Curated by Dave Kehr and Ehsan Khoshbakht

As swiftly as some directors changed studios, the Argentinian Hugo Fregonese (1908-87) changed countries. The perfect saddle tramp figure, he drifted and made films about drifting and escape. His rootlessness and restlessness is frequently reflected in his protagonists – isolated individuals who are either voluntarily on the move or who have been forced into exile and eternal wandering.
Born into a family of Italian immigrants from Treviso, Fregonese was a master of brisk and unsentimental westerns and crime thrillers. His career, unjustly underappreciated to the point of obscurity, spans four decades and numerous bases of production, from his home country of Argentina, to the US, Spain, Italy, the UK and West Germany.
The world in Fregonese’s film often hangs by a thread – and the lives of his heroes by a noose. Visually, Fregonese creates a sense of tension and entrapment through compositions based on strong diagonals, in which canted horizons and angled architectural details intersect directly with the figures of Fregonese’s agitated heroes; pinning them down like insects on a specimen board. His films, the majority of which were impossible to see in a cinema for many years, are conceived as a gradual building-up of tension leading to a violent, breakneck finale – even if the violence remains primarily emotional.
Fregonese saw the dramatic potential of a weak or flawed male character, especially by contrast with a gentle, patiently loving woman who offers the hero a chance to abandon his nervous wanderings and settle down. Most of the time the romantic interlude proves only a brief respite, or a possibility that remains poignantly unfulfilled. For Fregonese, as his life and films attest, the only real imperative was to keep moving, right to the end.
Fregonese’s name is often associated with the ten films he made during his five-year residency in Hollywood in the 1950s. This programme picks some of the finest from that period to screen alongside films made elsewhere. Tracing his career, in the process of putting this programme together, became a virtual global journey in itself, coming to fruition only with the kind support of nine studio and national archives. This is a step in the direction of claiming Fregonese as an important figure; one whose cinema of impassioned subjectivity blends the aesthetic of low-budget films with fatalism, myth and raw violence.

Dave Kehr and Ehsan Khoshbakht