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Frente de Madrid / Carmen fra i Rossi / In der roten Hölle / In der roten Hoelle Copy

 

 

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In the late 1920's Edgar Neville, the son of Spanish noblemen, educated in Switzerland and Spain, worked in the Washington, D.C. Embassy of Spain and thereafter in the Spanish Embassy in Los Angeles. He then worked in Hollywood as a MGM scriptwriter and film assistant for some years, such as on Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1930). He befriended Hollywood stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Mary Pickford, Laurel and Hardy, as well as Chaplin. He later returned to Spain in 1931 where he continued his career in film. These were comedies and pure entertainment films.

Betwen 1936 and 1940, he also produced for Franco three short documentary films with fascistic elements and nationalism. Produced by the National Department of Cinematography, the films were entitled: The University City, on the destruction of the university when it was a war front in that area of ​​Madrid, one glorifying the Youth of Spain, and a documentary film in 1940 called Long Live Free Men! – Report of “checas” in Barcelona. “Checas” were installations that during the Spanish Civil War were used in the Republican/Red zone outside the laws to arrest, interrogate, torture, judge in a summary manner and execute suspects who sympathized with the Franco side.

 

 

The reference book Popular Spanish Film Under Franco, Steven Marsh, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) calls Edgar Neville "probably the most talented nationalist filmmaker of his generation."

According to Spanish film author Felippe Cabrerizo, Neville's approach to making a war film was influenced by his knowledge and study of the Zöberlein film Stoßtrupp 1917.  [ Citation: Cabrerizo, Felipe: Tiempo de Mitos – Las coproducciones cinematográficas entre la España de Franco y la Italia de Mussolini (19391943), Diputación Provencial de Zaragoza, 2007, pg.60. ]

In 1939, Neville produced a Spanish Civil War film for Mussolini based on his best–selling book Frente de Madrid. In Italy the book title was called Carmen fra i Rossi (Carmen amongst the Reds). The actress Conchita Montes played the role of Carmen, who with her friends are caught in the midst of Madrid battles between the Reds holding the city and Franco's attacking forces. The exterior shots were filmed in Madrid's University City area, which had been heavily shelled and ruined in the Civil War; and the interior shots were filmed in the Italian Cinecitta film studios in Rome.

Synopsis:

During the Spanish Civil War, a Falangist, Javier Navarro, is to marry his fiancée, Carmen, but on their wedding day the City of Madrid awakens to find that it has been occupied overnight by the Republicans and their Communist masters. Javier leaves Madrid to fight with the Francosts, but is ordered to enter Madrid disguised as a Republican militiaman in order to deliver a message to a leader of the Francoist Resistance in the University Center district. Once the order is fulfilled, he takes the opportunity to visit Carmen, who lives under the protection of the father of his maid, a faithful Republican.  She refuses to accompany Javier to safety, and remains in Madrid to continue her espionage work; where the Reds are holding out against Franco's besieging troops, while Javier re–joins the Nationalists surrounding the capital.  A year of the war passes. Javier is desperate to see Carmen again, and during one of his missions to Madrid. he meets his beloved, who is now working in a locale frequented by Republi­cans. She clandestinely transmits by radio secret information about them to the Nationalists. Unbeknownst to Carmen and her family, the old matron of their apartment building is a Bolshevik, and spies on everyone coming and going; and calls in a report to the Reds of Javier's recent visit.  The Reds have meanwhile discovered that the underground water tunnel has been used by the Francoists as a means to enter and exit the City unseen. They dynamite the tunnel; thus destroying Javier's intended way back to his comrades.  He manages to get back safely to his base and then hears on the radio that Carmen, her companions and the secret radio transmitter have been dis­covered by the Reds. She dies whilst broadcasting, telling Javier that she loves him, is going to her death, for him to continue the fight, and to remember her. Javier, distraught, leaps out of the trenches and is hit by enemy fire. Before dying he takes refuge in a hollow in which a mortally wounded Red militiaman is also hiding. Together they will spend the last moments of their lives, dying side by side.

 

Given the subject matter, it was decided that a Spanish version of the film would be co–produced at the same time, to be called Frente de Madrid (Madrid Front). Besides language, the only difference in the two versions was that in the Italian film the male lead was performed by the ever–popular Fosco Giachetti, whereas in the Spanish film the hugely popular Rafael Rivelles (famous for his outstanding Don Quixote film, amongst others) took the role. In the Spanish version of the film, the role played by Rivelles was named Javier, in the Italian (and German dubbed) versions, the character is named Alfredo. We have acquired the very rare original 1940 film poster of Frente de Madrid and added it to our Poster Gallery, to be seen at the very bottom of this page.

 

 

 

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Left: A 1940 film still portrait of the popular Spanish actor Rafael Rivelles from our Collection, in the major role of Javier, in the Spanish language version of the film, wearing a Francoist army uniform.  He is depicted on the film poster printed in Franco Spain, shown at the bottom of this page. 

 

 

 

Below, the Spanish original film still of Conchita Montes, for Frente de Madrid.

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 Conchita Montes made her film debut in Frente de Madrid  and only made one other film in Fascist Italy, another anti–Bolshevik film; Sancta Maria (the Spanish title Muchacha de Mosque). three years later (1942, also directed by Nevillle). An undated photo in our Collection shows her on a tour of Pompeii, surrounded by soldiers seeking autographs. Sancta Maria used Pompeii as one of it's settings, so although this photograph is not related directly to Carmen fra i rossi, it has the actress who played Carmen back in Italy for her second (and last) film production there.

In March 2018 we found three additional original film stills from the Spanish version of the film. Here is the one of Conchita Montes and Rafael Rivelles together, from our Collection:

 

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Also from our Collection, three rare "behind–the–scenes" shots of Director Edgar Neville on the Italian set at Cinecitta, Rome, in 1939, in his director's chair observing a scene being shot, talking with actors Fosco Giachetti and others, and then with two actresses on the set.

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Depicted below is the Communist leader, played by Juan de Landa in both versions, and his thugs raising their fists in a salute to Communism before the battle:

 

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The Spanish cinema herald for the film:

 

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 The Italian brochure from Bassoli Film included this photo montage:

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Hispania Tobis, the film's distributor in Franco Spain, in its 1940–1941 catalogue, promoted 37 new feature films on offer to cinemas by stating that they follow the Tobis films released the previous season (i.e. 1939–1940)  " among which stands out the two most sensational hits of the year: Front of Madrid and La Campana de Polonia."

 

The film was shown not only in fascist Italy and Franco Spain, but also in Switzerland in 1941. Here the page from the Lugano cinema "Teatro Kursaal" program of movies being screened in May 1941, again from our Collection:

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Nazi Germany also had a German synchronised version of the Italian version of the film dubbed, and released under the title In der roten Hölle (In the Red Hell) in late 1942 by DIFU, the Deutsch – Italianische Film Union distribution company.  German actress Victoria v. Ballasko dubbed Conchita Montes' voice, Walther Süssenguth dubbed Fosco Giachetti's, and Alfred Hasse dubbed Juan de Landa's voice, and Harry Giese dubbed for Carlos Muñoz. 

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In the screen shot below LEFT, Italian star Fosco Giachetti as Alfredo (the Javier character's name in the German version)  receives a wooden baton from his superior, containing a secret message to be smuggled across Red lines into Madrid. In the screen shot below RIGHT, he is reunited with his fiancée Carmen behind enemy lines. 

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BELOW, Carmen broadcasts for the last time, stating that the secret transmitter has been discovered, and that her comrades have run out of ammunition, and she says goodbye to Alfredo.  He tries to come to her rescue but is shot crossing enemy lines en route.

