26 March, 2018

Erwin C. Dietrich (October 4th, 1930 in Glarus[1] - March 15, 2018)

Erwin C. Dietrich passed away March 15, 2018, at the age of 87. He produced nearly 100 films and directed over 40 in a career spanning nearly 60 years. He was known for his numerous soft and sometimes hardcore features, and later for his action hits THE WILD GEESE and CODENAME: WILDGEESE. He also was a writer, actor, distributor (Avis Films) and opened the first multiplexes in Switzerland. The Zurich based producer also produced/co-produced/co-directed 17 Jess Franco films. From the ridiculous MONDO EROTICO (1976) to the sublime (MARQUISE DE SADE/DORIANA GRAY, DAS FRAUENHAUS (1977) and JACK THE RIPPER (1976), which stand as several of Franco's career best. He gave the prolific Franco better budgets, working conditions and, most importantly, the freedom to make the kind of films he wanted, at least within commercial formats and limitations. Both Dietrich and Franco were prolific makers of genre cinema, and appreciated film as an art form, a business and a way of life. 

Dietrich also provided funding for Franco's 1975 sex comedy (MIDNIGHT PARTY) and (BARBED WIRE DOLLS), the latter a highly successful Women In Prison epic which the producer balked at when Franco showed him the result. Both of those films starred Franco muse Lina Romay, as did Dietrich's own hardcore sex epic ROLLS ROYCE BABY (1975), in which Romay plays "Lisa Romay" a model-porn actress who hits on everyone around her until deciding on having her  chauffeur (Dietrich regular Eric Falk) drive her around the countryside in search of horny hitchhikers and wanderers to seduce. If the candidates are reluctant the chauffeur simply throws them on top of his beautiful employer and drives off. The drives become a ritual and her reason for living. This is a sex positive film, meaning sex is seen as a healthy, fun exercise, without hangups in a pre AIDS age. Sex is Eros here, rather than Thanatos, as it often is in Jess Franco erotica. Elegantly composed by Andreas Demmer and featuring a delightfully upbeat score by Walter Baumgartner, ROLLS ROYCE BABY may be Dietrich's masterpiece as a director, or at least a pleasant diversion. There's only one real hardcore scene in it, but Romay lounges around totally naked, legs spread, leaving nothing to the imagination throughout. There are worse ways to spend 85 or so minutes.

Dietrich's wildest piece of exploitation was the jet fueled, blood-soaked Nazi biker sleaze fest MAD FOXES (Paul Grau, 1981),featuring Jose Gras (the macho swat team leader in Bruno Mattei's zombie epic HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) as a young, well to do driver of a Corvette Stingray who goes on a rampage of ultra violent revenge against the swastika wearing biker gang who raped his girlfriend (Andrea Albani) and murdered his family. It is a film that needs to be seen to be believed and defines the term European Trash Cinema, a Eurotrash verion of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

After producing the Franco films Dietrich went on to much larger productions, co-producing the 1978 action hit THE WILD GEESE, with Richard Burton and Roger Moore, an Antonio Margheriti follow-up CODENAME: WILDGEESE with Klaus Kinski and Ernest Borgnine, and more Philippine shot action epics, such as DER COMMANDER., with Lee Van Cleef (which can be presently found streaming on AMAZON PRIME)

My own personal favorites of his Jess Franco productions were the Warhol-esque DAS FRAUENHAUS (1977) and MARQUISE DE SADE/DAS BILDNIS DER DORIANA GRAY.

Dietrich gave Jess Franco carte blanche while making the ethereal, dreamlike vampire tale, MARQUISE DE SADE (1976), an abstract-erotic masterwork with a unique tone and a style which evokes the the esoteric world of Ingmar Bergman.

The very first of Dietrich's directorial efforts which I saw was a 1980 Women In Prison epic, retitled  ISLAND WOMEN for US VHS release. That was sometime in the early 1990s when I found it in the Adult section of a local Mom & Pop video store. I remember it as a very entertaining film, featuring a leather clad Karine Gambier and Brigitte Lahaie. In fact, I rented it hoping it was a retitled Jess Franco film. Ah, those were the days. Thank you Erwin C. Dietrich for all the memories....

(C) Robert Monell

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