Homicidios en Chicago (1969)
Co-written and directed by José María Zabalza
Photography by Emilio Foriscot
Music by Ana Satrova
Chicago as a small town
Anticipating his three-picture western deal of 1970, the “Spanish Ed Wood” (as Zabalza has been called) undertook a similar project the previous year, making two crime movies back-to-back, both set in 1930s Chicago but actually filmed in the director’s native Irún. The two films in question were that under comment here and El regreso de Al Capone, starring Jesús Puente, bizarrely cast in the title role. Homicidios en Chicago has much the same cast as the Capone film, except that, instead of Puente, we find his then-wife, María Luisa Rubio, a very active dubbing actress who only physically appeared in two films, including the present one.
Although the title (which translates as “Murders in Chicago”) promises a gangster story, this is more of a murder mystery that kicks off with the seemingly accidental death of a construction worker, followed shortly after by that of a noted publisher (an uneasy-looking Eduardo Fajardo). What follows is a very confusing story in which the police, a police coroner (José Campos) and a vagrant (Fernando Sänchez Polack) who witnessed Fajardo’s death embark on separate inquests on what actually happened. Meanwhile, June (the above-mentioned María Luisa Rubio), who works as a secretary for the publishing company, is under pressure by a blackmailer (Antonio Jiménez Escribano) who has pictures of her in the sack with the deceased publisher.
One’s expectations with a Zabalza movie are certainly low and Homicidios en Chicago is, to be sure, an extremely unpolished film, filled with flaws, contradictions and incongruities – not least in the feeling created that all characters are at about one or two degrees of separation from one another, as if this were a village rather than Chicago. The 77-minute film, moreover, is made extremely confusing by numerous sub-plots, sub-sub-plots and an unusually large cast of characters, vastly outnumbering the cast list and, in several cases, only appearing for only a scene or two or having only a tenuous connection with the main plotline. The contortions undergone by the story seemingly serve to motivate some poorly-staged action scenes as relief from the very wordy script. Late in the movie, two minor cop characters engage in an incredibly stilted conversation to the effect that the murderer they are after may have only been interested in one of the victims and simply killed the others to throw the police off course. Zabalza himself presumably meant audiences to be similarly misled with his unresolved plot threads on various characters out to obtain the blackmail photographs and the strong-arm techniques used by Fajardo’s successor on dissident employees. What is achieved instead is a sense of bewilderment, particularly as, every now and then, assorted thugs turn up out of nowhere and rough somebody up in yet another ill-staged fight scene, making it increasingly difficult to work out which party the thugs in question are working for.
The script and film technique is mainly on a par with the storytelling, and there is a general air of repetition, whether it be in the number of times somebody says “take it easy”, “calm down” or “there’s nothing to be done about it”; the reuse of the same setups in different scenes and actor close-ups at different points within the same scene; or the insistent reappearance of those musical cues that recur throughout the director’s filmography, especially that piano ostinato (mainly familiar as the main theme of The Fury of the Wolfman, made a year later) that fills the soundtrack every time somebody is being menaced. Said soundtrack, by the way, is something of a mess: prepared at Arcofón, it features Rubio, Sánchez Polack and Fajardo with their own voices; the other principals with familiar Arcofón voices; several inept non-dubbers (presumably the same people we see onscreen) speaking the lines of minor characters; and José Campos with two different voices – mainly Félix Acaso’s but in one scene that of José Martínez Blanco, who is elsewhere heard voicing José Truchado’s role as a failed prizefighter.
That said, the pacing is better than expected and, in the midst of much loss of focus, Emilio Foriscot still tries to be a good DP, especially in the nighttime street scenes. Zabalza himself, in fact, does come up with the good setup, such as the overhead shot of various characters converging around a prostrate body at the end of the climax. And in the midst of a variable cast (which includes Isana Medel, best known for appearing in Jess Franco’s first two films), Rubio (usually seen wearing a vintage beret à la Bonnie Parker) and Sánchez Polack bring confidence and professionalism to their roles.