Followingt the presence of George Clooney and Hugh Laurie in Valencia to film parts of the film Tomorrowland in the City of Arts and Sciences, it shouldn’t be forgotten that one of the lesser known features of Valencia is as a location for set-jetting (cinema tourism).
Tourists can take advantage of one of the city’s tourist bus routes to check out the locations for a number of films, including one of the Pink Panther series.
Valencia cannot compete with cities like Barcelona, or even towns such as Segovia when it comes to film making. Nevertheless, its monuments have featured in some interesting films.
As most of the sites are in the historic centre, we have decided to hop on the Tourist Bus, and follow the Historical Route (1).
Most tourists get on the bus in La Plaza de la Reina, perhaps because the city’s oldest Irish pub, Finnegan’s is situated there, with its backdoor view of the Cathedral and Miguelete Tower.
Once aboard, the first stop is La Llonja, originally a Silk Exchange and the place where the first letter of credit was signed. It was built between 1482 and 1548, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996 by UNESCO.
In the film The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960) directed by Charles Crichton, the man who would later direct John Cleese’s ‘A Fish Called Wanda’, a young boy called Paco steals money from the bank where he works to pay for repairs to his father’s taxi. He is then chased around the city by thieves and policemen. At La Lonja he seeks refuge with a blindman, but is then abducted by the same man.
Just around the corner is the Plaza Redonda, famous for its haberdashery stalls, where Paco is separated from his dog, the faithful Pepe.
Back on the bus we enter the Medieval ‘Carmen’ district. When we turn left into Calle Quart, we pass through Plaza Tossal.
In The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960) there is a surprising appearance by the one and only Alf Garnett, or Warren Mitchell, as Pedro, who reveals drunkenly to the local underworld that a little boy is running around town with a million. One of the locations we see him stumbling around in front of is the Farmácia San Jaime 49, now the Café San Jaime, one of Valencia’s most popular bars in the medieval Carmen district in Plaza Tossal.
The same café can be seen in The Garden of Eden (2008) Newcastle-born director John Irvin found Valencia’s historic centre irresistible to show the authentic feel of 1920s France for this film based on a story by Ernest Hemingway.
In order to capture that certain ‘je ne sais quois’ that is not only Paris but also the Cote D’Azur in the 1920s, the film crew moved to Valencia.
Leading off the square is Calle Baja, and those locals who like their night life to exude a little ‘joie de vivre’ will easily recognise typical Carmen District landmarks that appear, although somewhat disguised in the film, el Cafetín, el Estanco, el Marrasquino or la Relojería Grau (the watch shop), all of which are bunched together here.
The bus continues along Calle Quart to the Torres de Quart, (pockmarked by Napoleon’s cannons from the early 19th century siege), and past which Paco is pursued in The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960).
The bus takes us along the old river bed to the Torres de Serranos, scene of El Cid’s attack on the city in the 11th century; although in the film Valencia was represented by Peñiscola, a 100 kilometres further north.
Behind the towers is Plaça dels Furs, where at the climatic moment of the ‘Cremá’, when all the giant models in the city are burnt, Paco is still being pursued in The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960).
The same film’s early scenes feature Viveros Park, which the bus drives past after stopping at the Museum of Fine Art, San Pio V.
The bus follows the old river bed for a while, eventually stopping at Bio Parc, Valencia’s spacious zoo.
After crossing the river park again to stop at the History Museum, the bus accelerates to quickly pass the old Modelo Prison, now empty of inmates and about to fill up with Civil Servants after rehabilitation. (Don’t bother with comparisons, they’ve already been made).
When the convicts left, film makers took advantage to use the installations. One was the famous Valencian director Luis Berlanga, the other was American Spain-based director Brian Yuzna who shot most of Beyond Re-Animator (2003) here.
One of many Spanish productions made in Spain, but in English, and with a mixture of foreign and Spanish actors, practically all of the action supposedly takes place inside Arkham State Penitenciary.
It is here that Doctor West, a modern-day Frankenstein, as you can guess from the title, is incarcerated and where he continues to carry out his experiments with horrific effect. Or at least the effect would be horrific if it weren’t so amusing.
On a couple of occasions the camera gives us an aerial view of the prison and we can see behind it the green swathe of the Turia Park, built in the old river bed of Valencia’s river, which was rerouted around the city after the disastrous flood of 1957.
It is now the city’s green lung, brimming over with cyclists, joggers and sports facilities.
The bus takes us into the heart of the city, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where Paco’s father’s taxi breaks down in The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960), while picking up a passenger who wants to go to the station. In fact the station, a fine example of Modernist architecture, is actually only 50 metres away, but Hollywood is Hollywood, even when it’s Valencia.
In the same square the extraordinary fireworks displays of the Fallas festival can be seen in the film The Curse of the Pink Panther (1983).
The film was made after Peter Sellers’ death, attempting to cash in on the name.
Ted Wass plays something resembling Inspector Clouseau, and inevitably he ‘wass’ awful, confusing ‘deadpan’, at which Sellers was a genius, with ‘still life’.
Filming took place in and in front of the traditional Hotel Astoria, from which heroes and villains exit together. The quaint square in front of it with its fountain and shady trees, Plaza Rodrigo Botet, is the scene of some partying during the city’s world famous Fallas festival, held every year in mid-March to celebrate the beginning of spring or Saint Joseph and the carpenters (those who make furniture, not those who want to get close to you) if you prefer.
Unfortunately the Fallas celebrations are confused with Carnaval, as far as the costumes are concerned, and the traditional dancing seems more like post-modernist Punk pogo stick jumping. Giant heads are not part of the festival either.
Fallas is a noisy festival, and as one of the villain’s points out, it is an excellent place to assassinate somebody, as with all the fireworks “nobody will notice a few extra shots”.
The crew was received by Valencia’s council, who collaborated with the project. Among the cast was Patricia Davis, daughter of President Reagan.
This was David Niven’s last film, and among his last words on screen were: “he took off for Valencia. It’s in Spain.” Not a classic quote but at least geographically accurate.
The same square and hotel were also used in The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960), where the villains start to close in on Paco.
Near the main square is the Banco Nacional, known as La Casa del Xavo, on the corner of Calle San Pablo and Avenida Marqués de Sotelo, now part of the Ministry of Labour.
The bus leaves the square and turns down Calle Barcas, at the end of which is the Teatro Principal, opposite which is Calle Pascual Y Genis. In The Garden of Eden (2008) number 21 becomes the Hotel Ritz, although in reality its impressively carved façade belongs to the Valencian Notary Association.
The film, based on Hemingway’s unfinished novel of the same name, stars Mena Suvari, Jack Huston and Caterina Murino.
The bus passes by the Glorieta Park and along Calle Paz, both of which feature in The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960), with the prominent Santa Catalina church tower at the end of the latter.
Parallel to Calle Paz and on our right is Calle Mar. Here Paco’s father recuperates his taxi in the square known locally as the Plaza de los Patos, because of its duck statues, but which is really Plaza San Vicente Ferrer, patron saint of the city. It is here that the father discovers romance with the lovely Maria (all Spanish girls were called Maria in this epoch, which led to much confusion).
Silver Screen Spain managed to track down the child star of the film, ‘Paco’, Venezuelan actor, musician and diplomat Maurice Reyna, who now lives in Japan.
Maurice writes: “It’s great to have news of “Paco” after all these years.
I remember at the Hotel Astoria, I had egg sandwiches with apricot juice: a taste I still remember today!!!”
The menu has expanded somewhat apparently.
See also our article about the film Garden of Eden, made in Valencia: