Movies on the Rock

Movies on the Rock

The Skladanowsky brothers invented the Bioscope, an early movie projecto

Before Netflix, and Amazon, Disney, Hulu and the others movie-streaming companies, even before television and dvd, there was the cinema.

Before Hollywood had got started on making the movies to fill the cinemas, in Europe, in Germany, the Berlin Wintergarten theatre was the site of the first cinema ever.

It normally staged variety shows but on 1 November 1895 it presented a short film made by the Skladanowsky brothers using their invention the Bioscope, an early movie projector.

In Gibraltar, in the same era, the Theatre Royal was the venue for shows, and opera, but as a cinema, the first talking movie in Gibraltar was screened there in 1931.

Neville Chipulina explains in his “The People of Gibraltar”, “for civilians there were three places in which one could view the latest offerings from Hollywood.. the Naval Trust, the Rialto and the Theatre Royal.

“The Rialto was a little dingy and the Naval Trust went up in flames in 1947, so I became an almost permanent patron of the Theatre Royal.”

A small theatre was known to have existed on the site of the Theatre Royal since at least as far back as 1826


People who have stories and memories about going to the flicks, the movies, in the 1950’s and 60’s may also recall not only having seen the films that featured Gibraltar in the story line but also perhaps having seen film crews around Gibraltar shooting the scenes for those films.

The earliest film with scenes shot in Gibraltar was the 1930 American spy drama film “Inside the Lines” , starring Betty Compson, Ralph Forbes, and Mischa Auer.

“Inside the Lines” 1930

“Inside the Lines”

“The plot of Inside the Lines involved Jane Gershon being engaged to Eric Woodhouse, living in Germany prior to the onset of World War One. When the war breaks out, they are forced to separate, but are reunited months later in Gibraltar.

Both are supposedly German spies with orders to destroy the British fleet, anchored in the harbour. Not fully trusting either of them, the German government has sent another agent, called Amahdi, to ensure that their sabotage plans are carried out.

Both Jane and Eric believe the sincerity of the other as a German agent. When it appears that Jane’s attempt to destroy the fleet is uncovered, to save her, Eric takes the blame and seemingly commits suicide.

However, when Ahmadi uncovers the truth that Jane is really a double agent for the British government, he attempts to go through with the sabotage. When he is about to kill Jane, Eric reappears and kills him. Jane discovers Eric is also a British double agent and they are happily reunited”.

The 1950’s

Not until the 1950s did film-crews return to Gibraltar, during which decade five films were set in Gibraltar, with film-star Laurence Harvey featuring in three of them.

“The Captain’s Paradise”, 1953

“The Captain’s Paradise”

A box office hit by British Lion and London Films, “The Captain’s Paradise” is a 1953 British comedy film starring Alec Guinness, Yvonne De Carlo and Celia Johnson.

Guinness plays the captain of a ferry boat that travels regularly between Gibraltar and Spanish Morocco. De Carlo plays his Moroccan wife and Johnson plays his British wife.

The film begins at just before the end of the story, which is then told in a series of flashbacks, with “racy” (for that era) and dramatic scenes.. The Captain “has a woman of differing appeal and temperament in each port..I stood at the Gates of Paradise” says the Alec Guinness character, “and I went through them.”

George Cole in “The Clue of the Missing Ape”

“The Clue of the Missing Ape”

Also released in 1953, “The Clue of the Missing Ape”, a.k.a. “Gibraltar Adventure”, is a children’s film largely set in Gibraltar.

Directed by James Hill, it was produced by the Gaumont Specialised Film Unit and players included veteran character actor George Cole.

The film’s plot was described by Gaumont, using a form of words of the time – “The film centres on the adventures of Sea Cadet Jimmy Sutton, played by Roy Savage. While he is on vacation in Gibraltar one of the first things that the garrison shows to Sutton are some of the Gibraltar apes, feral primates that have become the totemic animals of the armed forces base.

The local folklore is that if the animals ever die or disappear, Gibraltar will fall to Britain’s enemies. Young Jimmy soon finds that someone is indeed killing the primates and tries to save the ‘apes’ and wake the authorities up to the threat they face.

It soon becomes clear that there is an impending terrorist strike against the strategic naval base of Gibraltar. The deaths of the monkeys are meant to serve as a feint to distract the Royal Navy from the imminent reality that the capital ships stationed at the base will be damaged or sunk by limpet mines that will be attached by skilled frogmen.

Gibraltar is saved

Jimmy and his friend have the task of saving Gibraltar from this sinister attack. A series of chase scenes take place around many of the key sights of Gibraltar as they existed in 1953, including the fortified spine of the Rock of Gibraltar and the Gibraltar water catchments.

