mario intervenes, restoring the Morales family's good name. Mario is permitted by his father to pursue a life in music instead.Esther Williams as Maria Morales
Ricardo Montalbán as Mario Morales
Fortunio Bonanova as Antonio Morales
Mary Astor as Señora Morales
Akim Tamiroff as Chato Vasquez
John Carroll as Jose 'Pepe' Ortega
Cyd Charisse as Conchita
Hugo Haas as Maximino Contreras
Jean Van as Maria Morales, as a child
Joey Preston as Mario Morales, as a child
Frank Puglia as Doctor
Los Bocheros as The Basque Singers
Alan Napier as The Tourist
based on El Salon Mexico
Music by Aaron Copland
Music Adapted and Orchestrated by Johnny Green
Piano soloist André Previn
Written by Luis Martínez Serrano
Jarabe Tapatío (The Mexican Hat Dance)
La luna enamorada
Written by Angel Ortiz De Villajos, Miriano Bolanos, Recio Leocadio and Martinez Durango
Written and Performed by Los Bocheros
La barca de oro
The film took longer than expected because Thorpe decided that he did not want the bulls killed. However, this led to the bulls attacking the stuntmen, four of them ending up in the hospital, and two of them barely surviving after being gored in the groin due to infections caused by the dirt on the bulls' horns. (Williams was doubled by men. After years of swimming, her shoulders were broad and her backside was flat, and had a different body build that that of a bullfighter and a visible difference on film.) Not killing the bulls made the Mexican people angry, which didn't help, since they were already angry that their own toreadors could not star in the film. At the end of filming, the unit manager, Walter Strohm convinced Thorpe to kill the bulls, even though they cost $1000 each.
Director of photography Sidney Wagner and one other crew member died of cholera after eating contaminated street food they had bought in town. Williams' husband, Ben Gage, was arrested after getting into a fight with an employee of the hotel the cast was staying at, the same man who had recently shot the crew's doctor after being yelled at. Gage's arrest was covered by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Gage and the film's makeup artist George Lane were then declared persona non grata and wanted expelled from Mexico, but the company would be allowed to finish shooting the film. However, Williams knew that Lane would be fired when he returned to California, so she stalled shooting until he came back. Instead, the studio sent another makeup artist, Bill Tuttle to Mexico, and he promised Williams he would help Lane get another job. In the film's bullring sequence, the capework concludes with the archaic and very rare "quite de la mariposa," or "butterfly takeaway." Hemingway described this maneuver as he saw it performed in the 1920s and '30s by matador Marcial Lananda. In 1983 Lalanda, now an octogenarian, described it in an interview on Television Española, as performed by matador Luis Francisco Espla.
The studio insisted that Williams wear a traje de luces matador outfit for the film. Traditionally, the suit is made to lie very flat on the toreador's chest, and this proved to be difficult. The tailor in Mexico refused to work on the suit unless Williams "agreed to have her bosom surgically removed." Strohm had the suit sent back to Irene, MGM's costume designer in Hollywood, to be fitted to her body, which included closing the fly with hooks. On the trage de luces, when worn by men, the fly is left slightly open, so the "world can appreciate what's in there."
The film features Williams in the water for one short sequence. This was a stark contrast with many of her box office hits, which all featured elaborate water sequences. Publicity photos for the film featuring Williams in a bathing suit were utilized much more than those of her in the traje de luces suit.
The film earned $2,546,000 in the US and $3,089,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $1,170,000.
Fiesta was nominated for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture at the 1948 Academy Awards, but lost to Mother Wore Tights.
On October 6, 2009, Turner Entertainment released Fiesta on DVD as part of the Esther Williams Spotlight Collection, Volume 2. The 6 disc set was a follow up to the company's Esther Williams Spotlight Collection, Volume 1, and contains digitally remastered versions of several of Williams's films including Thrill of a Romance (1945), This Time for Keeps (1947), Pagan Love Song (1950), Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) and Easy to Love (1953).