11 February, 2015


1983 80 MINUTES* Galan Video (Spain) European Trash Cinema (U.S. import) Written and Directed by Jess Franco; Cast: ROBERT FOSTER (Antonio Mayans), ANALIA IVARS, JESS FRANCO (Sam Chesterfield), CANDY COSTER (Lina Romay), TRINO TRIVES, MARY SAD (Maria de la Mar Sanchez), JOSE LLAMAS (Macho Jim), Augustin Garcia, Juana de la Morena.

*90 minutes according to OBSESSION, THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO. The VHS dupe I've seen only emphasizes how this film screams for a HD remastering.

Felipe Marlboro, gamely incarnated by Franco mainstay Antonio Mayans ("Robert Foster"), is a seedy private investigator who takes up a missing person case in punk infested Shit City. Hired by Maria Lucky (Maria de la Mar Sanchez) to locate the punk informer Macho Jim (Jose Llamas), he runs into big trouble almost immediately. All the men seem to hang out in a loud, teeming, smoky bar decorated with posters of Bogart (from CASABLANCA) and Mae West, waiting for trouble to erupt.

The residents of this corrupt town all look like they base their fashion sense and hairstyles on 1980s MTV videos. The men look like either Sid Vicious or a member of A Flock of Seagulls, and the women sport the slutty attire and pouting sexuality of Robert Palmer's female back-up vocalists in the music video of "Addicted to Love." Likewise, the visual style of the film is a whacked-out array of bright, primary colors, punk comic book tableaux, and weird camera angles.

The plot has Marlboro enlisting the aid of piano player Sam Chesterfield (played by Jess Franco himself) in an all-out effort to find his man and bust the town's drug and dirty money kingpin, Saul Winston (Trino Trives). Obviously, Jess Franco is based on Hoagy Carmichael's piano man in the 1943 Hollywood classic CASABLANCA, and Marlboro, a 1980s Bogart style PI, is telling him to "Play it Again, Sam" by pumping him for information. The fact that the main characters are all named after American cigarette brands say a lot about Jess Franco's love of smoking and American culture.

Forget SIN CITY and PULP FICTION, the visual style, costume design and tone of both are anticipated by this 1983 production, this unfolds in Shit City and is the original Pulp Fiction, a Jess Franco wonderment which manages to precede all of Tarantino, Rodriguez and co. by decades.A witty, obsessively self reflexive, visually striking neo-noir, a live action comic book which is one of Franco's personal favorites, and it's easy to see why. Almost every shot in the film is a loving homage to 1940s private eye cinema (such as THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP) filtered through a 1980s MTV-style lens and striving for a comics stylization of image, performance and atmosphere.

Franco has stated that he attempted to create a sustained comic-book look, and he has totally succeeded in that while creating his most entertaining film since his amusing 1967 spy spoof LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE. Unfortunately, you may have a difficult time seeing it in the way it deserves to be presented.

Antonio Mayans is the perfect fall guy in Franco's off balance world of pimps, whores, killers, and thugs. Felipe Marlboro seems like a close cousin of the director's perennially challenged P.I., Al Pereira. In her first role in a Jess Franco film, Analia Ivars, who has great legs and 1980s big hair, makes for a perfect lean, mean femme fatale. Franco stages all the standard private eye cliches in his usual off-kilter fashion. For instance, when Marlboro gets a beating for asking too many questions, the thug (Augustin Garcia) who kicks the living daylights out of him is a flashy flamenco dancer who performs his dance steps in between each punch and kick. Most amusing of all is the twisted ending, which finds Marlboro seduced by the woman who has set him up for extinction.

Franco adorns this personal favorite with a fast-paced editing style, glimmering shots of the Benidorm locations (which have a tacky glamor), often  shooting through diffusion lenses, and a rousing New Orleans style jazz score by Fernando G. Morcillo. LA BLUES DE LA CALLE POP... is a continual delight to see and hear, and one can sense its maker's joy in creating a noir comic book on film.

Franco's experimental deployment of colored filters and lighting is especially interesting (as in the visually similar ESCLAVA DEL CRIMEN-1986) and makes me wonder why he didn't continue in this style. Instead, his later 1980s films, such as DARK MISSION (1987), ESMERALDA BAY (1989) and DOWNTOWN HEAT (1990), were made using much more conventional  cinematography, musical and narrative techniques. Not bad films, just not the kind of prime, personal Jess Franco which LOS BLUES CALLE POP exemplifies so beautifully. You haven't seen the real Jess Franco until you've experienced it.

**It should also be noted that the film is narrated, in a mastered tone somewhere between mock authoritative and old fashioned cynical, by Ricardo Palacios, who first appeared in Jess Franco's world as the pugnacious tourist in CARTAS SUR TABLE (ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS-1966). He also played the bandit chief in the 1968 Harry Alan Towers production THE BLOOD OF FU MANCHU, memorable noir villains in JUEGO SUCIO EN CASABLANCA (1984) and CAMINO SOLITARIO (1993), among other Franco titles. A memorable character actor in films by Franco, Margheriti (CAR CRASH), Rossellini (SOCRATES) who appeared as various characters in Euro-westerns (THE BOUNTY KILLER-1966). He was also the director of the1987 Spanish Civil War comedy, BIBI LA BANDA, produced by Jess Franco, and Mi Cojeno es el Mejor, a 1982 erotic comedy featuring Lina Romay. It was reported that Palacios passed away on February 11, 2015, in Spain. Thanks to Nzoog.  Ricardo Palacios (1940-2015)

(C) Robert Monell, 2018

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