26 April, 2011
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
21 April, 2011
The scientifically created Wolfman, Morpho (Michel Lemoine), attacks Diana (Janine Reynaud), one of the Labios Rojos in Jess Franco's EL CASO DE LAS DOS BELLEZAS (1967) aka TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS. A favorite scene which often makes me wonder if this is qualified as the first Spanish werewolf film, edging out Paul Naschy's LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO. Franco would bring a more traditional werewolf to the screen in DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN (1971).
Interesting that both this and the Naschy films were coproduced by W. Germany. The Spanish version of this is about 15 minutes longer than TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS and has an alternate musical score.
19 April, 2011
Thanks to Nzoog I finally go the chance to screen one of Jess Franco's more obscure, but worthwhile, titles, the 1982 Golden Films Internacional production, LA CASA DE LAS MUJERES PERDIDAS. A difficult to describe blend of social satire, melodrama, erotic interludes, thematic and character references to Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST and KING LEAR, Cervantes' DON QUIJOTE DE LA MANCHA and even Ingmar Bergman's "island" films. That's a heady blend for sure and Franco would remake it, as BROKEN DOLLS, in 1999. After a cursory view I would say I prefer LA CASA... but the final scene of the demise of the father in BROKEN DOLLS is, for me, one of the most memorable scenes of the director's digital oeuvre.
A haunting piano sonata co-written by Franco and Rebecca White weaves through the film which opens and closes with shots of the Ocean. One could say the director's invocation of the Oceanic quality of cinema and his own oeuvre. It concerns the degeneration and final destruction of the Mendoza family. It's a kind of chamber cinema piece with only five characters excellently played by Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay, Carmen Carrion, Tony Skios [Antonio Rebello] and especially Susana Kerr [Asuncion Calero] whose developmentally disabled shrieks maker her one of the most indelible characters in the Franco canon. Franco developed the script with Bunuel's collaborator, Jean Claude Carriere, who also adapted CARTES SUR TABLE (1966), but he remains uncredited on the print I saw.
Desde (Lina Romay) and the mysterious hunter (Tony Siios)
The main problem with this film is it attempts to infuse what is essentially a CLASIFICADA "S" item with ambitious literary/dramatic elements. That could be seen as a good thing, or very misguided. In fact, the film presents the director as his most inspired and misguided. Did the target audience appreciate it? Who exactly was the target audience? The use of limited space, the Techniscope framing, and the flow of images, however, are arresting. I will have a lot more to say about this film in the future.
The print Nzoog sent came from the Barcelona Channel but the film can also be downloaded. I would suggest to try and find an English subtitled, high quality, OAR print because the dialogue, aspect ratio and use of colors are key to appreciating this. Franco has said this is one of his most iconoclastic films (that's saying something!).
According to Franco "...it's a story of manners...bad manners! It looks like Bunuel's THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, yet it's different totally different. It mostly concerns la petite bourgeoisie" [Jess Franco, 1986. Quoted from OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO--p.153.]
Thanks again to Nzoog for helping me to see this.
(C) Robert Monell, 2011
11 April, 2011
In Franco’s adventure film En busca del dragon dorado (1983), this one-movie actor was assigned the arguably thankless task of combining the spirit of Bruce Lee with that of Anne Libert’s birdwoman Melissa from La maldición de Frankenstein (1972). Although given top billing, under the fake Chinese-sounding name Li Yung, Serrano, has relatively few scenes as the ghostly “martial arts genius” who emerges deux ex machina to provide the two girls who are the film’s central characters with some help. When he does appear, it is in the form of the disconcerting (some would say unwittingly comical) figure of the “kung fu eagle”, who, accompanied by overdubbed bird screeches, either outstretches his arms into a wing-like flutter or essays some vague kind of cod-martial arts when confronted with villains.
