Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Brute Man!

I watched this vintage classic flick made by Universal, but released by PRC starring Rondo Hatton, the tragic film "star" who was afflicted with acromegalia, the infamous disease that disfigures the victim. Hatton is now famous, or I should say his distinctive face is famous, having been borrowed a few times over the years.

I watched him on screen as "The Creeper" in the Sherlock Holmes movie featuring Basil Rathbone. Hatton plays a silent killer who despite his distinctive looks moves around largely unnoticed and breaks the backs of his victims. He shows up again as the The Creeper in House of Horrors which I've not seen, and finally in The Brute Man where he is the lead as the character for the first time. Sadly he died mere months after completing the movie, and according to some reports that's at least part of the reason Universal delayed then got rid of the movie.

I can't say it's a great movie by any stretch, nor in all fairness can I say that Hatton is a stellar actor. He's adequate, but there's no doubt that his most memorable scenes are those in which he is silent and his unique face shows what he's feeling, whether it's rage or remorse or even on occasion a hint of romance.

Careful as there are spoilers below.

The story of The Brute Man begins quickly with several murders by The Creeper (in this movie a guy named Hal Moffat) having all ready occurred. We see The Creeper shuffling down the street striking terror in the hearts of those who encounter him, and we see him confront and apparently kill a lovely woman who seems to know him, or at least knew him at one time. There's more hectic police action with some cops who seem really not all that swept up in the severity of the crimes. The attempts at humor by the police characters is one of the factors that undermines the atmosphere of this flick. Anyway, The Creeper goes on about his grisly way encountering an understanding girl who is obviously blind but that's a fact no one seems to realize. Her kindness shows a different side of Moffat, but it's not enough to stop his killing. He kills a nosy grocery delivery boy, then a jeweler, and on and on.

We eventually find out that he was a star footballer, but a man with a temper who suffered an chemical accident and left college and his friends and became the killer we now see. He confronts his friends and kills one before getting shot and returning to the blind girl. She unwittingly tries to sell some jewels he stole and the police inform her who her friend is. She helps to capture him and he turns even on her and that's his downfall.

The final climax of this movie is very disappointing, as he's just hauled off and we really just have to assume that justice will work its way. But the story has an odd blunted quality, and is a bit unsatisfactory.

One idea that occurs to me is the way in which despite a dragnet, The Creeper lumbers around the city largely unnoticed. It is perhaps too much to think the movie makers did this intentionally as it likely was just necessitated by plot requirements, but it does say something about The Creeper's ugliness making him something that people won't look at, won't confront, and so don't see. He seems at times in the story to be hiding in plain sight and almost has to invite people to see him, as if they cannot do it alone. Again I don't think this is intentional, but it does give The Creeper a more mysterious aspect.

I am happy to have seen this movie, but it's not a classic by any means. Though I will admit it's worth seeing if just for those moments of dread created by Hatton when he's in full threat mode. I was surprised to see that Hatton was much shorter than I thought. The earlier Holmes movie really made him seem a giant, but it's clear here that he's of normal height and even shorter than some of the other actors.

I cannot really recommend it completely save for its curiosity value alas.

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