With the last-minute help of adults, the terrorist plot is foiled and the Royal Navy is saved. The film’s closing credits scroll to the accompaniment of Rule Britannia.”

“Not Wanted on Voyage”, 1957

“Not Wanted on Voyage”

“Not Wanted on Voyage” is a 1957 British comedy film. Two cabin stewards working on a luxury vessel on a Mediterranean cruise to Tangier attempt to earn extra money from the passengers using every possible means. However, when one of the wealthy dowagers has her valuable diamond necklace stolen, they do everything they can to ensure it is restored to her.”

A TV Guide reviewer wrote, “Too much corn stops this comedy from popping” while Allmovie wrote, “Even those filmgoers who’d seen and heard the wheezy gags in Not Wanted on Voyage in earlier films were amused by the breezy ridiculousness of the project.”

Sydney James and John Mills in “I Was Monty’s Double” , 1958

“I Was Monty’s Double”

A success at the box office, I Was Monty’s Double is a 1958 film directed by John Guillermin ,made by Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) .

The screenplay was adapted by Bryan Forbes from the autobiography of M. E. Clifton James, an actor who pretended to be General Montgomery as a decoy during the Second World War.

“Two intelligence officers, Colonel Logan (Cecil Parker) and Major Harvey (John Mills) one night see an actor at a London theatre putting on a convincing impression of General Bernard Montgomery.

A plan is devised that he should tour North Africa, impersonating “Monty” who is in command over operations there. James, known as “Jimmy”, arrives at Gibraltar where the governor, who has known the general for years, can’t get over the likeness.

Gibraltar was in reality a hotbed of German agents, and James/Montgomery was spied on by several operatives who were smuggled into Gibraltar specifically to discover what “Monty” was up to.

The nationality of one of the spy characters, Marius Goring, was changed from Spanish to Swedish to enable the unit to film in Gibraltar.”

Laurence Harvey stars as Buster Crabb in “The Silent Enemy”

“The Silent Enemy”

Another “war film” box office success “The Silent Enemy” is a well-known 1958 British action film directed by William Fairchild.

“Laurence Harvey stars as Lionel “Buster” Crabb with filming taking place in England, Malta and Gibraltar to describe his exploits during World War II. Based on Marshall Pugh’s book Commander Crabb, it was made following the publicity created by Crabb’s mysterious disappearance and likely death during a Cold War incident a year earlier.

“The film depicts events in Gibraltar harbour during the World War II, Italian frogmen and manned torpedo attacks, although the film’s depiction of those events is highly fictionalised

“The British are worried that the Royal Navy base at Gibraltar would be a target so bomb disposal expert Lionel Crabb (Harvey) is posted to Gibraltar. He creates an initially very small team of divers to intercept any attacks and defuse the bombs.

After the Italians mount a failed attack from Algeciras in neutral Spain upon a cruiser in Gibraltar, Crabb and his divers recover one of the manned torpedoes and begin to repair it.

After a further series of attacks against ships in Gibraltar harbour and an attempt to recover secret documents from a wrecked aircraft, Crabb decides to visit Algeciras to discover where the Italians are operating from.. with the manned torpedo repaired he and another diver manage to infiltrate the docks atAlgeciras to launch a pre-emptive strike on the “Olterra” destroying the ship,workshop and the crew.”

Terry-Thomas as the keeper of the apes in Operation Snatch”, 1962

“Operation Snatch”

A 1962 British comedy film starring Terry-Thomas and George Sanders, directed by Robert Day, “ Operation Snatch “ takes place in Gibraltar, “with story based on a local legend: if the resident Barbary apes were ever to leave, the British would lose Gibraltar.”

“This wartime comedy has Terry-Thomas as the keeper of the apes. When one of the apes goes missing, he is required to go behind enemy lines to capture another one, or be personally responsible for the loss of Gibraltar.”

Filmed for ten weeks in Gibraltar “The Running Man”, 1963

“The Running Man” is a 1963 British-American neo-noir drama film directed by Carol Reed, starring Lee Remick and Alan Bates with Laurence Harvey “as a man who fakes his own death in a glider accident, then runs into trouble when an insurance investigator starts taking a close interest.”

It was filmed for ten weeks in Gibraltar and the area around, including San Roque, La Línea de la Concepción, Algeciras, and along the Coast to Malaga.

The New York Times review said “Director Carol Reed has mostly devoted himself to getting the Malaga atmosphere, and this, in colour, is rather dazzling. It’s the only thing in the film that is”.

Warren Mitchell , later of Alf Garnett fame in the 1970’s, plays a part in the film, the Contact Man.