 

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The penultimate scene with Fosco Giachetti and Carlos Munez, as the Fascist and Red soldiers dying side–by–side in the Madrid trenches. Compare this photograph with the one below of the Spanish version of the film, with Rafael Rivelles playing the Fascist soldier, along with Carlos Muñoz, who appeared in both versions.

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Below, from the November 18, 1942 issue of the German Film–Kurier Tageszeitung newspaper, a still from the film (dot matrix quality) showing a loudspeaker being placed in the Communist trenches to broadcast propaganda across battle lines to the Falangist.  

 

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 That edition of the newspaper also ran the review of the premiere of the film in Germany, at the Astor Cinema in Berlin. Below is the translation of the review in its entirety:

 

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In the red Hell   /   Astor cinema

A further Italian film about the Spanish Civil War is told here. In contrast to (the film) Alkazar, a private destiny is placed in the foreground here.

Two people are separated by the outbreak of fighting a few days before their marriage. The man had joined the ranks of the Falangists; the girl stays in Madrid and suffers under the tyranny of the Reds. As Franco lays siege to the City, they see one another for a few more hours. She has in the meanwhile joined the Franco news agency, and helps her beloved complete a difficult mission. As the Falangist secret radio transmitter, for which she works, is discovered, she dies as a sacrifice to the Spanish struggle for freedom. Her lover falls in an attempt to rescue her.

In the context of this gripping human and often thrilling plot, how strong the influence of the Spanish Civil War could be on men who oppose one another as enemies – who for years lived aside one another peacefully through shared memories and experiences that bound them together – is shown.

Portrayed is a Red, who passes over the trenches to ask a soldier of Franco about the fate of his comrades,  and how these two dying men from opposing camps reconcile in the No Man’s Land and by contrast,  how others are portrayed in the propaganda war –  as a war between two different peoples.

The Director Edgar Neville has successfully brought both the human and political together and bound them as one element. The battle scenes are very forcibly shown, and where appropriate, an unerring humor flashes between these dramatic events. The cameramen Stallich and Inzarelli have provided a strong contribution to the believability of the battle scenes. The sets by Fiorini, the music composed by Enzio Carabellia.

The actors revealed many remarkable achievements. Conchita Montes, the tragic female lead, won our hearts through her gracious beauty and the soulfulness of her expressions. Her acting was supported by the compelling warmth of the (dubbed) voice of Viktoria von Ballasko.

Fosco Giachetti, faithfully dubbed by Walther Süßenguth, appealed once again throughout with his masculine composure free of posturing, which at this time has won over many friends in Germany for beloved Italian film actors.

The outstanding German version was provided by the firm Lüdtke–Dr. Bornstein. The dialogue was written by Georg Rotkegel. Director of the German version was Kurt Werther.

(Review by)  – Georg HerzbergHÖLLE.jpg

Production:Bassoli-Producktion, Roma

Distributor: DIFU

Lentgh: 2280 m.

Rating: Youths over 14 years of age.

 

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(ABOVE Right: Newspaper image of the Astor Cinema ad shown courtesy of the Die vergessenen Filme website.)

The final scene in the film shows the victories Spanish flags representing Franco's victory, superimposed with the images of Carmen and Javier, with stirring military music in accompaniment.

 

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The DIFU handbill promoting the film to German audiences. On the backside of the handbill the film's synopsis is provided.  (handbill from our collection.)

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Neither the Spanish version nor the Italian version of the film has been found post–1945, but the Bundesarchiv–Filmarchiv has the German dubbed version (DIFU)  under lock and key. The film was finally shown to the general public again when Spanish television broadcast the German version in October 2017, with a new-dubbed Spanish soundtrack.

The DIFU German cinema owners' promotion guide for the film, called a "Werberatschlag," has been scanned from our Library and is available here.

 

Also from our Collection, the DIFU 1941/1942 catalogue, with the film prominently listed directly under the DIFU banner:

 

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The DIFU catalogue listing for the German–dubbed version (1941) promises "the gripping experience of a girl in Red imprisonment." 

