Explore the labyrinthian depths and secret alleys of the Walter Reade's annual survey "Spanish Cinema Now" (December 8 through 26), and you'll find a mini retrospective devoted to Edgar Neville (18991967). The aristocratic Neville was a friend of Luis Buñuel and Charlie Chaplin (whom he met while in Hollywood directing Spanish-language talkies for MGM), with a reputation as a raconteur that's fully justified by the playful narratives of his best-known movies. Those showing include Life Hanging by a Thread (1945), a whimsical comedy of alternate destiny; two murder mysteries: the farcical Carnival Sunday (1945) and philosophical The Crime on Bordadores Street (1946); as well as a neorealist account of a demobilized cavalryman, The Last Horse (1950), and a color musical, Flamenco (1952).
The most fabulous of Neville's fantasies is The Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks (1944), a supernatural shaggy-dog story in which, egged on by a dignified one-eyed ghost, a handsome if clueless Madrid bon vivant stumbles into a lost subterranean world. This secret city, built by Jews escaping the Inquisition, is populated by a cabal of sinister, coin-counterfeiting kyphotics, as well as a number of cobwebbed mummies and a mad archaeologist. The movie was evidently based on a horror novel but Neville's attitude toward this fantastic material is beyond bemused.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.