La cercle des passions (1983, Claude d’Anna)
A rather toothless attempt at an historical novel à la Visconti, made in co-production between France, Italy and Spain and featuring a prominent European cast (Max von Sydow, Giuliano Gemma, Assumpta Serna, Marcel Bozzuffi, Françoise Fabian, José Manuel Cervino, Raúl Fraire, Rogerio Paulo…). Gemma plays a fifties American who moves into the household of a Sicilian count (Von Sydow), only to find himself entrapped in a web of personal and public troubles created by labour unrest and the Mafia. Once again, incest and necrophilia are used as metaphors for a dying social order. The cast certainly deliver: Max von Sydow just disappears into his character, Bozzuffi (he of the French Connection poster) is compelling as a Mafia Don and Cervino (one of Spain’s most underrated actors) manages to make a strong impression in the small role of a rebellious worker. Music by Egisto Macchi.
Othello, el comando negro (1982, Max H. Boulois)
Eurociné and a Spanish company somehow agreed to put up money with no guarantee of a profit into a vanity vehicle for Max H. Boulois, an Afro-French singer who wrote, directed and starred in this updating of Shakespeare’s Othello, given a present-day mercenary setting and a musical backing consisting exclusively of Beethoven selections (God, are these filmmakers classy folks). Boulois is as wooden as he is big and the late Tony Curtis (who deserves to be remembered for other things) has to be seen to be believed as a fey and goofball Iago. With Joanna Pettet as Desdemona, Ramiro Oliveros as Cassio and Nadiuska as Emily. Also with: Andrés Resino as Roderigo, Aldo Sambrell (who despised Boulois) as Montano. softcore actress Rosa Mora as Bianca, and Fernando Sancho as a politician based on the Duke of Venice.
Clara es el precio (1975, Vicente Aranda)
Wretchedly self-indulgent arthouse stuff, representing the death throws of the so-named Barcelona School and brimming with once-fashionable Op/Pop aesthetics. Amparo Muñoz, married to an impotent man (Máximo Valverde, of all people), doubles up secretly as a porn actress and finds herself at the centre of a crooked scheme involving a gay businessman (Juan Luis Galiardo). With Victor Petit.
Miedo (1956, León Klimowsky)
Strong if slightly confusing thriller co-written by Jess Franco (who also appears briefly as a pianist). Antonio Vilar stars as a morphine-addicted engineer forced by his regular suppliers to participate in a caper. Photography by Godofredo Pachecho; good score by Isidro Maeztegui.
Óscar, Kina y el láser (1978, José María Blanco)
Entertaining children’s film directed by actor José María Blanco (a regular in the avant-garde films of José María Nunes) and based on the popular “Óscar” books by Carmen Kurtz. A boy genius invents a small machine with a laser beam and the power to make people invisible. It can also talk to the boy and has the charmingly avuncular voice of Felipe Peña. The film’s bumbling adult villains are so dumb and broadly played you end up liking them: they are played by Dora Santacreu (the housekeeper from Bosch’s Exorcismo), Pep Ballester (of Hell of the Living Dead), César Ojínaga (of Crimson and many Eurowesterns) and Claude Boisson (what was he doing here?).
El aprendiz de clown (1967, Manuel Esteba)
One of the children’s films with which Manuel Esteba cut his teeth in the late sixties. Well-shot and well-scored, it functions as a vehicle for the legendary Charlie Rivel, starring as an embittered clown who befriends a mute child (Enrique San Francisco). Rivel’s wailing act is featured in one circus scene. Child actor San Francisco (despite his “cute” image here) grew into an adult character actor of slimy roles.
Las aventuras de Zipi y Zape (1982, Enrique Guevara)
Funny how many people associated with exploitation made children’s films. This aberrant artifact is the work of Enrique Guevara, who produced several softcore vehicles for his sister Raquel Evans. Based on José Escobar’s long-running comic book, it pits two naughty twins against goofish gangsters. Possibly one of the worst films ever made and seemingly aimed at children who drop acid, it’s very difficult to do justice to in words. It has lots of activity, but very little coherence; and for some reason, the better the actors are, the worse they perform here: Alfred Lucchetti (of Larraz’s Black Candles) postures foolishly as the schoolteacher, while the usually fine Marta Angelat is downright abnormal as the twins’ mother. With Josep Lluis Fonoll (who wore the tutu and hat in Hell of the Living Dead) as a hapless doorman. 96 minutes of this stuff may be equivalent to a boxer’s years of head punishment in the ring.
