Desire (1936) Guipuzcoa

Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich are not readily associated with Spain, nor with castles, and yet among the first glimpses of Spanish castle magic in a Hollywood film was quite possibly a brief shot of Urgell castle, located on an isthmus in the famous Concha bay in San Sebastian.

Gary Cooper is on his way from Paris to San Sebastian on holiday, when he runs across jewel thief Marlene Dietrich, who uses him to smuggle some jewels into Spain (Grant is only smuggling cigarettes, although by far his greatest crime in the film is his singing).

Once there, after an eventful trip in which donkeys play a prominent part, they meet up in the Hotel Continental Palace, opened in 1884 and closed in 1972.

Unfortunately the stars never made it to Spain in the year for whom the bells tolled announcing the beginning of an uncivil war, although an American film crew was despatched to film the images that formed a backdrop.

According to the studio, camera operators Erick Locke and Harry Perry were sent to the city of San Sebastian to shoot the footage.

About half an hour into the film we see brief scenes of San Sebastian’s famous curving Concha beach, its promenade ‘Paseo Nuevo’ with its tamarind trees, the Alderdi Eder square, where the Town Hall stands, and the old Hotel Continental Palace.

The looming Urgull Mountain can only briefly be seen in the film, with its castle and English cemetery, a reminder of the siege of the city in 1813, when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon’s troops (and then rather churlishly burnt the town), a fact which has not been forgotten or forgiven as I discovered when enquiring at the Tourist Information office.