elbrutoMelodrama from seminal Spanish director’s “Mexican period.”

El Bruto (PAL DVD, 1953)
Mr. Bongo / Black & White
Time: 77 minutes (No extras)

A landlord is trying to clear some tenants out of his property, so that he can build a “smaller house” for his ageing father and himself. He hires the Brute, Pedro (Pedro Armendáriz) to scare them away, but this heavy “doesn’t know his own strength” and kills the first tenant that he tries to intimidate.

The tenants are poor and have nowhere else to go, so they gang together to fight back. In running away from them, Pedro ends up in the house of the dead man’s daughter, Meche, falling in love with her straight away.

The Brute has hard biceps, but a soft heart. Eventually, he has to work out whether his loyalties should lay with the gentle Meche, his boss Don Andres (who may also be his father) or even his boss’s young wife, Paloma (Katy Jurado, one year on from her appearance in High Noon)  who tempts and taunts him in equal measure.

Luis Buñuel is one of Spain’s great directors, famed largely for his surrealism and strong views. Educated strictly by Jesuits, he was a lifelong atheist, but reportedly had a religious conversion at the end of his life. After the Spanish Civil war, he moved to America for political reasons, and then on to Mexico, where he made El Bruto. While this film is not considered one of his major works, being relatively straightforward stylistically, it is well worth watching.

Early on, there are occasions – largely involving groups – when the actors seem hemmed into set pieces, looking lost for the last couple of seconds of the scene, and the acting can put an emotional distance between the viewer and the action. However, as the film progresses the scenes become more focused on the individuals’ stories, drawing the viewer into Pedro’s plight.

Buñuel characteristically avoids the obvious stereotypes. When first meeting the tenants, they seem the obvious ‘goodies,’ but some of them are lazy and disagreeable. Given that Buñuel hated General Franco and the story line could be seen to comment on Spain’s political situation, the landlord draws surprising sympathy, coming across as a rich man who wants a simple life, rather than a heavy oppressor – although the gulf in living standards between him and his tenants speaks loudly on their behalf.

The mood of this melodrama varies. At one end, the landlord’s aged father lightens the mood considerably. His cheeky Steptoe character proves himself to be less bedridden than he makes out. At the other end, its story could be Buñuel’s re-telling of Frankenstein, and there is a very striking final image from a significant event.

Derek Walker