Bajo en nicotina (1984, Raúl Artigot)
Raúl Artigot, a well-known DP put an end to his directorial career (which started with El monte de las brujas) with this creepy semi-thriller featuring Madrilenian comedy actors playing “straight” versions of their usual roles. Óscar Ladoire stars as an unemployed video-addict who won’t stop at blackmail and murder to feed his habit. Antonio Resines is atrociously bad as the blackmail victim, but the film itself (like Josecho San Mateo’s Percusión) is weirdly fascinating in its indulgence towards selfishness and the final shot is nicely sinister. Based on a Carlos Pérez Marinero crime novel. With Assumpta Serna, Luis Ciges and Chus Lampreave (all seen in Almodóvar’s Matador).
Bueno y tierno como un ángel (1989, José María Blanco)
A remake of Artigot’s Bajo en nicotina. If the Artigot version indulged its obnoxious protagonist, this one makes no attempt at distancing and actually romanticises a man who lives at the expense of others and will commit murders if the need arises. José María Blanco wrote, directed, edited, co-photographed and played the central role. At least one or two of the actors are an improvement over their counterparts in the Artigot version and the film itself deserves some credit for sheer gall. With Pilar Bardem and Víctor Israel.
Velvet House /The Corpse (1970, Viktors Ritelis)
Michael Gough impresses as a tyrannical patriarch who may still be alive after having been murdered by his wife and daughter. The film’s first half is also striking. Otherwise, this is pretentious stuff, frequently obscure and with too much sleight-of-hand in the direction.
Crimen (1964, Miguel Lluch)
Atmospheric crime film has anti-hero actor Julián Mateos as the villainous son of a small-town boss (Luis Induni). After raping and murdering a woman, the wealthy youth then frames the honest town doctor (Victor Valverde). Judge Fernando Sancho smells a rat and investigates, only to find out that the whole town is dominated by fear and will defend the bosses against their better knowledge. Sancho is very good in a rare hero role (at least in the sense that Jesús Puente was a hero in Hatchet for a Honeymoon) and the usually respectable-looking Sergio Doré (the doctor in The Devil’s Kiss) excels as Mateos’s scumbag aide (Usually, the casting would have been the other way around). With Margarita Lozano. Produced by Iquino.
¿Pena de muerte? (1961, Josep Maria Forn)
Disappointing Barcelona crime film, made for Iquino. Fernando León stars as a crime writer who becomes increasingly drawn into the case of a man wrongly accused of murder. Some lightness of touch in Forn’s direction but León’s performance is boring and the procedurals can get stodgy. Luis Induni (playing an Italian and thus allowed to dub himself) brightens up his scenes as a genial businessman. A young Victor Israel plays a journalist friend of the hero.
Ho sap el ministre? (1991, Josep Maria Forn)
OK Catalan comedy about complications resulting from a deal between Catalan and Andalusian businesspeople to redesign the uniforms worn by the Spanish army. An extrovert Juan Luis Gallardo and a prim Muntsa Alcañiz come off best in the cast; Julieta Serrano does another harridan as in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. With José María Caffarel and Ana Obregón.
A tiro limpio (1963, Francisco Pérez-Dolz)
Superior Barcelona crime movie with a caper theme, featuring excellent photography and location work. Carlos Suárez is not wholly convincing as a bestial anti-hero driven by angry urges; Carlos Otero is characteristically subtle in another of his loser roles. The ferocious, visceral tone and degree of violence are quite uncharacteristic in a Spanish film of the time, as is the very notion of having a vindictive brute at the centre of the story. The director, unfortunately, went on to make TV adverts. The late José Luis Guarner retrospectively “rescued” the film at one of the editions of the Barcelona Film Festival.
El siniestro Doctor Orloff (1984, Jess Franco)
Jess Franco’s sexploitation remake of his own The Awful Dr. Orloff idealises Howard Vernon’s mad doctor by introducing him as a blurry image on a glass pane and grants him an unexpected late-in-filmography triumph. His son, played by Antonio Mayans (who broods well in close-up), does the father’s work here, and Tanner (Tony Skios) is once again on the track. Franco himself and DP Juan Soler are liabilities in the cast, but at the same time it is they who are to be credited with the film’s distinctively harsh and blocky look.
Investigación criminal (1970, Juan Bosch)
Iquino produced this exploitation remake of his own Brigada criminal, albeit entrusting the direction to Juan Bosch. Follows the original almost step by step but with extra lashings of sex and violence. Not bad, but not a patch on the original. Víctor Alcázar stars.
El cerco (Miquel Iglesias Bonns, 1955)
Another Barcelona crime movie, again featuring a caper. The plot may have served as the inspiration for Juan Fortuny’s Crimson, except that there is no fantasy element and it is an obviously better film. Fast-paced and containing good acting by José Guardiola as the gang leader, Francisco Piquer as his wounded accomplice (who the Guardiola character treats throughout as a genuine friend) and Emilio Fábregas as their seedy doctor. It all ends with an impressive confrontation on the beach. With Luis Induni (effectively dubbed with César Ojínaga’s voice), Ángel Jordán and Carlos Ronda as the other gang members.
