Categories
Period

1920-1949

FROM THE TWENTIES TO THE FORTIES

Rogues and Romance (1920)

Blood and Sand (1922)

The Spanish Jade (1922)

The Bandolero (1924)

Duck Soup (1933)

Grand Canary (1934)

Desire (1936)

The Last Train from Madrid (1937)

The Bullfighters (1945)

1920-1949

Rogues and Romance (1920)

In the days long before Franco would happily loan his period piece army to American producers, the Kingdom of Spain would not allow fight scenes to be filmed on its soil, and consequently a Spanish village was built for this film in Larchmont, New York State.

Some non-violent scenes were however permitted in Algeciras, Cádiz, Granada, Sevilla  and Málaga, where the mountains of Ronda were a popular place to film films about banditry. And popular for banditry too!

On the other hand, perhaps it was the subject matter, about a Spanish revolutionary abducting a rich, American girl that triggered the refusal.

This silent movie was directed by George B Seitz, who also played the part of the rich father.

Blood and Sand (1922)

This silent movie (although they would have been speaking English if we could have heard them) starring Rudolph Valentino, was set in Sevilla, although largely shot in Hollywood studios by Fred Niblo, who made the first version of ‘Ben Hur’ among other things.

According to Francisco Perales, Sevilla University teacher and author of books about Hollywood in Spain, a second film unit was sent to Sevilla for background shots, and so we can see the famous Giralda tower and Calle Mateos Gago, with its typical orange trees (not so orange in black and white of course, nor rustling pleasantly in the whispering breeze, come to think of it).

The film is one of several based on the book by the Valencian writer Vicente Blasco Ibañez.

The film contains all the kitsch of films of that epoch, with exaggerated gestures and intense, moody staring at the camera. In an early scene we see one of Juan Gallardo’s (Valentino’s) friends mortally wounded by a bull, and Juan, instead of helping him, rushes off, kills the bull and only then rushes back for his friend’s final seconds. Priorities are priorities after all!

The film is all about rags to riches, with our hero living in a hovel with strategically placed brickwork protruding from the broken plaster just to prove the point, and an array of colourful characters dressed in carefully-crafted rags.

The soundtrack couldn’t have cost much, consisting of droning organ music, as if somebody were working up the energy to compose a dirge.

Our hero is too weak to wholly love the woman he loves, falling inevitably into the wicked clutches of the nefarious Doña Sol. Doña Sol’s servant is perhaps the most intriguing character, dressed like something out of Arabian Nights, or possibly Arabian Mornings After, and of uncertain gender, it prances around casting meaningful looks that turn out to have nothing to do with anything; “meaning nothing” as Shakespeare pointed out.

The various bullfights, although made in a studio, are interspersed with real bullfight footage, presumably shot by director Fred Niblo’s second crew. A large advertisement for El Aguila beer, whose first brewery was opened in Madrid in 1900, is clearly visible in one scene.

The original brewery in Calle Ramírez de Prado, nº 3 was closed in 1985 and is now a regional library.

After making enquiries at the library, bullfighting enthusiasts working there told me that the bullring images could have been filmed at Pamplona (Navarra), Alicante or Zamora bullrings, although it might also have been the now demolished Fuente del Berro bullring in Madrid.

The Spanish Jade (1922)

It is amazing to think that when Alfred Hitchcock was just starting out in the film business, that he came to Spain, to Sevilla in fact, as a location scout, when working as title designer on this silent movie, which is officially classified as ‘lost’.

Among the ‘Spanish’ cast of this American film were British actor David Powell and Australian Marc McDermott.

Canadian John S Robertson directed. He was the inspiration for the song ‘Old John Robertson’ on the legendary ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’ album by The Byrds.

The Bandolero (1924)

Although a silent movie, this was one of the first American productions made in Spain (and Cuba), and was shot entirely in English, but with subtitles obviously.

Pedro de Córdoba, Gustav von Seyffertitz, and Renée Adorée starred in a film about ravishing bandits (bandits who ravish I mean to say), directed by Tom Terriss.

Manuel Granado, a young Argentine actor was actually gored by a bull in the bullring at Córdoba during shooting; footage which found its way opportunistically into the final cut. Ouch!

Duck Soup (1933)

One town where Hollywood has left a lasting impression is the village of Loja, situated in the mountains of Granada province.

Although the Marx Brothers were never there, for some reason lost in the mists of time, an image of the village appears at the beginning of the film, supposedly portraying the kingdom of Sylvania.

The place from where the photo was taken has since been renamed ‘Mirador (viewpoint) de Sylvania’, and silhouettes of the Brothers and information about the film have been erected there to commemorate its brief moment of glory.

Mussolini banned this film about political misdeeds, which is always a good reason for revisiting it.

Grand Canary (1934)

Despite the name, the mentions of specific locations are from Tenerife Island rather than Gran Canaria, from which the film takes its name.

