Monday, January 25, 2010

Was he wearing a Diestrong bracelet?

The IFC has the rights to a few good foreign movies, which they show from time to time. One of those movies, the Spanish film Death of a Cyclist, is airing at 8:00 AM ET tomorrow.

Death of a Cyclist is the movie that answers the question of what a Franco-era version of Double Indemnity might look like. A college professor is having an affair with the wife of a prominent member of the Spanish upper class. This naturally involves meeting in out-of-the-way places, and one rainy day, on their way back to Madrid, they accidentally hit and kill a cyclist. Reporting it means possible criminal charges, but, much more importantly in their minds, discovery of the extramarital affair! Wanting to keep the affair a secret, and having determined that nobody could have seen the accident, the two lovers head back to Madrid.

Of course, that is by no means the end of the crime. In Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray realized that he and Barbara Stanwyck were now tied irrevocably together, and would have to go straight down the line, all the way to the end. It didn't help, either, that MacMurray had an insurance fraud investigator like Edward G. Robinson as his boss, a man with a funny little feeling in his stomach that something wan't quite right. Things are much the same in Death of a Cyclist. Any references to crime make the pair (especially the man) extremely nervous, and there's a man who's acting as though he knows something about the pair. Does he know only that they're a couple? Or does he know too about the hit-and-run? Or is he just bluffing? Either way, the strain is bound to become unbearable for the two lovers, but how it does is something I'll let you find out for yourself.

Death of a Cyclist was directed by Juan Antonio Bardem (uncle of actor Javier Bardem), a noted opponent of the Franco regime. As such, the film inevitably has political overtones, both for the good and the bad. The discussion of class status, especially how the two lovers feel they need to hush up the accident in order to preserve their social standing -- even though they could probably beat the rap on the accident since there weren't any witnesses -- is fine. However, there's also a subplot involving the man's college students protesting the failing mark given to a female student who happened to run afoul of the professor when he was in a bad mood over seeing a newspaper story about the car accident. That subplot seems a bit tacked on and doesn't really fit with the rest of the movie. One other problem is for people who don't speak Spanish. Normally, I have no problem with foreign films, and having to read subtitles. However, in the case of Death of a Cyclist, two of the main male characters have pencil moustaches that make them look enough alike that it's a bit tough to keep track of which is which while reading the subtitles at the same time.

All in all, though, Death of a Cyclist is a pretty good movie, up there with most of Hollywood's noirs. It's available on DVD, but as is often the case with foreign films, it's also more expensive than DVDs of most Hollywood movies from the same period.

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