A surprisingly linear (one could even say restrained) thriller from the notoriously erratic Jess Franco, Juego sucio en Casablanca stars William Berger as an alcoholic american novelist Dean Baker. His family life wrecked, himself toying with suicide, Baker starts an affair with Jill (Analia Ivars), a young girl he meets at a disco. The depressed scribe soon regains his lust for life as five strangers hunt him through the streets of Casablanca.
One could easily mistake Juego sucio en Casablanca for an 80’s TV movie. The cinematography is serviceable, without much experimentation. Jess Franco’s many unflattering closeups (Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, Day of the Cobra) show William Berger looking very run-down. There are some occasional visual flourishes which remind us we’re watching a Jess Franco film, such as the sequence at the harbour, with the setting sun shining right down the lens, creating that dreamy look Franco was so adept at capturing.
Juego sucio en Casablanca is a conventional, somewhat melodramatic thriller, sticking closely to the screenplay by Santiago Moncada (Hatchet for the Honeymoon), which was previously filmed by Tulio Demicheli (Dracula Versus Frankenstein / Monstruos del Terror) as Ace of Hearts/Juego sucio en Panamá (1975).
It’s very strange seeing Jess Franco attempt such a low-key Hitchcockian thriller during his busy softcore period. With not much in the way of originality, today Juego sucio en Casablanca is chiefly interesting not for the elaborate yet implausible plot, but for how Jess Franco adapts his meagre resources to bring this pulpy story to life. The characters keep talking about big money and New York city while stuck in humble hotel rooms doing nothing much but smoking. Jess Franco generates the right ambience with generous helpings of stock footage, an ‘ethnic’ score and some suitably exotic Costa del Sol locations (familiar from Mil Sexos Tiene La Noche).
Analia Ivars looks great as Berger’s love interest, while Antonio Mayans and Ricardo Palacios are not given enough screen time. Lina Romay can be spotted in a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo as one of Dean Baker’s fans. 70s bit-part baddie Luis Barboo plays of the gamblers, but his character turns up dead too soon.
With nothing much to make it stand out among the more daring and playful films of the period, Juego sucio en Casablanca remains an oddly tame entry in the Jess Franco canon.