26 April, 2011

Orloff's missing link: SÓLO UN ATAÚD

Ever since Jess Franco decided to lift the name of Bela Lugosi’s surname in The Dark Eyes of London (1939) to christen his villain for The Awful Dr. Orloff (1961) probably the filmmaker’s first distinctive film, the Orloff moniker has become something of a recurring motif in Franco’s filmography, whether applied to title characters or supporting roles. In the midst of all this we find two “apocryphal” Orloff movies – with Howard Vernon in the role but not under Franco’s direction. Of these the most familiar by far is Pierre Chevalier’s Orloff and the Invisible Man (1971), which feels like a project Franco himself might have undertaken. As for Santos Alcocer’s Les orgies du Dr. Orloff (finished in 1966, released in 1969), this appears to have been seen by mighty few people. Some might regard it beforehand as a missing link in the Orloff filmography; on closer inspection, this is debatable as it inhabits quite a different world from that of Franco and even Chevalier (a contemporary British setting, in fact). And moreover, it only marginally qualifies as an Orloff film at all.

The film that was screened before French patrons as Les orgies du docteur Orloff is really called Sólo un ataúd (aka El enigma del ataúd), basically a Spanish production with some French financing, written and directed by the Spaniard who was later to give us the belated Karloff vehicle Cauldron of Blood (1970) and, as based on a novel by the comic book writer Enrique Jarber, certainly not intended to link with Franco’s Orloff films. Indeed, although Vernon may be present once again in the ubiquitous Coracera castle outside Madrid, the Spanish soundtrack clearly identifies his character – not, by the way, a physician or scientist of any kind – as Dan Gaillimh. Whether this Irish surname was replaced with that of Orloff in the reportedly racier version that played in France is something I don’t know but in any case the French distributors did choose to name it “The Orgies of Doctor Orloff”.

Even if not visibly inspired by anything Franco had made at the time, it may, paradoxically, have inspired Franco himself into making La noche de los asesinos (1976) the following decade as the storyline betrays a distant kinship with The Cat and the Canary. Vernon’s eccentric millionaire, diagnosed with liver cancer, invites his much-hated relatives to his sinister castle (the ubiquitous Coracera, which had also housed Vernon in The Awful Dr. Orloff) to announce that, since he has dissipated much of his fortune, his inheritors will simply share the insurance resulting from his death. Some time after Gaillimh has gone to lie in his coffin, where he is not expected to awaken, the castle guests discover that he has been stabbed in the chest. Whether this has been suicide or murder, either possibility precludes the effectiveness of the insurance and the duly heirs go out of their way to conceal the fact and hasten the burial. Soon, the castle’s remaining inhabitants become subject to various mysterious goings-on: Gaillimh is briefly seen alive by his widow; his corpse reappears mysteriously in sundry places; one of his nephews is shot dead by a mysterious hand but his body immediately disappears; the police receive anonymous calls to the effect that Gaillimh was murdered…

On the whole, this is less a horror film than a mystery thriller whose talkative script is made all the more objectionable by Alcocer’s ponderous direction. The top-billed Howard Vernon is confined to a few scenes while the film itself is dominated by Danielle Godet (the scheming woman from Franco’s Devil’s Island Lovers of 1974), who plays one of the few inheritors not characterised by alcoholism, by religious fanaticism (as in the case of Tota Alba’s role), some colourful neurosis or just plain malice. Most of the characters assembled, in fact, appear to be defined with some broadly stated character trait likely to make them instantly recognizable with each reappearance. Given the convolutions of the plot, maybe this is just as well.

Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the Fall or Winter of 1969, when I was a History student at the Centre Littéraire Universitaire (CLU) in Avignon (France), I saw that movie with a friend. It was shown at the so-called Cinéma d'Art et d'Essai, a very small theater which at the time was known to be Avignon's soft porn cinema --and how mild those films were back then...

I had been enticed by that most promising of titles "Les Orgies du Docteur Orloff" and, as I didn't want to go alone, I dragged along --and against his better judgment-- a wiser and thus less than eager friend. In that theater of some 60 seats at the most, there were hardly 12 or so persons.

After we exited, I remember how baffled we were! Of the so much hoped for “orgies” there had been none! At one point in time a character presented a black and white photograph and said something to the effect: “This is a photo of one of Dr. Orloff’s orgies”; for 10 seconds or less it showed a tightly packed crowd of people; it might as well have been shot in a subway passage at rush hour.

Today, I could not recall the story line to save my life, but I remember that it was convoluted, and every character was so dressed and clad as not to be out of place in a Victorian play. Not a square inch of naughty flesh.

“Dr. Orloff’s Orgies” became a personal running joke for my friend and I, and a private one at that since we never came across neither anyone else who had seen the movie nor had even heard the name Orloff.

Over the years I was able to gather together a few of the Dr. Orloff titles but never could find any information on the mythical “Orgies” until I came across the present site.

For old memories’ sake and to retrospectively laugh at my youthful gullibility I would love finding a copy of the “Orgies du Docteur Orloff”.

In spite of much research over the years and the internet, until today I never could find anything about that mythical movie; I came to question what my friend and I might have really seen! I am very grateful for this extremely well documented and illustrated blog. Congratulations to its creator and animator.