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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 (1899–1967). 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.