Monday, February 10, 2014

Last Rondo to Brooklyn

The title of today’s post is a “There goes Ivan spraining his arm while patting himself on the back” pun.

You see, Rondo Hatton (more about him in a moment; although if you’re a cinephile of any sort, and you don’t recognize him, you are the ultimate loser and should never speak to me again) will be making an appearance in Brooklyn.

Or at least, he will if I have any say in the matter…

Before any review, at first, a handful of babbling…

As any studious, long-time readers of LERNER INTERNATIONAL know (and bless you, you magnificent bunch of studious, long-time readers of LERNER INTERNATIONAL), I volunteer and program at the incredible Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn. It’s a lot of fun, and a great project for me to be part of, and who don’t like to introduce folks to New Films? Even if they are New Old Films.

[An aside: I just finished digging my car out of the snow, and boy! Are my arms tired! And my feet frozen. And my head dizzy. And…]

Using LERNER INTERNATIONAL as a promotional venue for my programming duties is nothing new: I’ve done it with new(ish) films like Aachi & Ssipak and Mercano, El Marciano; avant-garde weirdness like Charles Pinion’s films; and lots of 1970s grindhouse sleaze, like Mr. No Legs, and Black Shampoo.

Last month, I screened the incredible Bonnie’s Kids; and this month I’ve got some shorts from Australia, all dealing with the Apocalypse (or some form of it). That will be screening on February 28 (Friday) at midnight, and will be headlined by the awesome, but never-seen Smoke ’Em If You Got ’Em.

And on March 29 (Saturday) at midnight, I’ll be presenting The Brute Man (1949; directed by Jean Yarbrough), which stars….RONDO HATTON!

There are plenty of places to get more info on Hatton, so if you have no idea who I’m talking about…Well, look him up!

But if you’re someone at least remotely interested in horror movies and the history of said genre, then you should know who Hatton is.

And now it’s time to talk about his last film, The Brute Man

Never has the callous disregard for human tragedy backfired so magnificently. Hired to play the eponymous lead character because of his grotesque facial deformities, star Rondo Hatton winds up delivering a subtle, soulful performance—the actor adding much shading and depth that was obviously not in the script compared to the rest of the movie.

Hatton is the only character who feels “real”—everyone else is one-dimensional and either a wiseacre (especially the cops), a stiff bourgeois suburbanite, a saint, or a damn fool. Meanwhile, like with all good serial killer flicks, The Brute Man stacks the deck against the victims: Never are they kind or decent people, but snooping and meddling jerks that deserve to get their necks snapped: these are folks you don’t care get killed—heck, you want to see them get it!

In this bleak (but fun) noir-horror mash-up, a series of brutal murders—with the victims’ spines crushed—has paralyzed a city with fear, and the police are clueless: They know the killer is “The Creeper,” but have no idea where the hideously ugly maniac could be. When the majority of victims are found to have all been old college pals, the authorities suspect this is someone from their past seeking revenge…

Like Tod Browning’s Freaks or Michael Winner’s The Sentinel or some of Coffin Joe’s movies, 1946’s The Brute Man is sleazy and exploitative—in other words, wonderful—in how it uses genuine human deformity for our entertainment and sick fascination, if not our empathy and relief.

In this case, star Rondo Hatton (RIP, 1894-1946), whose infamous mug was courtesy of the disease acromegly (a pituitary gland disorder), but had acting ability that was genuine, guileless and directly from the soul. His inner pain turns the tables, making the murderer the most sympathetic character in the film.

Hatton’s character’s authenticity is solidified by his “mad love” for a blind chick he meets while hiding out in her apartment.
His dialog with her is contradictory and obtuse, but the way it is delivered is exquisite: dopey scripting approaches the level of intricate Mamet inarticulateness, and the overall screenplay begins to feel as if Charles Bukowski had a hand in it, with Hatton’s merciless assassin coming off like a slightly more-homicidal/less-alcoholic Henry Chinaski, a lonely, ugly but sensitive slob/everyman (literally living below Skid Row!) at odds with the world and only wanting to be left alone—left alone so he can kill!

Meanwhile, the B&W flick's zero budget engenders an artlessness that becomes a strict formalism—a dream-like aspect increased by the relentless use of stock (or recycled) footage in a variety of neo-montages. And at only 58 minutes, man-oh-Manischewitz, does this picture move! Blink, and you'll miss the ending!

The last film of Rondo Hatton’s long career, The Brute Man was originally produced by Universal, but unceremoniously dumped by the studio after the actor’s death. They were already under fire for “exploiting” Hatton’s deformity, and didn’t want any more hassles.

So this March, celebrate B-movie deity Rondo Hatton at the Spectacle at Midnight!
Or else The Creeper might get you….

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