In En busca del dragon dorado, set in an indefinite or imaginary country in Eastern Asia, with myriad Spanish actors (including Franco himself) doing their best to look Oriental, Serrano at least was a bona fide Asian, and moreover from a country once under Spanish dominion. Antonio Mayans, who dubbed in the voice of Serrano’s character, has said the following of him:
“It was me who chose the main actor [of En busca del dragon dorado]. I once went to the Rock-Ola disco to see Alaska [singer] and he worked as the doorman there. He was a Filipino, although we were looking for somebody Chinese. At first he took it as a joke and did a little karate number on me. I later took him to a gym for an audition and we finally hired him.”*
Caption: César Antonio Serrano, immersed in his grotesque “Kung Fu eagle” act.
• Interview with Antonio Mayans by Chus and Al Pereira for the Francomanía website at http://members.fortunecity.es/francomania2/entrevistamayans.html
[Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen]
03 April, 2011
This entry may need a bit of contextualization. After the virtual abolition of censorship brought about by the Spanish constitution of 1978, but with hardcore still awaiting legalisation, Spanish cinema came to be increasingly dominated by softcore flicks exhibited under the government-imposed “S” certificate. Following the decline of popular genres that had previously been the staples of the industry, the softcore film acted as a reliable source of income and employment for professionals of the cinema until its demise in 1983, in which year the hardcore movie was legalized. In its last years, the “S” film had come to represent about a third of the national film output.
There were four basic production sources to be found in the Spanish “S” film, two of them being the respective film industries of Madrid and Barcelona, to which one should add a third category consisting of foreign films (French, German, Swiss, Greek…) with a minority Spanish participation, emanating from either of the two cities mentioned above. A fourth source may be found in the individual figure of Jess Franco, who, existing in a category of his own, was responsible for an approximate quarter of the Spanish “S” movies made in the 1978-83 period, not counting those films of his that were unreleased or unfinished.
Although Franco often worked at the time for Golden Films Internacional, whose quarters were located in Barcelona, his softcore output at the time might be placed, with some hesitation, within the Madrid tradition in terms of the talent employed on either side of the camera. In addition to several obscure actresses who appear to have worked only for him, Franco relied heavily on performers who may also be found in Madrid-made “S” fare directed by others: Rocío Freixas, Alicia Príncipe, Andrea Guzón, not to mention other Madrid-based actresses (Carmen Carrión, Mabel Escaño) whose beginnings go back to the “destape” (nudie) cycle that had served as a forerunner for the softcore film in the early to mid-seventies.
Meanwhile, the Barcelona pool of talent, of which Lina Romay cannot be said to have been a part despite her provenance, was largely left untouched by Franco but for two notable exceptions. Both Raquel Evans and Lynn Endersson, two familiar faces in skinflicks and girlie magazine pictorials, made respective isolated appearances in a Franco film. While neither of them was born in Barcelona (or indeed in Spain), they did live there and both, moreover, were members of the then-powerful Marta Flores casting agency, which represented much of the city’s acting talent, from prestigious figures such as Fernando Guillén to such softcore performers as Andrea Albani.
Character actress Marta Flores, agent of both Raquel Evans and Lynn Endersson.
Raquel Evans, whose real name is Arlene Guevara Gatica, was born in Santiago de Chile in 1956 and arrived in Spain in 1973 in the company of her brother, the filmmaker Enrique Guevara Gatica. At the time of her film debut in 1978, she had been working as a night club stripper in Lloret de Mar, Girona and in Barcelona. She is noted for appearing in the very first Spanish “S” movie, Una loca extravagancia sexy (1978), which was also the first of a series of films in similar vein produced by Enrique Guevara and nominally directed by him.
