Friday, September 22, 2023

Portrait of a Matador (1958) [short]

Directed by:
(Theodore) Zichy

Just wrapped up the first half of BFI's inaugural "Short Sharp Shocks" collection and, unfortunately, the first disc has proven to be something of a dud. None of the five shorts deserve above a 2 star / average rating, so here's hoping there's a gem or two to be found on disc #2. The first three shorts are simple storytelling vehicles, with one person addressing the camera to speak directly to the audience. Lock Your Door and The Reformation of St. Jules (1949) feature writer Algernon Blackwood reciting his own stories. THE TELL-TALE HEART (1953) has Stanley Baker giving a dramatic, word-for-word reading of Edgar Allan Poe's titular story, which at least features a little cinematic quality in the set design and photography.

After those is the 18-minute-long Death Was a Passenger (1958) from director Theodore Zichy. Set in WWII-era France, this mild suspense piece features a unnamed British man (Terence Alexander) boarding a train from France to Spain. He unsuccessfully attempts to pass himself off as French with a beret and bad accent, but it's obvious to all of those traveling in the same car that he's not who he claims to be. The man is actually a British pilot who was shot down, but survived, and is now attempting to flee Nazi-occupied France for Spain. Among those on his car are a Mother Superior (Harriette Johns) and a beautiful and shy-acting novice nun (Marigold Russell), who both figure into a twist at the end. While this was OK and perhaps the best this first disc has to offer, it's also not even remotely in the horror genre, so I won't be reviewing it here.

The fifth and final short - Portrait of a Matador - is from the same director and team of filmmakers as Passenger, and actually does qualify for a review. Sadly, it also sucks bull testicles and I'd probably prefer writing a bit more about Passenger than this, but that's how it goes sometimes.

In London, painter David Crane (Anthony Tancred) has been chain smoking and staring at the same unwrapped portrait for three straight days, almost as if it has somehow hypnotized him. David's concerned friend, Ian Butler (Dermot Palmer), calls a doctor (Ralph Tovey) over to help, and then recounts the history of the portrait.

A year earlier in Seville, Spain, David and Ian became acquainted with beautiful blonde Carmencita Manrique (Sandra Dorne) and handsome bullfighter Manuel Suarez (David Ritch). While they're both nice to look at, the pair otherwise leave a lot to be desired. She's descended from aristocracy, attracted only to winners and uses her feminine charms to always get her way. She also has something of a cruel streak: Once you're no longer on top, she's no longer interested. The extremely arrogant Manuel is one big ball of seething anger who self-identifies as "the greatest bullfighter of them all" and claims that he wouldn't hesitate to kill a human enemy if only he could get away with it. David manages to ruffle his already fragile feathers by openly discussing his dislike for the sport ("Slaughter doesn't appeal to me as a spectacle... I have a morbid distaste for violent death!").

Carmencita somehow manages to talk Manuel into letting David move into his family's villa, where he meets and becomes fond of Manuel's sister, Maria (Yvonne "Warren" / Romain), who is kind, polite and nothing at all like her sibling. Carmencita then suggests David paint a portrait of Manuel; one showing who he truly is on the inside, which obviously turns out to be a big mistake since Manuel's a dickhead. The resulting portrait greatly offends the bullfighter to the point where he almost stabs David through the neck with his sword. Later that day, Manuel is critically injured in a bullfight. On his deathbed, he places a curse on the artist. A year later, David (who has since returned to London) receives a surprise package in the mail. It's the portrait of the now-deceased matador, which seems to have placed a strange, possibly supernatural, hold over him...

The only thing shocking about this bland 23-minute short is the atrocious (though admittedly pretty funny) overacting from much of the cast. It's no wonder most of these folks didn't move on to much else of note, with the two females being exceptions. Dorne was already established prior to appearing in this (hence why she was given above the title billing) and would go on to a number of other roles, notably (at least per the contents of this blog) ALIAS JOHN PRESTON (1955), The House in Marsh Road (1960) and Devil Doll (1964), which featured Romain as well. Romain can also be seen in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958), CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960) and the Hammer films The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and NIGHT CREATURES aka Captain Clegg (1962).

The director was the son of a wealthy Hungarian count and, at one point, had his own namesake production company. He also worked as a race car driver, ferry pilot and foot fetish photographer (!) but failed at igniting either an acting or a filmmaking career, despite attempts at both. The two shorts in this collection certainly give us a good indicator as to why.

Disc 2 opens with Twenty-Nine (1969), a non-horror title, and THE SEX VICTIMS (1973), a mild, cheap and poorly-made ghost / revenge story with lots of nudity.

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