14 February, 2022

Lina Romay (1954-2012), 10 Years Later....


Lina Romay was born in 1954 in Barcelona, Catalonia, in the year of the Chinese zodiac Horse. She died on February 15, 2012 in Malaga, Spain, 10 years ago today. I remember feeling lost in time for a moment when I heard about her premature death at the age of 57. Someone was gone who couldn't be replaced. Acting was her art, and she was a great artist. 

She was still a teenager when she met and started acting in films directed by her longtime companion and husband, director Jess Franco (1930-2013). Even in her early roles she was eye-catching. Her first major role was in Franco's iconic, erotic horror-drama, FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973). Without any dialogue she dominated the screen and the rest of the cast for that film's runtime. She was breathtakingly sensual and had a natural magnetism which immediately drew attention to her mute, lonely character. Many leading roles followed, including some for other directors, including Erwin C. Dietrich (ROLLS ROYCE BABY), Carlos Aured (APOCALIPSIS SEXUAL), Ricardo Palacios and Jorge Grau. She also helped Franco as a sometime assistant director, editor and constant inspiration. She is also listed as the director of some of his productions (INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF AN EXHIBITIONIST). She was an unabashed exhibitionist as a performer. You could feel her joy and intensity as she performed for Franco's voyeuristic cameras. It could be said that she was the probably first totally sex-positive movie star. She didn't hide or downplay her sexuality onscreen. There was no shame or egocentric persona on display. She was a force of nature who blew away all boundaries and stepped over all taboos, both soft and hardcore.

Her final role was as Jess Franco's loyal, unselfish and omnipresent helper as she guided her wheelchair-bound mate around the world and on the sets of his final films. My only contacts with her was when she patiently answered my email questions about obscure details of her and his careers and on the phone during my marathon long-distance interviews with Jess. I immediately got the feeling of warmth and friendship in her distinctive voice as she handed the phone to Jess. 

Thank you, Lina Romay. You are now immortal and live on in your many indelible film performances. It is now 10 years on, and you are missed!

(C) Robert Monell, 2022

07 February, 2022

LES EBRANLEES/Dolls for Sale (1972): Director Clifford Brown (Jess Franco)

The Hotel Santa Catalina on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands is a main locations of the crime action in LES EBRANLEES. Al Pereira has lunch on one of its levels in one scene and it is also a place where he can meet clients without arousing suspicion. This is what the 5 Star hotel looks like today. It's been in business for over 100 years. It overlooks the sea and gives a panoramic view of the island from another angle.

Howard Vernon was perfectly cast as sleazy PI in this very grim entry in the crime-noir series about the Spanish investigator directed by the man who created the character, Jess Franco. The director himself took the role in the 1976 DOWNTOWN and longtime Franco regular and sometime production manager essayed the role in several 1980's crime dramas, such as BOTAS NEGRAS, LATIGO DE CUERO, which is a sort of remake of this film.

This was the third Jess Franco film featuring the sleazy Private Investigator Al Pereira as the protagonist. Franco demonstrated his lifelong cinephilia by naming him after the Hollywood production designer Hal Pereira (DOUBLE INDEMNITY, REAR WINDOW), who was at least as prolific as Franco, designing some over 280 films. His most memorable artwork is seen in the Film Noir format. In that area he mastered the black and white aesthetic as well as the blushing colors of VERTIGO. One could draw a parallel with Jess Franco, whose monochrome noir DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES is lit and composed in the dynamic yet layered tones of Robert Siodmak's THE KILLERS, a personal favorite of Franco. LES EBRANLEES is a different story and a different kind of production, it looks almost threadbare and is as stylistically sleazy as the world it depicts. Perhaps a HD release would throw a different light on mise-en-scene of this Robert De Nesle production. This is the director's grittiest entry into the Eurocrime trend which was taking off in the early 1970s and would pretty much rule the rest of the commercial landscape in European genre cinema of that decade.


ABOVE: Conrado San Martin (the police inspector in Jess Franco's first horror film, GRITOS EN LA NOCHE), was the first actor to portray Al Pereira, as Agent 069, in DEATH WHISTLES THE BLUES (1962), now available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.


