Monday, January 27, 2014

Remembering Juan De Landa

Juan Crisóstomo Pisón Pagoaga y Landa was born on January 27, 1894 in Motrico, Gipuzkoa, Spain. He spent his childhood traveling with his family, living in Mutriku, Paraguay and Argentina, which was a clear premonition of his later career as a nomad. His early inclinations led him into the world of music.
He gave several concerts in Europe as a tenor in 1929 and went to New York with the intention of singing at the Metropolitan Opera House. He had a letter of recommendation from the painter Zuloaga diva Lucrecia Bori, but the project was unsuccessful. Hollywood at that time were shooting Spanish versions of hits of American cinema and so he went to California in search of fortune. The trip was an ordeal because the aspiring actor had no money and had to cross the country like a vagabond. Once in Hollywood after many hardships, he got a screen test. This time he was lucky and was hired as an actor in American versions of hit movies that were made for the Spanish-speaking market. His first work, was sharing the limelight with actress Conchita Montenegro San Sebastian and the cinematic genius Buster Keaton, with whom Juan de Landa developed a friendship he appeared in “De frente, marchen” (1930) by Edward Sedgwick. His most important role came in “The Presidio” (1930) by Ward Wing. This was a Spanish version of “The Big House” (1930) by George Hill. In principle Juan de Landa he had been assigned a secondary role but he insisted on playing Buck, the role he had done in the original version by Wallace Beery. Cecil B. Mille accepted and Juan de Landa scored a big win in Spain and in South American countries with this film. Even Hollywood Review surrendered to the interpretation of the Basque actor. After working in other movies like “Last Night” (1931) by Chester M. Franklin, “Bitter Fruit” (1931) by Arthur Gregor, “El proceso de Mary Dugan” (1931) by Marcel de Sano. The shooting of Spanish versions were discontinued and Juan de Landa returned victorious to Spain.

After the Spanish Civil War, a harmony developed between the fascist government of Franco and Mussolini that led to, among other things, Spanish-Italian co-productions, Juan de Landa, ever adventurous initiated another phase of his career in Italian cinema. He worked in several films, but his most important role at this stage came with “Ossessione” (1942) a starring role shared with Massimo Girotti and Clara Calamai. This is the first work of the genius Luchino Visconti and one of the precursor films of Italian neorealism. In 1944 he returned to Spanish cinema. He was already established as an extremely popular actor. Yes, physically, plump and portly this presence prevented him from receiving starring roles and relegated him to some extent to secondary characters. He proved to be a character actor of great talent. After participating in several Spanish films he returned in 1950 to Italian cinema. In this second stage of Italian films he came to work with John Houston in “Beat the Devil” (1953). In 1956 he returned to Spain definitely acting in four films. His character of Mephistopheles in “Faustina” (1957 ) by José Luis Sáenz de Heredia was his last performance.
Juan appeared in two Euro-westerns, the Spanish language version of “Last of the Vargas” (1930) and “The Dream of Zorro” (1951)/
Juan de Landa died in Motrico, Gipuzkoa, Spain on February 18, 1968.
Today we remember Juan de Landa on what would have been his 120th birthday.

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