La moglie in bianco…l’amante al pepe (Michelle Massimo Tarantini, 1980)
Politically incorrect Italian sex comedy. The ebullient Lino Banfi stars as a heavily indebted Sicilian aristocrat who fears that his son (Spaniard Javier Viñas) may be gay, which would complicate his chance of receiving a much-needed inheritance. Energetic and, on occasion, genuinely humourous. With Pamela Prati, Nieves Navarro, Raf Baldassarre, Rafael Hernández and Tito García.
La “mini” tía (1968, Ignacio F. iquino)
Tediously overbearing vehicle for the comedienne Mary Santpere, placing her in a barely coherent plot on a murderer on the loose in a hotel. José Luis Carbonell grates as the male lead; the comedian Alady has the best scenes as a cowardly hotel receptionist. Directed with poise.
Cambio de sexo (1977, Vicente Aranda)
One of Aranda’s better films: the story of the troubles besetting a young man who contemplates a sex change. Victoria Abril, in her film debut, plays the role both before and after the change; she is not what she is now but on the way. Lou Castel is incisive as a surly night club manager and there is good work from Rafaela Aparicio as an aged housekeeper, not to mention Fernando Sancho and Montserrat Carrulla as the protagonist’s parents.
Espectro (más allá del fin del mundo) (1978, Manuel Esteba)
Pompous and fatuous minimalist sci-fi on two scientists (Eduardo Fajardo and Daniel Martín) who take to temporarily living underground for an experiment and then, on returning to the surface, discover that the human species has disappeared in their absence, except for a mysterious woman (Inca María). Wastes a good, shaded Fajardo performance.
Las piernas de la serpiente (1970, Juan Xiol Marchal)
The best vehicle for the comic Cassen I have seen so far. His films by Berlanga and Betriu do not count: those were films he simply appeared in as an actor. This, however, is a genuine vehicle for him, albeit given a Berlanga-like satirical edge that may be the doing of producer Josep María Forn. Cassen stars as a crooked advertising manager at a cycling event at which everybody involved, except for the cyclists themselves, are in debt and cheating one another. Although a star vehicle, this is also something of an ensemble piece, with many overlapping strands of plot. The ending also surprised me, neither happy nor sad: Cassen, at the end, makes a mediocre profit, but his financial backer (Julián Ugarte) decides to hold on to him for the next cycling event and life continues as before. Probably the best film Xiol was ever involved with. With Teresa Gimpera, Asunción Vitoria and José Castillo Escalona.
La piel quemada (1967, Josep María Forn)
Forn’s classic account of Andalusian construction workers toiling away on a building site on the Costa Brava, as they await their weekend of partying and relief. Antonio Iranzo (in a role initially intended for Daniel Martín) irons out his theatrical mannerisms as the lead worker, whose stag party is about to begin; Carlos Otero, as his closest friend, plays a Portuguese immigrant, so he is able to dub himself; Spaghetti Western villain Ángel Lombarte plays the most jovial of the group. It’s all confined within 48 hours but the time-scale is expanded by flashbacks placing the single event in context (the protagonist’s decision to migrate from the south, his strict upbringing and repressive milieu…) or by the long monologue of an elderly Andalusian (Carlos Ronda, one of his best roles) tracing his long life back to the Civil War, his confinement to a concentration camp and his subsequent adoption of Catalonia as his homeland. Forn throughout keeps at a distance from the events, never overdoing humour or pathos and remaining matter-of-fact in such scenes as the extended sequence of Iranzo having to personally carry his own, newly-acquired bed across the whole of Girona, all the way to his home. There are cameos by José Castillo Escalona (the professor in The Werewolf and the Yeti) and Jordi Torras (the psychiatrist in Exorcismo) as bigoted Catalans. With Silvia Solar as a tourist and Isidro Novellas as a priest.
Nunca en horas de clase (1978, José Antonio de la Loma)
Discosploitation movie with a high-school setting that starts as a fluffy comedy on losin’ it, then continues as a fluffy comedy with a nasty edge: the heroine (Lara Windell) is a virginal teenager who seeks revenge on assorted males by promising and then not delivering, not to mention ruining the reputation of her victims. To all effects, despite the lightness of tone, it’s the story of a quasi-psychopath. The final shot, which caps a sardonic ending, had me smiling malignantly. With Carlos Ballesteros, the late Inma de santis, José Luis López Vázquez as an aging make-out artist, a very sleazy Jordi Serrat and Xavier Cugat (!) as the school president.