Often considered alongside Luis Bunuel as one of the most important and influential Spanish film directors of the 20th century, Luis Garcia Berlanga (1921-2010) and his work is still being discovered in the U.S. Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! (Welcome, Mr. Marshall, 1953), Berlanga’s post-WW2 satire of the European Recovery Plan aka the Marshall Plan, was the first of his films to receive wide distribution at art houses in America and went on to win the International Prize for Best Comedy Film at Cannes. Placido (1961), a black farce in which a homeless man is invited to a Christmas Eve dinner sponsored by a cookware corporation, was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And El Verdugo (The Executioner, 1963) might be his most famous triumph with Nino Manfredi as an undertaker who is pressured into taking over his father-in-law’s profession as an executioner. The Criterion Collection released a special edition of it on Blu-ray and DVD in 2016, which helped introduce Berlanga’s satiric masterwork to new audiences. Less well known today but praised by critics during its original release in 1956 is Calabuch aka The Rocket from Calabuch, a seemingly gentle but subversive satire about life in a rustic seaside village which is disrupted by the arrival of an amiable but mysterious stranger.
I can remember being fascinated with Marco Ferreri’s The Ape Woman (La donna scimmia) from the first time I saw a still from it in the May 1964 issue 28 of Famous Monsters of Filmland. A woman wearing eye makeup and sporting a beard and hairy legs poses provocatively for the camera while her mate, either a man in a tacky ape costume or a prop gorilla, rests his head in her lap. The photo description, “Beauty (?) and the Beast make a hairy horror pair in THE APE WOMAN,” was the only information offered about this upcoming release and, since it was being featured in FFofF, I assumed it qualified as fantasy cinema. Continue reading →