“Operación Ogro” (1979)

Gillo Pontecorvo’s Operación Ogro covers an episode I’d never heard of: the assassination of Franco’s right-hand man and hand-picked successor, Luis Carrero Blanco, two years before Francisco himself kicked the bucket. It was a big deal because Carrero had already taken over Spain’s security forces and network of informants while the fellow who replaced him as Prime Minister, far from adopting Franco’s bloody-minded policies, began implementing liberal reforms. Ah, yes…Hope…Change…I remember the feeling well.

The movie is slow-building—beyond certain passages in Burn!, none of Pontecorvo’s stuff that I’ve seen has anything like the headlong dash of The Battle of Algiers—but the last half hour, when all the disparate activities required by the scheme start falling into place, has enough Hitchcockian touches to fill a whole movie. The assassination was carried out by four members of ETA who spent months tunneling under the street Carrero drove down after morning Mass every day; they then filled the hole with explosives, enough of them that on the magic day Carrero’s car was blown five stories into the air, and over the roof of an adjacent building. (A typical Fascist, he somehow managed to not die right away, doubtlessly scaring the hell out of everyone in the meantime.) Gian Maria Volonté plays the group’s leader, who renounces violence after Franco’s death (the story is told in flashback); Eusebio Poncela is the more fanatical member whose dedicaton to Basque nationalism causes him to lose his ties to his loved ones. The movie seems to conclude that non-violence is the way to go whenever possible, but when it’s not…then it’s Game On, but even then we should expect to pay a heavy price. Which, of course, is entirely consistent with Algiers. Morricone contributed what, for him, is a relatively normal score; at least it doesn’t sound like any live lions were shot out of cannons for this one.

When the explosion occurs in the film, it looks something like the way it appears in this poster. Below it is a shot of special effects man Emilio Ruiz and the miniature street he built for the sequence.

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