In the film the island is suffering from an epidemic of yellow fever, with just a dash of cholera to add variety, which isn’t the best kind of tourist promotion, but then no news is bad news.

Maybe the producers confused ‘yellow’ with ‘tanned’, which is not surprising on an island that averages 255 sunny days per year.

Based on the novel of the same name by A.J. Cronin and directed by Irving Cummings, the film tells the story of a doctor in disgrace who heads for a new life in tropical climes, only to find sweaty love, jealousy and sickness.

The Spanish authorities were not amused by the film, and diplomatic protests were registered about the poor image of the Canaries and, perhaps worst of all, the positioning of Spain’s highest mountain in Gran Canaria island instead of Tenerife, where it can usually be found. Or it might have been the British brother and sister going there to set up a ‘mission’.

The town of Santa Cruz, where the doctor fights the fever, in between drinks and a bar fight in the ‘Hotel Hemingway,’ is also in Tenerife in reality.

The doctor was played by Warner Baxter, who was not only the first American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, but also lived through the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

The early scenes of the film are quite advanced technically, with images merging in and out of each other, although the camel ploughing towards the end is a little far fetched.

Desire (1936)

Gary Cooper is on his way from Paris to San Sebastián in Guipúzcoa for a holiday, when he runs across jewel thief Marlene Dietrich, who uses him to smuggle some jewels into Spain (Cooper is only smuggling cigarettes, although his greatest crime here is his singing).

Once there, after an eventful trip in which donkeys play a prominent part, they meet up in the Hotel Continental Palace, (opened in 1884 and closed in 1972).

Unfortunately the stars never made it to Spain in the year for whom the bells tolled, although a film crew was despatched to film the images that formed a backdrop.

As a portal for Spanish tourism, Cooper’s phrase “what a country! What eggs!” must be one of the most original tourist slogans ever invented, and one that surprisingly hasn’t been borrowed by the Spanish authorities. Yet.

About half an hour into the film we see brief scenes of San Sebastián’s famous curving Concha beach, its promenade ‘Paseo Nuevo’ with its tamarind trees and the Alderdi Eder square, where the Town Hall stands.

Concha Beach

San Sebastián must have been extraordinarily international in the 30s; according to the film, the local newspaper, ‘Diario de San Sebastián’, was published entirely in English (which is even more amazing when considering that it had ceased publishing back in 1887), and the customs officers who discover Cooper’s cigarettes speak impeccable Oxford English.

The looming Urgull Mountain can also briefly be seen in the film, with its castle and English cemetery, a reminder of the siege of the city in 1813, when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon’s troops (and then rather churlishly burnt the town).

When Cooper and Dietrich leave the hotel they drive through some ‘typical’ Spanish scenery, replete with rocky crags and rushing rivers.

They also drive out of Toledo, across the San Martín bridge with the castle of San Servando behind them.

When King Alfonso VI took Toledo from the Muslims in 1085, he turned the castle, dedicated to the saints Servando and Germán, over to the Templar Knights, in thanks for saving his life at the battle of Sagrajas, a defeat that, in the film El Cid, he blames on El Cid for not helping him.

The castle has the great advantage of being haunted, by one Lorenzo de Cañada, a soldier in the reign of King Felipe II, who continues to patrol the castle to this day.

The castle now operates as a youth hostel, with 25 rooms. One of the hostel rooms, T 4, is not usually available as it is supposed to be haunted. Some unhygienic spectre dedicates its time to unrolling toilet paper, guests who feel somebody else sitting on their beds, sheets with a life of their own, strange lights and sounds.

San Servando Castle: Photo Courtesy Mark Yareham

Their journey ends at the Villa Rubio in non-existent Guadarale.

The Last Train from Madrid (1937)

Inevitably an American film about the Spanish Civil War couldn’t be made in Spain in 1937 without connivance from one side or the other, and this one had to observe American neutrality.

Nevertheless, historical records show that some of the footage in the film was actually from Spain.

Specifically, at the beginning, the images of destruction of what is supposed to be Madrid, were in fact of Palencia, while an aerial bombardment of the capital came from Soviet sources; despite which it was included.

Anthony Quinn appears in an early role, beginning a life-long relationship with Spain.

The Bullfighters (1945)

‘The Bullfighters,’ directed by Mal St. Clair, stars none other than Laurel and Hardy in their penultimate film together, and in which Stan has to face up to the bulls down Mexico way.

The famous duo never actually made it to Spain, but according to Ramon Herrera, author of ‘La Cineclopedia Navarra’, the film contains some documentary inserts from the early 40s of bulls being released in the bullring of Pamplona, Navarra, following the famous bull run of the festival of San Fermín, made internationally famous by the writings of Ernest Hemingway.

In the final bullring scene, when chaos erupts, the images clearly belong to the entrance of the bulls in the ring at Pamplona following the running through the streets.