L'espoir Sierra de Teruel (Man's Hope) (1945)
Director: André Malraux, Boris Peskine.
Starring: Andrés Mejuto (Capitan Munoz), Nicolás Rodríguez (Pilot Marquez), José Sempere (Commandant Pena), Julio Peña (Attignies), Pedro Codina (Schreiner), José María Lado (Peasant), Serafín Ferro (Saidi), Miguel Del Castillo (González).
a Republican aerial squadron needs to wipe out a secret Franco air field, but don't know its location; so they take an illiterate peasant up in the air with them
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"During the Spanish Civil War in 1937, a Republican plane, after an air-fight, comes back to the airfield where volunteers have assembled to fight fascism."
A Republican airplane is hit and goes down. Among the dead is a fellow named Marcelino Rivelli. The chief of the air squadron says: "17 fights in Spain. An Italian. Ex-airline pilot. Left Italy in 1923. After the death of de Bossis, left Switzerland to throw tracts over Milan. After a year in hiding, deported to the Lipari Islands. Escaped to Spain, three days after Franco's uprising, and served as a pilot. Wounded on the Madrid front. Political Commissary of his squadron. Died today on the Teruel front."
A pilot for the Republican squadron says that they were outnumbered up there in the sky by 8 to 1. He asks the head of the squadron if their boys are still advancing? "The Ximenes Brigade is waiting for the bridge to be blown up." The two men take a look at the map. The chief says that last night the villages of Escaton, Pinares, Navas and other villages up to Linas rose up. The pilot says: "Franco's reinforcements can only come through Saragossa." The chief says the men will attack as soon as the bridge is blown. The pilot says it all depends on the bridge.
A message received says: "The bridge at all costs." Everything depends on Linas. One of the fellows says they regained control of the village last night. The bridge is mined, but if Franco's men make it to Linas their army will defend the bridge and the Republicans will be in trouble.
A fellow arrives with a sack on his back. The sack is filled with pistols and some bullets. The men around the table start taking the pistols. One fellow observes that they have less than 20 bullets per person.
The plan of attack is to go through the Old Gate. Then head for the garage. There are at least two cars at the garage. Then, Juan's friends will take out the bridge. Gonzalez and the rest of the men will start dynamiting targets in Linas. The men head for the Old Gate.
"Meanwhile, at Linas, a peasant, having spotted Franco's airfield, comes looking for a guide who'll take him through the enemy lines."
A sign on a building says: Popular Front Committee of Linas. The peasant speaks to the committee. The committee head tells the peasant to tell them where the Franco planes are at. He will send some men with the peasant. The peasant tells the committee that they must tell the Republican pilots where the field is. Another fellow says that a lot of those fields look awfully alike. The committee head is sending twelve trustworthy men with the peasant.
A Franco sniper hits quite a few of the men headed out to the Old Gate, but then when he shows himself too much a Republican with an automatic weapon kills the sniper. Now the men can move on to the Old Gate. As they get close they see an artillery piece sitting just outside the Old Gate. The leader of the group says they need an automobile. The men are told to go around and when they open fire on the men guarding the artillery piece, the men are to open fire also.
They get the car and drive right for the cannon. The artillery soldiers turn the cannon around and fire off a round that hits the automobile. The leader is badly hurt, but the other men get through the Old Gate.
"The Republicans find a car outside the town. They arrive at Linas to help the peasants who are fighting to keep Franco's men off the bridge."
At Linas Gonzalez tells the committee head that they have 200 kilos of dynamite. Furthermore, their men have reached the river. The committee head wants to know how many rifles they brought with them? None. The committee members and the head are stunned at this bad news. They say they will have to guard the crucial pass with shotguns. Gonzalez learns from a man named Varga that there is a path in a narrow passageway between the mountain on one side and the ravine on another. And Franco's soldiers will have to come that way. Gonzalez asks for a trusted man. That's the school master. He tells the school master to go with Varga. The rest of the men will search house after house trying to find something to put the dynamite in.
Gonzalez examines the various containers brought to him by people in Linas. He is looking for things made of iron that will give off a lot of shrapnel in an explosion. Someone says: "Let's hope they get through to the pilots."
"Armed with these odd containers the peasants fought Franco's men and kept them from reaching the bridge, their only means of communication with the rear."
The chief of the Republican air squadron talks with a former German ace who served in World War I. He asks the ace if he can still fly? The fellow says he's been mostly working in the mines lately. And he would need about a hour of practice before he could re-master flying. The chief sends him up in a plane. At first his flight is good, but he soon crashes the plane. The pilot apologizes to the chief, but he also tells the chief that he told him he needed an hour of practice before he could get back into the swing of things.
Other men practice anti-aircraft firing to bring down Franco's planes. The former ace asks to try some shooting and he hits his targets with ease.
"They arrive at the last village held by Franco's men. They must find out how to cross the lines and reach the Republicans' airfield."
The peasant who knows where Franco's airfield in located walks though the town with another man. They go into a cafe to meet their contact man. They have a couple of password phrases to find the right man. The two men go in and give the password phrase and hook up with bartender. They all go into the garden area in the back and they ask the bartender where can they cross the lines? Instead of telling them, the bartender shoots the man with the peasant. The peasant they knifes the bartender in the back.
The peasant gets through the lines and makes it to the Republican airfield. The chief there asks a lot of questions about where is this airfield. He asks the man to pinpoint the airfield on the map. The peasant says he can't do it, but, if they take him up in one of their planes, he can find the airfield for them. He says he's lived in the village for 28 years and if they will show him the Saragossa Road he can show them the airfield.
The chief is going to have two planes go up at night to find the secret airfield. The chief, however, can't get any of the automobiles he wanted, so that he could have their headlights light up the airfield at night. The chief says they will go into the villages to see if they can borrow some of the villager's autos.
"To take off at night, the two men ask the peasants to lend them cars, so they can light up the airfield with their headlights."
The villagers come through for the chief and he gets 12 pairs of headlights. The two airplanes get off the ground okay, but the peasant has a hard time finding landmarks so he knows where he's going. The plane with the peasant flies really low and finally the peasant recognizes where they are. Now they find the secret airport. This is confirmed by the anti-aircraft guns firing away at them. The lead plane drops its bomb on the airplanes and the airfield.
The lead plane also takes out a bridge. But now the enemy fighter planes attack them. After a while, however, the Republican fighters arrive. Now the flight crews have to get over the mountains. The second plane doesn't make it and crashes into the mountain.
"The first plane is back at base. The captain, informed by telephone that a plane has crashed in the hills, goes to rescue his men." But this is no easy thing to do. The more they search, the more they realize that the crash took place high up in the mountains.
A telephone operator is able to call and get the pilot of the second plane, Pujol, on the phone. The chief learns there are some dead and some wounded from the plane crash. The villagers are going to help bring down both the dead and the wounded from the mountain top. The villagers pass the aviators down from one group of men to another group of men standing a bit farther down the mountain. The work goes slowly, but it goes nevertheless. A few of the aviators can walk with help from a villager or two. Farther down the mountain some of the men are put on mules. One mule carries a casket on its back with men helping to keep the casket balanced on the mule's back.
The German ace in WWI lays on a stretcher. The chief of the squadron says he will be all right, but the ace says he knows that's not true. He's been shot in the stomach and he gives himself three hours to live. As they come back to the village, the hills are filled with people watching the procession. Many give the salute of the raised right arm and clenched fist.
You don't find many films like this one. This deals with the heroism of a Republican air squadron. There are so few of these films, because the fascists won the Spanish Civil War and the Republicans lost. It's a short film of less than 1 and 1/4 hours. It's not the greatest film and seems an old film done on a small budget. There are lots of problems, but no sense going into them, because the film probably was made on a very low budget. One of the strangest things was to watch a huge bomber plane take off at the Republican airfield. The plane looked ridiculously spacious inside and it sounded like it was going to crash at any minute. The scenes made a big impression on me and I laugh when I think about the scenes. No love stories in this war film. It was a constant fight to stop the fascists from saving the bridge from being blown out of there and the search for the secret fascist airfield. I still thought it was interesting, even though the English subtitles were not that good.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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