(Chihuahua, M?xico )
(M?xico D.F., M?xico)
COMMENTARY BY ROBERT MONELL: My favorite Spanish Dracula film, Javier Aguirre's EL GRAN AMOR DEL CONDE DRACULA (1972)in my opinion beats out Jess Franco's strained EL CONDE DRACULA (1969) and Leon Klimovsky's parody LA SAGA DE LOS DRACULA (also 1972) in terms of personal vision and idiosyncratic atmosphere. Written by and starring the legendary Paul Naschy (rn: Jacinto Molina), it presents an original, detailed and alternate mythology for the Count Dracula character and has as much to do with local ethnology, Molina's subterranean positioning as a genre historian and 20th Century history as Bram Stoker. In other words, I take it seriously. Perhaps too seriously. I really can't be happy with the new DVD, hosted by "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!", which presents this fascinating and macabre work as of secondary value to the popular 1980s TV scream queen. This is yet another fullscreen 83 mn version which some references list as originally over 90m. I'm not here to argue that point. Aguirre, who also had a career as an experimental filmmaker, creates one coup de image after another and much of the bold visual quality, a unique mood drenched in a fantastique that is at once 19th Century, 1972 Spain and eternal, is lost when seen panned and scanned. Even the entrance of Molina's Dracula is elided offscreen.
I actually almost purchased this at a local Best Buy before regaining my senses. Something told me to WAIT. There was a 2002 fullscreen DVD from an I.S.Filmworks/Yes Video: "Totally uncut! Nudity." Is that all there is to this? No. It's a rather important film not only in the career of Molina/Naschy but in the chronology of Spanish horror and in the catalogue of cinematic Draculas. One sales site for this new DVD categorizes it as either HORROR or CAMPY. It becomes an object of ridicule and an automatic "bad" movie in our present popular culture, which is obsessed with appearances and labels. I have no interest in lining the pockets of this disc's makers and distributors and while I don't want to deny the lady a living her "humor" and appeal are totally lost on me. Some might even enjoy it playing in the background of a loud party at 4am. All well and good. Maybe I'm out of touch but I find it an intense, poetic film.
Some hope is given on the Latarnia Forum's Paul Naschy topic area where Mirek Lipinski reports that a new commentary has been recorded in Spain including Molina and Aguirre and that it could be a future R1 release from the BCI label. I hope. In the meantime, I bet the Elvira DVD version will have more than healthy sales.
Most Eurogenre enthusiasts will remember him as Travis Anderson aka The Crimson Executioner in THE BLOODY PIT OF HORROR, a Sadean exercise in high camp directed with style by Massimo Pupillo in 1965. Others will first note that he was the husband of Jayne Mansfied and the father of Mariska Hargitay. Fans of bodybuilding will remember that he was MR. UNIVERSE 1955. Mickey Hargitay was called a "magnificent individual" in a tribute by Gov. Arnold who credited him as an "inspiration" in that Hargitay was an unknown immigrant who made good in the worlds of international body culture and Hollywood. The former performer in Mae West's 1950s revue was remembered by Ms West as the man who stole her show and gave it to "that woman". That woman, Jayne Mansfied, would star alongside Hargitay in several mainstream Hollywood films like WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? and PROMISES! PROMISES! and the Italian peplum THE LOVES OF HERCULES. But Mickey survived Jayne and went on to his own career in European cult films like VENGEANCE OF THE GLADIATORS, STRANGER FROM SACREMENTO, THE SHERIFF DON'T SHOOT (an obscure Renato Polselli western I would really like to unearth), CJMANGO, WANTED: RINGO, SEVEN GOLDEN WOMEN VS 2,007, LADY FRANKENSTEIN, and again for Polselli, DELIRUM and THE REINCARNATION OF ISABEL, those final two mindspinning Italian horror projects revealing him an actor capable of a surprising range of emotion. I wish he had continued to make more films after that but he went into the contracting business in California. Appearing on a making of documentary of Anchor Bay's DELIRIUM DVD, he showed an engaging sense of humor and perspective about his colleagues on that film and his career in general. Just before he died, Gordon Mitchell wrote to me that Mickey Hargitay was a longtime loyal friend who stood by him in his darkest days. Now Mickey Hargitay's time has come. I was saddened to hear of his passing but will remember him for the high spirited enthusiasm with which he threw himself into roles like The Crimson Executioner and DELIRIUM's lounge-lizard/forensic scientist/tormented husband/pscyho-killer Herbert Luytak. Many thanks Mickey for the many hours of pleasure you provided with your distinctive presence in the above mentioned films and the dedication you showed to your friends and fans. Adios!
Watching Edgar G. Ulmer's 1945 minimalist noir DETOUR always reminds me of just how much can be done with so little. A man, a woman and a telephone cord were Ulmer's tools, imparting a sense of Greek Tragedy to his B-scenario of a piano player on the long road to Hell. The scene involves the kind of plan-sequence, a crazy pan shot going and in out of focus as it represents the delirium the protagonist, which anticipates the rack-focus aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic) of numerous post 1970 Jess Franco projects. Try watching it on a double bill with GEMIDOS DE PLACER (1981). Franco often talks of his debt to Robert Siodmak (who was the codirector with Ulmer of the 1930 City-Symphony, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY) but Ulmer, the workhorse of PRC who shot DETOUR in just a few days with pitiful resources, was a Poverty Row Expressionist has always seemed to me to the Hollywood director (along with Sam Newfield and Alan Dwan) whom one can most profitably compare Franco with. I hope they never do a big-budget remake of DETOUR but Franco himself would have been the perfect director and lead (Jess is always the piano man) for my fantasy remake.
I had the chance to discuss film noir with Jess some time ago and found he was a fellow JIM THOMPSON enthusiast. Thompson (1906-1977) was an obscure crime novelist who connects with Stanley Kubrick, Sam Peckinpah and Orson Welles. Jess told me that Welles talked with him about turning Thompson's disturbing novel THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1952) into a film. We'll be discussing Thomspon, Kubrick, Welles, Franco and the NOIR connection in the future. In the meatime read Robert Polito's excellent, Edgar Award winning Thompson bio SAVAGE ART (Vintage Books, 1996).
COPYRIGHT BY ROBERT MONELL: 2006