Thursday, October 8, 2020

Almeria, Spain Becoming Hollywood of the Continent [archived newspaper article]


Almeria, Spain – The elevator doors opened and a bearded man I cowboy clothes, guns slung low on his hips, hands at the ready, strode into the lobby of the Gran Hotel with a High Noon showdown menace to his walk. He bellied up to the bar – and ordered a caffe latte.

     Things are not always as they seem in Almeria. The cowboy was part of an Italian film company shooting a Western here with Americans Brian Kelly and Keenan Wynn starring. There is an American company here, with another one due shortly, two Yugoslav companies and a French company which didn’t quite complete the picture when it ran out of money. Word in town is the producer left his girl friend, his dog and six reels of the film behind as security until he could raise more cash.

     All this activity has given Almeria the title, ** Hollywood. Michael Caine, here filming “Play Dirty” for producer Harry Saltzman, says, “I think of it more as the Death Valley of the continent.”

* * * 

     A wealth of natural scenery and good weather have combined to bring a lot of money into a less than prosperous city. “You can find everything you want here in the way of scenery except trees.” Says Andre De Toth, who is directing “Play Dirty”. He adds, “I like it here. It’s like the pioneer days of Hollywood. I dug a trench with a bulldozer the other day at our desert location to keep the Italian company from getting there ahead of usand using our sets.

     “The crews here are very good, too, because they have pride, even if they lack a bit in skill. In Italy, it is possible to get an excellent crew but if you don’t, they are very bad.” French crews? He made a face. “I would much rather be here than there.”

      Rising costs in Hollywood and England, plus movie companies with frozen funds, plus weather and cooperation from authorities, have led to Spain’s leap forward as a movie production center.

     The first non-Spanish film to shoot in Spain was Sir Laurence Olivier’s “Henry the V”, which shot some scenes there. The first non-Spanish film to be made entirely in Spain was “Alexander the Great”, with Richard Burton. That was in 1955.

     Almeria was used for the first time for potions of “Lawrence of Arabia”. The population in the past four years has grown from 30,000 to 70,000. The Gran Hotel, on the shore of the Mediterranean, is so new it’s not finished yet. You can see steel skeletons of other hotels rising along the shore. A restaurant where most of the actors eat has translated its menu into very fractured English. Among the offerings are lamba roats, selfish omelet, calms as you of sirted (except for knowing they are claims, no one has figured that out), fine gress omelet and smashed omelet.

     Ken Richards, who handles financial details for Saltzman’s films, says: “Soon American companies will be leaving London as they have left Hollywood. There are two things which help cut budgets inexpensive transportation and lodging. Spain has those.”

     At the moment, the “Play Dirty” company was having unexpected and surprising weather problems. Sudden downpours of rain turned the desert into a quagmire, “And it’s very hard to shoot a dust storm when the daffodils are blooming in the desert because of all the rain”, Caine said.

* * *

     So while the other companies went out and filmed, since they didn’t need dry desert, Caine and his costar, Nigel Davenport, sat and played endless games of Scrabble, switching to Pontoon a form of 21, when their minds boggled. They were joined at Pontoon by Takis Emmanouci, a handsome Greek actor whose English isn’t good enough for Scrabble but who counts to 21 beautifully.

* * *

     “We’re also writing a series of the world’s shortest books,” Caine says, “Like ‘A Guide to Great Dining in Almeria”.

     The airport in town is less than three months old, and the sight of the plane coming in twice a week from Madrid, then turning around and going right back, still draws crowds. Five thousand were there the day the first plane arrived and they cheered as it landed. The plane can be anything from a DC3 to a Fokker Friendship to a F-27 turboprop.

* * *

     Since there is little to do in town, the lobby of the Gran Hotel is the focal point of the entertainment. On Saturday night, residents of Almeria dress up and parade through the lobby, where they and the big celebrities take turns eyeing each other. Everyone is polite and disinterstingly interested.

     The town is aware of the celebrities in their midst, but the accept them and don’t molest them. The Following story perhaps best sums up both Almeria and the Almerians:

     Brigitte Bardot was in town to film scenes for “Shalako” with Sean Connery. It was decided the Almeria should have a Brigitte Bardot Film Festival. There was a good deal of ceremony opening night and Brigitte Bardot arrived in her white Rolls-Royce. Other stars of the film arrived simultaneously. A city official stepped forward to present a large bouquet of flowers to Brigitte and gave them to the wrong woman.

     You have to feel affection for a town that doesn’t know Brigitte Bardot.


[Thanks to Mike Hauss for this submission.]



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