Film Title: The Brute Man
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
- Rondo Hatton
- Tom Neal
- Jane Adams
- Jan Wiley
It’s easy to understand why 1946’s The Brute Man is largely considered to be a wasted effort. Rondo Hatton, the film’s centerpiece, died 8 months before its release of coronary thrombosis. But prior to his death, Hatton had become little more than cannon fodder due to his ghoulish appearance – a result of the acromegaly he developed in early adulthood. Realizing they might capitalize on Hatton’s misfortune (and no doubt save on makeup), the studios cast him in a string of horror/suspense roles. The Brute Man was one of two films Hatton completed before passing away; the other film, 1946’s House of Horrors, was also released posthumously.
The plot here is extremely loose: Hatton plays “The Creeper,” a disfigured madman who wanders the streets at night, bumping off people in seemingly random fashion. Ah, but no, the victims aren’t random. It just so happens that The Creeper wasn’t always an ugly psychopath; to the contrary, he was once a handsome lad named Hal Moffet until he fell into a love triangle with two of his friends, Clifford Scott (Tom Neal) and Virginia Rogers (Jan Wiley). Clifford and Virginia quickly decided that they were the better match, and Hal got the dirty end of the stick. In the process of moving Hal out of the way, Clifford orchestrated a plan to have Hal kept after school in the science lab, where a dreadful explosion altered Hal’s appearance and turned him into…yes, The Creeper! And now, years later, he wants revenge on everyone who wronged him – including the teacher who banished him to the lab that fateful afternoon. Along the way, he runs into Helen Paige (Jane Adams), a blind pianist who treats him with respect because she can’t seem him. But the police are on his tail, and he still has a score to settle.
Truth be told, I enjoyed this film. Perhaps I knew what to expect beforehand, or perhaps the film’s 3.8/10 rating on IMDB weakened any expectations I might have had. Universal developed this film at the sputtering end of the monster movie craze – but did so almost obligatorily as a way of driving a nail into the coffin. The Brute Man was intended to be a second-rate B-film; and if the 58-minute running time isn’t a large enough clue, the casting of Tom Neal (“King of the B Pictures”) as Clifford Scott should confirm it. Soon after the film was completed, Universal was itching to get rid of it – they sold it to Producers Releasing Corporation for $125,000. By most accounts, Universal was simply embarrassed by the film’s existence (and the implication that they were exploiting Hatton’s condition). Still, there is an appeal that I can’t quite articulate. I’m drawn to seedy-looking films, and The Brute Man has that look in spades. Also, I didn’t watch this as a horror film; in fact, as a horror film, I think it fails miserably. The Creeper is humanized through his interactions with Helen. It’s because of their camaraderie that I began to dislike the superficiality of every other character, and effectively, ended up rooting for the bad guy.
Plot aside, Hatton’s acting was basically panned across the board. Indeed, he appears to stumble through his lines as though he’s reading notes scribbled hastily on the inside of his hand. The film was treated harshly upon its release and did not garner any more favor as the years progressed. The script was criticized, the execution was mocked, and Hatton himself was given no slack for the effects of his illness. In fairness, Hatton’s acromegaly had worsened considerably during production, which made it difficult for him to remember his lines and mannerisms, and to play off the other actors.
The Brute Man hasn’t yet been forgiven in the annals of film history. As a result, the only real video release is a bare-bones DVD with no effort, no extras, and no cleanup. Hatton’s other “Creeper” film, House of Horrors, fared slightly better when TCM released it in 2010. Since The Brute Man is widely considered to be the prequel to House of Horrors, it would have been nice to see both films included in a double release with a documentary about Hatton thrown in for good measure. Maybe someday.
On April 17, 1947, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a small blurb about the film’s release. The article began: “Poor Rondo Hatton, seemingly doomed to portray only horror men in the films, is turned loose again as ‘The Brute Man’ at the Capitol.” It was obvious even then that Hatton’s acromegaly was being exploited. To those who knew him, Hatton was a friendly, gentle soul doing the best he could. It’s hard to separate the man from the film in that regard. We’re supposed to see a brute, and we’re supposed to hate this film for its shortcomings. But my knowledge of Hatton’s condition precludes my judgment; and if The Brute Man is a failure, I cannot fault him for it. I thought this was a fun, albeit short, ride through the underworld.
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