We have never seen any of the German posters for the film, but we do own the Werberatschlag booklet showing cinema owners in Germany what their posters looked like:

 

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We have never seen an original Italian poster for the film for sale, but a major film poster dealer in Italy has very kindly provided us with the page from the Italian press–book illustrating those posters:

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The poster has a brown paper banner attached at the top announcing the premiere of the film at the Gongora movie theater, promising to show a "tremendous drama of the civil war."

The poster at the bottom of this web page shows  (L.) Francoist Rafael Rivelles and his Republican (Red) enemy, played by Carlos Muñoz (R.) both exhausted and wounded from the long battle, after they lay their weapons down and contemplate what the conflict means and what their futures hold. This dramatic graphic art is taken from the film's58294035 (cropped) copy.jpg ending, although footage of them embracing at the end of the film ––portending possible reconciliation after the war –– was censored,  after the film's premiere on 23 March 1940 at the Palacio de Musica in Madrid caused a scandal.

The film ran for four weeks there. The film was quickly re–edited, certain dialogue cut*, and the film re–released (as per Popular Spanish Film Under Franco, Steven Marsh, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp.41–42.)  This final scene is also shown below, in the rare still we have (one of eight originals) in our Collection:

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* Although the film script's final original scene appears to be missing from the Spanish Film Archive, in the book written by Edgar Neville, on which the film script was based, Javier's final words as he dies are:

One day Madrid will be covered with flags. And legions of young men in blue shirts will parade through the streets; they will take the same step, the same direction and the same interest, and it will not be known to which class they belong or from which side they were in this war. Madrid will be filled with joy of  happiness ... 

Another piece of dialogue by Javier remembering the pre-Civil War life in Madrid was also cut. Here it is:

JAVIER: You will go back to Madrid, to a Madrid like before, like when we were children, when people looked at each other without hatred. You will go back to Madrid ... It is the only thing I will miss when I die. Losing a resurrected Madrid with the old flags, like the ones we bought as children at the Puerta del Retiro, a Madrid that smells like coffee at eight o'clock in the morning, when you go to school, do you remember the paper flags?   (Thanks to Cine Clásico for this research.) The Alamanacco del Cinema Italiano, Roma, 1943 lists the Italian version, Carmen Fra I Rossi, as being released with prints of 2735 meters. The DIFU German dubbed version as reviewed in the Film–Kurier Tageszeitung (see above) states the film is 2280 meters long. That is a difference of some 16 minutes -- a considerable loss of footage. Although a small amount of frames are excised to provide dubbed versions with perfect match between actors' lips  and their new language, 16 minutes is a very mysterious loss between versions.  The DIFU print broadcast on Spanish TV ran the equivalent of 2159 meters; or a difference between the German newspaper review in 1942, and the TV running time in 2017, of 121 meters, or about 4 minutes, 37 seconds. We presume that this almost 5 minutes discrepancy was due to the censoring of the Fosco Giachetti dialogue as per our above script excerpt, as well as the "reconciliation scene" between him and the dying Red soldier, as reported elsewhere. There was a comment on Spanish blogs about the bedroom scenes between Alfredo and Carmen most likely having been cut by the very conservative Franco censors, too. 

The Spanish poster was designed by famous Italian poster artist Sergio Gargiulo. Gargiulo not only worked in Fascist Italy and post–war Italy as a highly respected poster artist; but spent time in Hollywood drawing posters and portraits of MGM's stars of the 1924–1934 era; such as Laurel & Hardy, Heddy Lamarr, Clark Gable, and many others. For some unknown reason, he did not design the Italian poster for Carmen Fra I Rossi; as per the Italian press book documentation above.  

 

BELOW: Our 1940 original Spanish poster proclaims that the film is  a "story of love and of heroism." 

A further ESSAY on the film can be found here.

 
Year
1940
 
Director
Neville
 
Country
Italy / Spain