Sean Connery in the 5th Bond film, “You Only Live Twice”, 1967

The fifth in the James Bond series, produced in 1967 by Eon Productions, “You Only Live Twice” stars Sean Connery.

“It was a great success, receiving positive reviews and grossing over $111 million in worldwide box office.

It is the first James Bond film to discard most of Fleming’s plot, using only a few characters and locations from the book as the background for an entirely new story.”

“Most of the interiors were shot at Pinewood. The opening sequence in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour is also shown, but the at-sea “burial” of Bond and the retrieval of the “corpse” was filmed off Gibraltar and the Bahamas.

The scenes with the light aircraft ferrying Bond to his supposed death were shot over very English-looking countryside in Buckinghamshire, whereas this was supposed to be Japan. The concluding shots involved explosions, which the Japanese government did not allow in a national park; hence, the crew moved to Torremolinos, Spain, which was found to resemble the Japanese landscape.”

You Only Live Twice premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on 12 June 1967, with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance.

“The thriller of the year” “Tangier”, 1982

Tangier is a 1982 American-Moroccan thriller film directed by Michael E. Briant and starring Ronny Cox, Billie Whitelaw and Glynis Barber, with Ronald Fraser.

“Take the disappearance of a key British Intelligence Officer in Gibraltar, loaded with top secrets. Add a tough, down-on-his-luck ex-CIA agent with a murky past. Try a drop of blackmail. Garnish with two beautiful women. Sprinkle liberally with murder, treachery, and mayhem.

Stir well till it all fizzes with danger and excitement that is Tangier. The result is a thriller that will grip you down to the last explosive moment. It’s the thriller of the year. It’s Tangier.”

“The Living Daylights” , 1987 daring parachute jump off the top of the Rock (image credit Vintage Posters)

“The Living Daylights”

Bond appears again in Gibraltar in 1987 in The Living Daylights, played by Timothy Dalton. The opening scene, Bond’s daring parachute jump off the top of the Rock, is remembered by many spectators there at the time.

“The pre-title sequence was filmed on the Rock of Gibraltar and although the sequence shows a hijacked Land Rover careering down various sections of road for several minutes before bursting through a wall towards the sea, the location mostly used the same short stretch of road at the very top of the Rock, shot from numerous different angles.

The beach defences seen at the foot of the Rock in the initial shot were also added solely for the film, to an otherwise non-military area.

The action involving the Land Rover switched from Gibraltar to Beachy Head in the UK for the shot showing the vehicle actually getting airborne.

Principal photography commenced at Gibraltar on 17 September 1986. Aerial stuntmen B. J. Worth and Jake Lombard performed the pre-credits parachute jump.

Both the terrain and wind were unfavourable so consideration was given to the stunt being done using cranes but aerial stunts arranger B. J. Worth stuck to skydiving and completed the scenes in a day.”

“Kill Cruise”

Filmed on location in Gibraltar and Malta, the plot of the 1997 German-made Kill Cruise has a sailboat Skipper agree to the request of two women to sail them to Barbados, with mayhem and murder resulting during the voyage.

Critical reception: “Trivial thriller, psychologically implausible, with a weak acting performance..Logic goes overboard pretty early.”

The Sikorski Memorial dedicated to General Wladyslaw Sikorski whose plane crashed into the sea 16 seconds after take-off from Gibraltar Airport in 1943.

“General. Assassination on Gibraltar”

The 2009 Polish historical film, General. Assassination on Gibraltar, is based in the last days of World War II when General Władysław Sikorski, the commander-in-chief of the Polish Army and Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile, dies in a plane crash.

“Sikorski’s Liberator II crashed off Gibraltar almost immediately after take-off on 4 July 1943. An estimated sixteen people died, including many other senior Polish military leaders. The plane’s pilot was the only survivor. The crash was ruled to have been an accident, but Sikorski’s death remains an unsolved mystery”

TV series and documentaries

In current times Gibraltar and the surrounding area is featuring less in film and more in television series and documentaries.

In 2016 Ana Garcia uploaded to You Tube “Gibraltar- My Rock” and over the past few seasons BBC’s “Gibraltar: Britain in the Sun” has run to three series.

An upcoming new series, ”Cops on the Rock”, is scheduled to be shown on UKTV Dave channel in 2022.

It takes an “in-depth look at the work of the Royal Gibraltar Police, who tackle everything from the growing threat of terrorism, to investigating murders, burglaries and fraud. The series will also look at how the police patrol and protect Gibraltar’s international waters, airport, port and land border”

Perhaps the streamers, including Netflix, will be deciding that a new feature film with Gibraltar set in its story will be as much a box office success as the films that have been so well-received in past decades.

Jon Lewes 2021 @Thinker_Jon