Friday, October 28, 2011

Esmeralda Bay (1989)

After a series of hardcore movies and obscurities that never seem to have seen the light of day Jesus Franco was on the go again with several movies with bigger budgets and bigger stars, Faceless, Fall of the Eagles and finally Esmeralda Bay. Eagles and Bay is typical Eurociné productions, but with a more ambitious feeling. Maybe they had a richer financer in the background somewhere, who also demanded more for the money. I know "real" Jess Franco fans tends to dislike Franco's more commercials projects, but I think they are excellent proof for what an excellent storyteller Franco was. Sometimes mainstream is needed to show us that part of a filmmakers talent.

It's actually quite similar to Fall of the Eagles, but set in the fictional country of Puerto Santo. We follow businessman Wilson (George Kennedy), who deals weapons with the local rebels and Robert Forster as Madero, the leader of the military police on the island. In the middle is the good-hearted banana republic-president Ramos (Fernando Rey) and the rebels, among them Ramon Estevez and Brett Halsey, all fighting for their own cause. The Americans want the military crushed and have planted their own under cover agents in the middle of this little war, and everything leads to the battle of Esmeralda Bay...

I have to admit that it's a bit boring in the beginning, but as soon as the intrigues starts Esmeralda Bay becomes an involving thriller-drama with some nice stock footage action at the end. In smaller parts we have Lina Romay (and she's excellent as the pathetic mistress of Madero), Antonio Mayans and Daniel Grimm, all doing great jobs with the material they have. George Kennedy is a pro, and so also Forster (who works together with his name-nemesis, "Robert Foster" - aka Antonio Mayans) who have a lot fun and energy has the intensive military leader.

Franco is an obvious hired gun here, to lead the ship to harbour in time (which he also does in the movie, in a cameo as captain of a boat) and make the producers happy. But with the time and money he had, and a great cast, he also delivers a good - if a bit generic - war drama with gorgeous cinematography and - for once - real squibs (Eurociné have a tendency to prefer non-squib shootings in most of their movies). There's really no depth in the story, but it's easy to see where Franco put his talent - in the drama parts. Few other movies can have so boring dialogues and still be interesting to watch.

Esmeralda Bay is out on a good-looking Spanish DVD, fullscreen and with English dub. It's cheap and worth buying.

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