By this time in the late eighties, Prolific Spanish Director Jess Franco was justifiably known as a master of exploitation and sleaze cinema. A large portion of the decade had been given over to pornographic material, and personal films with highly graphic sexual content. To move away from that arena and back into 'respectable' film-making must have been very difficult - but he did it. With more commercial, decently budgeted efforts like 'Dark Mission: Evil Flowers (1988)' and 'Fall of the Eagles (1989)' (both starring Christopher Lee), he went on to helm this - possibly the weakest of the three.
'Esmeralda Bay' begins with a huge amount of goodwill expected of the audience. Admittedly, the only way to currently view this film is not a cleaned-up DVD or Blu-Ray release, but even so, ten minutes of day-for-night shooting, using a dark blue lens that obscures the faces of the characters and what it is they are doing, doesn't inspire viewers to stick with it. Persevere though, and the murk will clear as we drift into the daylight world.
Certain readers of this review may remember a 1980's TV action show called 'Airwolf', which starred Jan Michel Vincent and Ernest Borgnine. Slightly less well known is the fact that it ran for a fourth and final series (it's easier to sell a package of four series than three to overseas buyers, apparently) featuring not only a completely different cast, but substantially less funding and relying on already-filmed stock footage of the titular helicopter. 'Esmeralda Bay' is very much like an episode from that fourth series. Lots of action sequences lifted from earlier productions, familiar faces and a budget that is stretched a little too far.
The meandering tale, which actually gets more engrossing as it goes along, is an action adventure with pretensions to be a political thriller. Due to the international cast, such sensitive overtones are given scant attention. So we're left with a rather ponderous, rather talky film lifted by a cast which is, Silvia Tortosa excepted, well played. Lina Romay appears, often with her back to the camera strangely enough, as 'Hotelier'. Antonio Mayans also turns up as The Priest. Interestingly, Mayans' more western sounding stage name is Robert Foster, due in part to his resemblance to an actor called Robert Forster, who is also in this film! The two Roberts got on rather amicably, reportedly.
My score for this is 5 out of 10. I'm a big fan of Jess Franco's work, but prefer his lesser, more personal films to more commercial releases like this. Luckily for me, it wasn't long before he returned to more minimalist projects.