The willowy, angular Ms. Evans continued to appear in some twenty erotic films, several of them under the direction of veteran Ignacio F. Iquino, usually for Barcelona companies, but not to the exclusion of occasional Madrid efforts. By the time she landed a Jess Franco role in Linda / Orgía de ninfómanas (1981), she had already co-starred with Antonio Mayans in Iquino’s Emmanuelle y Carol (1978) and one presumes that it was Mayans, Franco’s regular production manager and lead actor, who suggested casting her as the film’s lead villainess. Since the making of Iquino’s film, Evans had undergone a nose job that made her features daintier and she now sported darker hair, as if in consonance with the part given her, much darker than one tends to associate with her. Her role in Linda, in fact, may represent something of an anomaly among the roles entrusted to Evans, who was usually required to project glamour and/or vulnerability.
Following the demise of the “S” film, and its replacement by hardcore, Evans gradually faded from the cinema. Now she reportedly works as a telephone operator.
Raquel Evans, prior to her nose job
Raquel Evans, between Bernard Seray and Antonio Mayans in Ignacio F. Iquino's Emmanuelle y Carol
Raquel Evans in Franco's Linda
Lynn Endersson was in marked contrast with Raquel Evans in both appearance and personality. Whereas Evans was all grace and elegance, Endersson, who was already middle-aged at the height of her career, traded on a deliberate and exaggerated tawdriness that brought her screen persona within the realm of camp, abetted by her exaggerated performances in either comic or villainous roles. A typical Endersson role would find her wearing very high heels, gaudy clothing and heavy make-up, and she herself would supplement all this with mannered, expansive gestures and, whenever she did her own dubbing, a high-pitched, undulating delivery. Not unusually, she played roles named Lynn and in one film – the 1980 Un permiso para ligar, made by Enrique Guevara and Ricard Reguant – she actually played herself, and as an affected, highly-strung neurotic.
That a Catalan Frenchwoman, born Lina Nadal in Perpignan (on a date as yet undetermined), should have adopted a Swedish-sounding acting name adds to the campiness of her image and she herself was reportedly far from insensitive to humour. Trained as a painter, she started acting in films in what presumably were her thirties, under the direction of her partner, the Basque filmmaker Juan Xiol Marsal. She made her debut in Xiol’s Los farsantes del amor (1971), and subsequently contributed both the lead performance and the singing the title song (!) in El precio del aborto (1975), one of several anti-abortion exploitation films being produced in Spain at the time. After Sexy, amor y fantasia (1976), the last film made by the pair, Xiol died.
Working on her own, she effected the transition from “destape” to “S” cinema, usually working for Raquel Evans’s brother Enrique Guevara, but also for Manuel Esteba and the Madrid-based filmmakers Amando de Ossorio and Germán Lorente. In Las alumnas de Madame Olga (1981), José Ramón Larraz gave her a “straight” role (non-comic, non-campy, non-melodramatic) with good results. Amidst all this activity, she also got to appear in Porno girls (1977), a grey-market hardcore effort made on substandard gauge by Jordi Gigó and Ricard Reguant long before such fare was legalized in Spain. By the time she disappeared from the cinema in 1986, she had also played supporting roles in a couple of crime films, a Catalan comedy and an independent Majorcan feature. And, of course, one Jess Franco film – as in Raquel Evans’s case, this was in 1981.
If Jess Franco found a new facet in Raquel Evans in Orgía de ninfómanas, the same cannot be said of the use he made of Endersson in El sexo está loco (1981). Of the four main actors accorded various roles in that film (the others being Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay and Tony Skios), Endersson is given the least to do and is basically reduced to an onlooker (which she literally is in the nightclub scene involving Lina Romay and the two Argentineans). And this is one of her films in which she didn’t dub herself. With a more assertive role and her own voice, she might have come off as an apparent relative of the likewise plump, screechy-voiced, pop-eyed and histrionic Lina Romay.
Lynn Endersson in El sexo está loco
Evans and Endersson notwithstanding, Franco found no roles for any of those actresses from the Marta Flores agency: Carla Dey, Andrea Albani, Concha Valero, Berta Cabré, among several others. Too bad, as Berta Cabré might have come in useful in the event of Katja Bienert not being available.
Text by Nzoog Wahrlfhehen