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Jose Luis Saenz de Heredia

Vet Spanish film director Jose Luis Saenz de Heredia, an icon of cinema under the Franco dictatorship, died of a pulmonary disease in Madrid on Nov. 4 at age 81.

He directed 45 features, starting in 1934 with “Patricio Miro una Estrella” to the 1975 “Solo Ante el Streaking.” His comedies and dramas from the 1940s to the early 1960s, including “El Escandalo” (1943), “Mariona Rebull” (1947), “La Mies Es Mucha” (1948), “Historias de la Radio” (1955) and “La Verbana de la Paloma” (1963).

As was usual during the ’40s and ’50s, his pix toed the official line in respect to the religious, moral and political guidelines of the day. But despite the priests and Civil Guards abounding in his work, some of the films reflect the social realities of their time.

Throughout his life, the director was closely linked to the Franco cause and made two films about the dictator.

“Raza” (Race), shot in 1942 when Spanish fascism reached its apogee, loosely followed the story of Franco’s life, with Franco himself suggesting the outline of the script. In 1964, Saenz de Heredia directed “Franco, Ese Hombre” (That Man Franco), an unabashed glorification of the dictator.

Surprisingly, the Socialist-dominated Spanish Directors Assn. dedicated a public tribute to Saenz de Heredia in 1987, at which time he averred that he “felt himself to be more of a Franco supporter than ever.”

He had fought on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, rising to the rank of lieutenant.

After the Civil War, he was head of the National Department of Cinematography in Madrid, which produced propagandistic documentaries and newsreels, and which in 1941 evolved into the NoDo, a weekly newsreel shown in all cinemas.

In 1949 he set up his own production company, Chapalo films, which made an ambitious version of “Don Juan” (1950), “Todo Es Posible en Granada” (1954) with Merle Oberon and Francisco Rabal, and others. From 1961-63 he directed the Official film School in Madrid.

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