Forgotten Films: Spanish Detective Fiction and Spanish Film Noir from 1950 to 1965

Following my previous entry, I have thought that this private notes may be of interest to some readers of this blog.

The chosen period of study, 1950 – 1965, is not gratuitous. Some historians like Javier Tusell in Spain: From Dictatorship to Democracy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007) distinguish three periods during Francoism: The Temptation of Fascism and the Will to Survive (1939–51); The Years Of Consensus: The High Point of the Regime (1951–65) and The Economic Development, Apertura, and the Late Franco Years (1966–75). Moreover:

Not until the 1950s and early 1960s did Spanish crime fiction reach its peak and come closer to film noir. Although what predominated at the box office was comedy, folkloric musicals and religious stories. Spanish noir production continued regularly in the 1950s, after pioneer movies such as Brigada Criminal /Criminal Squad (Ignacio F. Iquino), Apartado de Correos 1001 / PO Box 1001 (Julio Salvador) and Séptima página / The Seventh Page (Ladislao Vajda). With production divided between Madrid an Barcelona, the genre grew in importance with the commitment of directors – also some writers and producers – like the above-mentioned Iquino, Salvador and Vajda, or such as José María Forqué, Julio Coll, Anonio Isasi Isasmendi, Juan Antonio de la Loma, Antonio Santillán, José María Forn, Francisco Rovira Beleta and Juan Bosch. We must also underline the contribution of writers – some of whom were well-known playwrights – like Miguel Mihura, Alfonso Paso or Carlos Blanco. These and other professionals created emblematic films such as Los ojos dejan huellas / Eyes Leaves Traces (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, 1952), Los peces rojos / Red Fish (José Antonio Nieves Conde, 1955), ¿Crimen imposible? / Impossible Crime? (César F Ardavin, 1954), El cerco / Police Cordon (Miguel Iglesias, 1955), Expreso de Andalucía / Express Train from Andalucia (Francisco Rovira Beleta, 1956), Distrito Quinto / Fifth District (Julio Coll, 1957), El cebo / It happened in Broad Daylight (Ladislao Vajda, 1958), A tiro limpio / Just Shooting (Francisco Pérez-Dolz, 1963) and Crimen de doble filo /Double Edged Crime (José Luis Borau, 1964), among others.

Film noir did not develop in Spanish cinema to a great extent conditioned by the censors who would not permit any dissidence that would break with the immaculate image of the Franco regime. In contrast with the ambiguous connotation of American film noir – a main source of inspiration – the Spanish counterparts showed a moralizing, poetic world with clear limits in which evil is always punished, and a Manichean dichotomy, between the characters who represented the law and those who wallowed in vice and crime. In fact, many of these films were conceived in clear homage to the police.

Source: Directory of World Cinema: Spain, Edited by Lorenzo J. Torres Hortelano (Intellect Books, 2011)

Brigada criminal / Crime Squad (Ignacio F. Iquino, 1950) is a curious example of the stylistic crossings that took place in the early 1950s: on the one hand, the traces of the American thriller and courtroom drama (Palacio 1997) are evident in the strong black/white contrasts, iconography of the gangster, and phantasmagoric interiors with almost abstract lighting; on the other, the documentation of urban life (Madrid and Barcelona) gives an impression of randomness and improvisation. Added to this is the use of journalistic  techniques of condensation through the voiceover narration of a police chief, modeled on Fritz Lang’s M (1931).

Source: Photography, Production Design, and Editing by Vicente Sánchez-Biosca. A Companion to Spanish Cinema (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

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