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El Bruto

      What pleasure! An extremely rare film by the Spanish master, Luis Bunuel, and in 35mm, even if this melodramatic potboiler from his long Mexican exile is a relatively minor work, heavier on plot than on irony or surrealism. El Bruto (1952) is the tale of a venal Mexico City slumlord, who, in forcing his tenants to vacate their squalid apartments, leans on a short-of-brains slaughterhouse employee (perhaps his illegitimate son) to do his dirty work. El Bruto! The muscular thug bullies the leader of the tenants' revolt and accidentally kills him. Later on, he falls in love with the deceased man's virginal daughter, but hides from her his heinous deed. Meanwhile, he's screwing the landlord's hussy wife, who becomes murderously jealous when she realizes El Bruto has fallen hard for another. Revenge! Bunuel keeps the lowbrow story moving along briskly, and (interviewed in later years) he was totally unapologetic about his virgin vs. whore dimestore-novel dichotomy. Bunuel: "It is what it is. I don't know if I did or did not want to make a melodrama." Whatever, Bunuel threw meaty parts the way of two charismatic Mexican actors who never went beyond supporting roles in Hollywood movies: Pedro Armendariz, who played in John Ford cavalry pictures, stars as El Bruto, Bunuel's Hairy Ape; Katy Jurado, whom you may recall from Marlon Brando's One-Eyed Jacks, delivers a command performance as the James M. Cain-like spitfire spouse.

(September, 2000)

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