An abridged (approx, 69m) French language version (original title: LES EBRANLEES, although the title card is missing on the version I saw, a transfer from French video to VHS), this fullscreen transfer, the grungy cinematography was by Gerard Brissaud, looks like it came from a 35mm print which played every grind-house in France for numerous decades. This downmarket quality somehow seems perfectly appropriate considering this is an utlra-sleazy, sweaty foray into a feral Euro-underworld investigated by Jess Franco's favorite private eye, Al Pereira. The fact that Al is incarnated by the legendary Howard Vernon, an elegant stylist who brought a haggard dignity to his work for Franco, Godard (ALPHAVILLE), Melville , Lang (DIE TAUSEND AUGEN DER DR. MABUSE) and many others, gives this grade Z Eurocrime obscurity a gravitas amid its porno designation. This is a deep, dirty dive into the continental prostitution racket and its related Euro underworld activities in the morally compromised 1970s. As usual with Franco films of this era, much of it appears to be shot in hotel rooms, specifically the Hotel Catalina.


ABOVE: Antonio Mayans is once again cast as Al Pereira in Franco's final neo-noir featuring his favorite PI. This was Franco's final completed film. He passed away white shooting the follow-up, THE REVENGE OF THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2013), which was completed by Antonio Mayans. Call him Al Crosby, Al Pereira, whatever, the name might change, the character is the same.


The plot synopsis published in OBSESSION-THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO bears little or no relation to the version under consideration here.* But since the continuity is so choppy, it's hard to offer an alternative scenario. Periera seems to be investigating a drug/prostitution ring operating out of a number of hotels and clubs. After brushing off some pimps and thugs, he becomes involved with a stripper (Montserrat Prous) whom he uses to infiltrate the criminal organization. The boss turns out to be a club owner (Doris Thomas), who has an amazon girlfriend (Kali Hansa) also adept at kidnapping, torture and seduction.


ABOVE: Another 1980 remake of LES EBRANLEES features Antonio Mayans as "Al Crosby" in this iteration.

As with so many Franco titles the action commences in the middle of an erotic performance (cf: SUCCUBUS (1967), EXORCISM (1967), to name just a couple). A trashy nightclub where garishly attired patrons gawk at one of the "vibrating girls" thrashing around on a red and white checkerboard stage to Janin and Hermel's electrified lounge score. A later minimalist striptease by Montserrat Prous seems all the more erotic because she removes nothing more than her black leather gloves. Her slow, deliberate movements are absolutely hypnotic. It's obviously another version of the slow motion striptease practiced by Diana Lorys is the 1969 neo-noir, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT.  Hansa getting the drop on an exhausted looking Vernon (after he has just had rough sex with Hansa) by holding a gun against his private parts and threatening to pull the trigger is typical of Franco's dark, absurdist tone throughout. There is little is any intentional or unintentional humor here. Vernon's depiction of Pereira's slow burn when he discovers that the stripper he has been using has been tortured to death is an acting high water mark and an emotional low point in the film These arresting, very brief encounters are afterimages which play in the mind long after the porno loop design burns itself out. Some might find it largely dismal and depressing. Somber is the best word to describe it.

Alternately hypnotic and narcotic, this is a rather grim tidbit which will be of interest to Franco collectors due to its long standing unavailability on a quality, English friendly video/DVD and those who need to see another chapter in one of the director's longest running roadshows- the Al Pereira Chronicles. Over 20 years after I first saw and reviewed this there is still no official DVD and no Blu-ray in sight. The story and atmosphere of this film were recycled in Franco's 1980 PICK-UP GIRLS,* which is every bit as sleazy and slightly less somber, also dealing with a transexual character's spiral into criminality. In that film's case, as with LES EBRANLEES, the treatment of a trans character is brutally retrograde.

Thanks to Michelle Alexander for her assistance.  

*See pp.501-568, A Shot in the Temple in "THE JESS FRANCO FILES, VOL.1" by Francesco Cesari and Roberto Curti, where the script for the unfinished "RELAX BABY" is compared to the completed films,"LES EBRANLEES" and "PICK-UP GIRLS (La Chica de las Bragas Transparentes)".

(C) Robert Monell, 2022