Spanish title: Llama un tal esteban
Genre: Cine negro
Director: Pedro L. Ramirez
iFiSA presents an iFi production
Story and screenplay: Vicente Coello, with dialogue by Jose Luis Colina
Music: Lamotte de Grignon
Cinematographer: Ricardo Albinana
Art director: Miguel Lluch
Cast: Luz Márquez <in Llama un tal Esteban> <with the participation of> José Campos (Juan), Malila Sandoval, José María Caffarel, Luis Induni (Esteban), Estanis González, Adrián Ortega, Alejo del Peral (Lift attendent), Leandro Vizcaíno, Roberto Samsó, Jesús Redondo, Juanita Espín, Joaquín Ejerique, Pilar González, José Luis Sansalvador, Salvador Muñoz, Manuel Bronchud (Botones), José Rivelles, Lina Cuffi, Amparo Baró, Víctor Prades, Carmen Expósito, Isidro Novellas (Mecánico)
Juan, an accountant, is unhappily married to wealthy heiress Elena and, wanting rid of his wife but not her money, comes up with a scheme to inherit her riches. This involves hiring a heavy, Esteban, to murder her while he is very visibly away on business, thereby providing him with a cast-iron alibi. Naturally, it doesn’t go as planned and the wrong woman is accidentally killed. Elena ends up joining Juan on his work trip and, following a series of unlikely contrivances, both Esteban and Juan’s mistress also end up tagging along for the ride as well. As the police investigate the murder and slowly begin to unravel the truth, Juan becomes increasingly adamant that Esteban should finish off the job he has been paid to do.
It’s worth noting that Llama un tal esteban was produced by Ignacio F. Iquino’s IFI Producción S.A. As well as directing Brigada criminal (50), one of the earliest Spanish film noirs – or cine negro films as they were called in Spain – Iquino also produced other early thrillers such as One Bullet is Enough (54) and El ojo de cristal (56). Iquino would, of course, become a key figure in cult cinema throughout the 1960s and 70s through directing numerous sex comedies, westerns and horror films, but his early days as a producer are perhaps even more interesting and important to the history of Spanish cinema as a whole. Writer Vicente Coello was better known for his collaborations with José María Forqué, for whom he scripted the thrillers 091 Policía al habla and Usted puede ser un asesino at around the same time.
One of the lesser known facts about Spanish cinema is that, way back before the likes of Jesus Franco and Paul Naschy made their names and Dario Argento and Mario Bava were plying their trade in Italy, a steady stream of thrillers and crime films were already being made in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona. Inspired by American film noirs, Spanish directors began dabbling with the genre in the early 1950s, with early examples including Julio Salvador’s Apartado de correos 1001 (50) and Antonio Santillan’s El ojo de cristal (55). It has been argued that one of the reasons for the popularity of these films was that they offered an opportunity for delivering a hidden critique of the Franco regime; although in all honesty if this was indeed the case then such critiques were distinctly muted, especially in the early days of the genre. But it undoubtedly proved a popular format: in 1960 alone there were four films which roughly fell into the ‘crime’ bracket, the best known of which was José María Forqué’s policier 091, policía al habla. Llama un tal esteban, which was released in September 1960 and directed by Pedro L. Ramírez, is a largely forgotten but rather effective example of its type.
With a plot that borrows freely from Hitchcock, most particularly Dial M for Murder, it has a narrative that can only be described as slight and a tendency to over-verbalization and occasionally wayward pacing. However, these is largely kept in check by the scanty 80 minute running time, which means that the narrative has no option but to keep moving and, on the whole, the attention of the audience is maintained. The thriller elements are nothing particularly new – although that wouldn’t stop them being replayed many times in Italian thrillers over the following decade – and unusually it’s actively set in Spain rather than decadent France (a more suitable location for murder, in the Spanish censor’s eyes at least). Perhaps as a way of appeasing the authorities it goes out of its way to make its protagonist – a manipulative and abusive creep ably played by José Campos – as unpleasant as possible while the police, as represented by José María Caffarel’s clever detective, are sympathetic and capable. It also pulls off a clever trick by second guessing the viewer and making the hulking Esteban an increasingly sympathetic character, someone who is obviously haunted by his own demons and who goes on to forge a strange kind of friendship with his intended victim. Although he hardly says a word, Luis Induni – who would go on to play assorted Sheriffs and bankers in dozens of Spaghetti Westerns – is the standout performer.
Featuring effective cinematography from Iquino regular Ricardo Albiñana and a suitably rousing soundtrack by Ricardo Lamotte de Grignón it is, from a technical perspective, easily the equal of most black and white B-Movies being produced in America or Britain at the time. Director Pedro Luis Ramírez keeps things simple, largely avoiding pointless interludes and building things up to a suitably violent conclusion; he was better known for his work in comedies or on TV, although he would return to the genre with the 1975 release School of Death. While Llama un tal esteban might not have the stylistic virtuosity of the best of the cine negro films, it stands up well as an unpretentious and effective little filler which, in many ways, anticipates the later Italian giallo films.
Review by Matt Blake
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