“History is not about the facts. It is about the context and who is telling the story.” —Prof. Milton Fine.
"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." –– George Orwell in his novel "1984."
In 1939, Spanish director Edgar Neville, the son of Spanish noblemen, who had worked in the Washington, D.C. Embassy of Spain and then in Hollywood as a scriptwriter and film assistant for some years, 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 & the Reds). The actress Conchita Montes played the role of Carmen, who with her friends are caught in the Madrid battles between the Reds holding the city and Franco's attacking forces. Carmen and her boyfriend are anti–Communists and she remains behind the Red lines to operate a secret radio transmitter, broadcasting valuable military information to the Franco forces. Carmen is discovered by the Republican forces and shot. Her fiancé, listening to the broadcast as Carmen dies on air, is himself wounded when he rushes out of the trenches to try to reach Carmen in Madrid.
Given the subject matter, it was decided that a Spanish version would be filmed simultaneously. It was the first–ever collaboration on a motion picture between Franco Spain and Fascist Italy. The Spanish version used the book title: 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. We have just acquired the very rare original 1940 film poster of Frente de Madrid and added it to our Poster Gallery.
Left: A 1940 film still portrait of the popular Spanish actor Rafael Revelles from our Collection, in the major role of Alfredo, 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.
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 Juan de Landa, and then with two actresses on the set.
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:
The Spanish cinema herald for the film:
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 1940 by DIFU, the Deutsch – Italianische Film Union distribution company. German actress Victoria v. Ballasko dubbed Conchita Montes' voice, and Walther Süssenguth dubbed Fosco Giachetti's, and Alfred Hasse dubbed Juan de Landa's voice, and Harry Giese dubbed for Carlos Munez.
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 Falangist trenches to broadcast propaganda across battle lines to the Communists.
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:
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 Herzberg
Production: Bassolini-Producktion, Roma
Lentgh: 2280 m.
Rating: Youths over 14 years of age.
(Right: Newspaper image of the Astpr Cinema ad shown courtesy of the Die vergessenen Filme website.)
Neither the Spanish version nor the Italian version of the film has been found post–1945, but the Bundesarchiv–Filmarchiv apparently has the German dubbed version under lock and key. The Cineteca Bologna library has a VHS of the "Lingua GER" version, which means that it is a copy of the German synchronised print held by the Bundesarchiv.
From our Collection, the DIFU 1941/1942 catalogue, with the film prominently listed directly under the DIFU banner:
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:
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:
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 shows (L.) Francoist Rafael Rivelles and his Republican (Red) enemy, played by Carlos Munez (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's ending, although footage of them embracing at the end of the film [ portending possible reconciliation after the war ] was censored out of the cinema release. This scene is shown below, in the rare still we have (one of five originals) in our Collection:
The Spanish poster was designed by famous Italian poster artist Sergio Gargiulo. For some unknown reason, he did not design the Italian posters, as per the Italian press book documentation above. The poster proclaims that the film is a "story of love and of heroism."