091 Policía al habla

Another night in the life of a cop... 091, policiá al habla
Another night in the life of a cop... 091, policiá al habla

Spanish title: 091 Policía al habla
Country: Spain
1960
Genre: Cine negro
Director: José María Forqué
Produced by Pedro Masó and José María Forqué for AS Films Producciones
Story and screenplay: Vicente Coello, José María Forqué, Pedro Masó and Antonio Vich
Music: Augusto Algueró
Cinematographer: Juan Mariné
Editor: Antonio Ramírez De Loaysa
Art director: José Algueró
Cast: Adolfo Marsillach (Andrés Martín), Tony Leblanc (Charles), Susana Campos (Julia), José Luis López Vázquez (Lorenzo Barea), Manolo Gómez Bur (Bicho), María Luisa Merlo (Teresa Jiménez), Francisco Cornet, Javier Fleta, Pilar Cano, Luis Peña (Julio), Manuel Alexandre (Luciano), Mara Laso (Charo), Ana Castor (Sole), Ángel de Andrés (Manolo), Julia Gutiérrez Caba (Mother of the sick child), Francisco Arenzana (Juan), Héctor Bianciotti, Gracita Morales (sales woman), Antonio Casas (Teresa’s father), Asunción Balaguer (Elena), Mary Paz Pondal (Pilar Lorente García), Jesús Guzmán (Armed policeman #1), María Luisa Corominas, Irene Gutiérrez Caba (pregnant lady), José Orjas (Sr. Ele), Mercedes Barranco (Luciano’s girl), Pedro Rodríguez de Quevedo, Agustín González (Pío), Ana María Ventura (Dominguero’s girl), Diego Hurtado, Lola del Pino, Antonio Queipo, Ángel Álvarez, Joaquín Pamplona, Pablo Sanz, Juan Cortés, Vicente Bañó, Luis Morris, Fernando Delgado, Antonio Armet, Antonio Ferrandis (polcieman #1), Fred Galiana, Manolo García, Manuel Aguilera (Manager of Casa Manolo), Manuel Arbó (Inspector jefe), Ángel del Pozo, Rafael Hernández (policeman), Marisa Paredes
Spanish takings: €536,07
Spanish spectators: 962

091, policiá al habla
091, policiá al habla

Synopsis

It’s a typical night in Madrid for the police, with numerous incoming calls to the 091 number (the Spanish equivalent of 999) being distributed among the cops on duty. Among them is Inspector Andrés Martín (Adolfo Marsillach), the driver of car number Z10, who has just returned to the job after the tragic death of his daughter in a hit and run accident. Accompanied by his garrulous partner Barea (Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez) he drives around the city streets tackling a variety of emergencies, which include: dealing with the attempted rape of a young runaway (Maria Luisa Merlo) by a wannabe lothario; arresting the perpetrators of an armed robbery at a boxing match at the Palacio de los Deportes; sorting through the wreckage of a drunken car crash; and urgently delivering some oxygen to a sick child. The night comes to a conclusion when Martín stumbles across the driver of the very same vehicle that killed his daughter, a confrontation which acts as an outlet for his rage and grief, thereby enabling him to reconcile with his nearly ex-wife (Susana Campos)

Review

As well as being the key writers, Pedro Masó and José María Forqué were also credited as co-producers, making it something of an auteur production for the time. Although this was the first time they took on such a role they went on to produce several other films together – including Usted puede ser un asesino (61) and Accidente 703 (62) – as well as co-writing another nine films which Forqué would also direct.

As opposed to Italy, the crime film was a key component of Spanish cinema of the 1950s and became even more prominent as the 1960s progressed. In 1960 alone there were two other films which broadly fit into the crime film remit, El amor que yo te di and Llama un tal esteban, but Cero noventa y uno, policiá al habla was the one with the most distinctively ‘social realist’ approach, which is undoubtedly why it found more favour than the other productions. Set among the tenements and parks of the city, featuring a variety of everyday characters – many of whom seem to hang out at the same swanky drinking establishment – it has a certain new wave feel, tying in nicely to the productions which Bertolucci and Pasolini were shooting across the border at the time. But it’s a more popular affair, featuring a pulpy plot and a climactic shoot out which harks to the American genre as well as looking forward to how the genre would develop over the coming years. The key influence is probably the work of Pietro Germi, with the melancholy Inspector Martin modeled on the protagonist of The Facts of Murder (58) and the stadium robbery recalling that of Four Ways Out (51).

It makes for a heady mixture of police procedural and melodrama, but it has a very human viewpoint, treating not just the cops but most of the peripheral characters also with a degree of sympathy. Its portrayal of a benevolent police force would have bought it in line with the Francoist party line – the representatives of the state are the good guys, people to be admired – but it also paints them with enough kinks and flaws to give it an edginess which betrays a more radical outlook: the protagonists might be doing their best, but in one night alone they have to deal with a varied selection of crimes, a clear indication that the country is far from a glorious fascist utopia. Certainly, the images of police inspectors keeping track of their vehicles by moving toy cars along a table-top map doesn’t exactly inspire feelings that law enforcement of the time was exactly state of the art; and there’s no feeling at all that the next time Martin and his comrades pull their shifts anything will be any different.

The aftermath of a car accident in 091, policiá al habla
The aftermath of a car accident in 091, policiá al habla

The script is put together with some skill and the more melodramatic content is suitably integrated with the rest of the material. It does somewhat lack a central thread – even the discovery of the hit and run driver is underplayed – and as a result it feels rather episodic, but the episodes themselves are well done. Forqué’s direction is sure, and he demonstrates a good understanding of pacing and frame composition, making excellent use of Juan Mariné’s crisp night-time cinematography. There are some standout scenes – the bloody aftermath of the car crash, an assault in some shadowy woods – and it benefits from a selection of good performances by several of the biggest stars of the day. Incongruously (but entertainingly) threading the narrative are the antics of a pair of hapless chancers on the make (Tony Leblanc and Manolo Gómez Bur), who do their best to avoid the police while stealing a bubblecar, trying to sell some dodgy jewels without success, buying some watermelons (!) and randomly coming to the assistance of a pregnant woman.

Cast & crew

Cero noventa y uno, policiá al habla was the 13th full length film directed by José María Forqué, a talented and underappreciated director who had made his debut in 1951 with Niebla y sol. Critically appreciated but never an art-house favorite, Forqué can perhaps best be compared to a Spanish version of Bryan Forbes or Dino Risi: a craftsman director who was talented enough to give a veneer of class to his mid-budget productions. As with Margheriti, he also hopped from one genre to another – perhaps more successfully so, as his talents weren’t just restricted to action films – which was perhaps a factor that downgraded his appeal to the critics (although it resulted in him making a number of bona fide cult classics, which will be covered later). He had already dabbled with the crime genre in De espaldas a la puerta (59) and his 1957 ‘hispanic western’, Amanecer en Puerta Oscura, a film about exploited peasants turned bandits in  rural Spain which anticipated the Italian bandit films of the 1960s (Salvatore Giuliano, Banditi a Orgosolo etc) is well worth a look.

Rating

Rating: 7/10

Review by Matt Blake, 2016

What the critics said

It won several Spanish awards, including the Cinema Writers Circle Best Supporting Actor award (José Luis López Vázquez) and the National Syndicate of Spain Best Screenplay award.

Notes and further information

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