03 November, 2009

FRANCO OF THE WEST


I had the chance to do an extensive (still unpublished) interview with Jess Franco in which we discussed many topics. I quickly learned to expect the unexpected when interviewing the man. When he suddenly told me that he had been involved with a film I had seen at the drive-in decades earlier I was at a loss for words. Franco has been indirectly and directly involved with several European westerns in his career, from co-writing and assistant-directing Joaquin Romero Marchent's EL COYOTE and LA JUSTICIA DEL COYOTE in 1954 to his own EL LLANERO (1963), a sort of South American western set in 1863 Venezuela. Such later films as LES CHATOUILLEUSES (1974) and the "bandido" semi-western SCARLET (1983) [anyone want to see a print of that?] and VAMPIRE JUNCTION (2000) also have "western" elements.

He had offers to direct "spaghetti westerns" when they were popular but they didn't pan out. One of the episodes in his long career which he remains most proud is his self-described stint as "personal" assistant to one of his favorite directors, Robert Siodmak. Franco recounted to me at some length how he put his own career on hold in to work for the veteran director of PHANTOM LADY (one of Franco's favorite films) on the CINERAMA western CUSTER OF THE WEST (1967). This is not one of Siodmak's best or most personal films but it is a very interesting semi-revisionist take on the legendary character and, of course, ends with Custer's one-way journey into the Little Big Horn. It's a visually impressive, dramatically and historically muddled film, but I got the sense that Jess enjoyed working with one of his inspirations and he seemed more interested in talking about it than his own films.

I saw CUSTER OF THE WEST at the drive-in during the summer of 1968, hardly the best venue for a CINERAMA production. I also have it on DVD, but the film probably needs to be seen in its OAR for full impact.

Here are the somewhat complicated technical specs on the filming ratios and release history taken from the IMDB. I also didn't realize until after I had interviewed Jess that Jack Taylor was in CUSTER... . At least he's listed in the cast. But I can't find him in the film!

Film negative format (mm/video inches)
35 mm (horizontal)


Cinematographic process
Super Technirama 70


Printed film format
35 mm
70 mm (Super-Cinerama)



Film negative format (mm/video inches)
35 mm (horizontal)


Cinematographic process
Super Technirama 70


Printed film format
35 mm
70 mm (Super-Cinerama)

In any case, it was a pleasure to hear the excitement in his voice while describing the experiences of working with one of his masters.





12 comments:

dfordoom said...

I didn't know he admired Siodmak, but I'm pleased. Siodmak has always been one of my favourites. I regard Son of Dracula as one of the great underrated horror movies of all time.

Robert Monell said...

admired Siodmak

He loves Siodmak, especially PHANTOM LADY, which we spent about an hour talking on. He didn't want to stop talking about it! He liked the jazz scene for obvious reasons. Siodmak in a way brought German expressionism into his 40s Hollywood films like THE KILLERS, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and even SON OF DRACULA, which I also admire.

Ninja Dixon said...

This is very interesting. One scene in Custer was actually shot in Sweden, in the north. Quite close to my home town. I wonder if Jess there to? I haven't seen the movie, but that scene is one of the reasons I want to see it.

Robert Monell said...

Very interesting information, Ninja. I wonder what scene that is? It looks like it was shot mostly in Spain. But maybe they also shot in Sweden for certain scenes or budget reasons.

Ninja Dixon said...

I think I know, but I have to actually watch the movie to confirm it. I was very surprised when I heard about, so I will investigate :) Not sure this is such a known fact even in Sweden. I'll get back to you!

dfordoom said...

I can see that Franco would love the jazz jam session scene in Phantom Lady! It combines jazz and eroticism rather superbly.

Robert Monell said...

jazz and eroticism

Yes, those are his two primary drivers in making films and what makes his best films, the music and eroticism. I think of all his films as musicals or semi-musical or structured around music. He was a musical prodigy as a child and studied composition and piano. He is first a musician, a composer.

dfordoom said...

All this talk of Robert Siodmak inspired me to watch Son of Dracula again last night. And it's just as good as I'd remembered it. A lot of people feel that Lon Chaney Jr was miscast, but I liked his performance. It was very different compared to Lugosi's interpretation of the role, but I thought Chaney brought some real menace to the Count.

dfordoom said...

On the subject of movies as music, have you seen Jack Hill's Switchblade Sisters? It's a 1975 juvenile delinquent girl gang movie, based on Shakespeare's Othello. Hill is also a composer/musician by training, and the movie was consciously structured as a musical composition. It also has a strong grand opera feel to it in its sheer melodramatic excessiveness, which makes it one of the strangest American exploitation movies of the 70s. Probably Hill's most interesting film.

Revelator said...

Apart from the two German adventures, only three of Siodmak's films are available for me: 'The Spiral Staircase' 'The Killers' and 'Son Of Dracula'. Which one is the best? Are they all worth checking out? Of course, 'Phantom Lady' interests me the most, but it seems to be out of print everywhere...

dfordoom said...

The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Son Of Dracula are all superb. I'd grab them all! I don't think I could really pick a favourite, but I don't think you'll be disappointed by any of them.

Ninja Dixon said...

Robert, I took some screenshots of the Swedish locations:

http://ninjadixon.blogspot.com/2010/01/was-jess-franco-ever-in-sweden.html