EL FRANCONOMICON / I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND

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LABIOS ROJOS (1960)

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Here are some images from the recent Spanish DVD of Jess Franco’s long unavailable LABIOS ROJOS, his 1960 comedy noir which looks a lot like a lost Orson Welles film (cf TOUCH OF EVIL-1958).                               Franco’s highly stylized film employs low key noir lighting and numerous tilted camera angles in telling the complicated story of how two ditzy female private investigators solve a case involving some dangerous criminals, diamond smuggling and murder. Franco sets this delightful yarn in a musical milieu filled with cagey characters, a clueless cop (Manolo Moran) and jazz performances in smoky nightclubs. Spanish horror movie and Spaghetti Western fans will note the first film role of the late Jose Canalejas (FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, THE RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD) as a nightclub pianist. The songs were written by Jess Franco. During a 2004 interview I conducted with the late director he  spoke of his admiration for Welles and the noir Cinema of Robert Siodmak (PHANTOM LADY, THE KILLERS) which is apparent in every frame of his second feature, shot in pitch black and white. The emphasis remains on comedy though, with some violence in the third act. Ana Castor and Isana Medel play the amusing detective team, who used guile and seduction to solve the crime. The real star is the monochrome cinematography of Juan Marine and Emilio Foriscot. Franco immediately named Marine as his favorite DP when I inquired during my 2005 interview with him. The look of the film couldn’t be more different than the subsequent Red Lips films, TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS and KISS ME, MONSTER (both 1967), which are a riot of primary colors.  The accomplished noir imagery is impressive, given the budget and production circumstances, but the story is driven by the dialogue, and there’s a lot of it for a non-Spanish speaker to navigate. Much about the plot, characters and tone is revealed in the nonstop dialogues which rattle off at the frenetic pace of Howard Hawks’ screwball comedies. No doubt that therein are the templates for many familiar Jess Franco tropes, cultural and linguistic satire. This was the first Red Lips film and many Jess Franco character names (Radeck, Kalman, Moroni) were coined here. Repeat viewings will be required for further comment. The film looks surprisingly good on this DVD considering its age and obscurity. Hopefully an English friendly HD release will happen sooner or later. I’ll add a more detailed plot synopsis in the future.  BELOW: Four images from the Spanish DVD. Here is a translation of the note which appears in the second image. Thanks to Nzoog for translating it. TRANSLATION: “Good evening, Commissioner. Here’s El Foca; I’m giving him to you as a preesent. He’s reponsible for the parrot swindle performed on the American millionairess. You’ll find the booty in the fireplace at his home at 31 Sombrerete Street. You’re welcome” (C) Robert Monell 2015 image image image image image image

Written by Robert Monell

16 junio 2015 a 6:43 PM

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