Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Brute Man (1946) – MST3K Review

This episode starts with a short film entitled The Chicken of Tomorrow. No this has nothing to do with the television series Robot Chicken, instead it is a documentary about the poultry business. Watch and learn about what it takes to breed a better chicken, to get the most eggs from your hen and all the modern advances that make chicken farming such a popular and profitable career option.

The Brute Man is a black and white thriller that follows The Creeper (Rondo Hatton) as he creeps, and stalks and kills! His real name is Hal Moffet and before he was a cold blooded killer he was the captain of the college football team and in love with the popular blonde in the school. But a moment of jealousy and anger end up with Moffet being doused with a chemical that mutates his face and body. Now he’s angry about his disfigurement and hunts down those that were responsible.

The whole city is in a panic because of The Creeper, and the police almost catch him. During a chase, he dodges into the apartment of a lovely blind woman named Helen (Jane Adams). Because she can’t see his face, she doesn’t fear Moffet. Suddenly The Creeper wonders if he can maybe do some good in his own way, and help Helen. But revenge is calling and eventually The Brute Man may end up destroying Helen as well as himself.

Movie Review:

Mike and bots witness hot incubator action!
What can you say about The Chicken of Tomorrow that isn’t covered by its ostentatious title? Made in 1948 the film promises a thrill a minute as it delves into the world of poultry raising. It proceeds just about how you’d expect for a documentary of that era. It covers the life of the chicken of tomorrow from the egg to the auction house. It discuses some of the innovations of machinery and techniques that make the “old hen house” seem like a distant relic. Highlights include “special photography” used to show the developing chick in an egg, and a scene where a chicken talks like Mae West.

Probably the biggest oddity in the film is that it keeps coming back to the “automotive industry and the quality petroleum products” that help fuel the poultry business. You begin to wonder just who sponsored this film, especially when the Texico fill-up station is featured so prominently.

The Creeper gets in touch with his softer side.
The Brute Man is a bit of noire horror fluff that never really takes off. In some ways it seems like a vehicle for Rondo Hatton to expand his acting from a simple monster into a more rounded type of character. On the flip side it’s just another film that tries to exploit Rondo’s looks to make him a villain.

Normally this type of thing isn’t a huge surprise, but Rondo Hatton is a special case. He was suffering from an illness called acromegaly. This disease affects the pituitary gland and causes external features to grow abnormally. It is a painful and potentially deadly disease. This was Hatton’s last film and he died due to complications from the disease. With all that in mind, it makes it a little hard to enjoy the film on any level.

Looking past that, the film itself just isn’t very good. The Brute Man clocks in at under an hour, but for some reason it is packed with padding sequences. It can’t decide if it wants The Creeper to be the main character, or maybe the two bumbling cops pursuing him, or maybe the folks he’s trying to kill. By constantly switching perspectives the viewer the pacing ends up feeling pretty choppy. The police scenes are the worst; they slow the action down to a crawl, and don’t amount to much. All we figure out is that these two bozos don’t know how to catch the creeper.

The script has Helen play blind as also kinda dumb.
But the scenes with Hatton aren’t so hot either. Hatton was obviously in pain during the filming of the movie, and he is moving very slowly. This means that the camera is moving slowly, even during chase scenes. The director must have decided to go “extra noire” because many of the scenes are filmed at night. Between that and the age of the print, the screen becomes a mix of dark grey blobs moving on darker grey blobs with some black patches to add dimension. It ends up looking like an eye test from Hades.

But the real topper is the whole fire escape scene… or should I say scenes. The creeper escapes into an alleyway three different times. We get to see him climb up the fire escape, in darkness each time. It’s not exciting, or interesting, or much of anything really. I’m just really puzzled why the director felt that seeing this scene more than once would add anything to the movie, other than pad the running time.

There are a few good moments in The Brute Man. The scenes where the Creeper interacts with the blind Helen are actually handled well. Adams does a good job in the part (even if her dialogue is a bit silly at times). Hatton does a good job too, showing a more compassionate side to his character. I get the feeling he liked trying something a bit different than his typical maniacal killer role. It’s also interesting to see this element as a basis for a similar relationship in the films Manhunter and Red Dragon.

The craggy grocer provides the best unintentional laughs.
Then there are the scenes with the angry grocer and his young clerk. The grocer is so over the top in his crotchety nature that you can’t help but laugh. It is almost like you are watching a completely different movie, some odd coming of age comedy. Of course these characters have very little to do with the plot. It ends up turning into a pointless padding scene. But at least hey provide some amusement.

The movie finally creeps to its finish and you’re left feeling kinda bored and kinda sad that this was Hatton’s final film. His memory has been preserved and he has inspired quite a few villains in future films (check out the henchman in The Rocketeer for a Creeper look-alike). It’s a good thing we have Mike and bots on hand to provide some laughs.

Episode Review:  
Never before has film captures the grandeur of chickens.
This was the second episode of the extremely short season seven. So this means you’ve got riffers at the top of their game and writing crew to match. For the most part every episode in season seven is a winner, but there is always an exception to the rule. Unfortunately the Brute Man is that exception.

But first you have The Chicken of Tomorrow. Since this appeared to be the last short film the crew was ever going to tackle (their future on Sci-fi Channel was not yet assured) I get the feeling they just went from broke on this one. And boy did it pay off. This has to be one of the funniest shorts they did. Although I admit the first time I watched it, I was so puzzled by the bizarre short that I missed most of the riffing.

This little movie moves quickly and is constantly providing something new for the boys to work with. From scenes with hundreds of little chicks running around in straw to the final moments where an auctioneer who looks like Ross Perot starts shouting at the screen, you’ve got a gold mine of riffing.

Autos and petroleum get name dropped a lot in this odd
When the title is revealed Tom quips, “The Chicken of Tomorrow in a deadly battle against the chicken of today”. During a scene where we see a chick hatching from an egg Mike says, “I hate it when people tape their own deliveries”. They are agog when the chicken talks like Mae West, I think it provided some serious nightmare fuel for them. They also have a blast with the voice over. The man keeps pausing in almost Shatner-esque ways. This allows the boys to add all kinds of dialogue. One of my favorites is when the voice says, “Wait a minute, you may ask yourself,” and Crow adds, “Why am I watching this?”

Well one of the reasons is to learn how clean eggs fetch a better price at market than dirty eggs. So Crow declares, “Lick your eggs clean, or have a friend lick them.” I’m sad to say that this line has become a catchphrase around our house whenever someone mentions cleaning anything. In the end Mike declares, “Eggs are complicated. They should cost 100 dollars each!” Well I wouldn’t go that far, but the riffing for The Chicken of Tomorrow is worth its weight in gold… or maybe chicken nuggets.

Why doesn't she have a problem with him sneaking
into her apartment three different times?
As for the feature film, well the movie does it’s best to scuttle the riffing. Between the slow pacing and the dark grey on black scenes there just isn’t much for the boys to work with. And yet, they come to the table with plenty of riffs and fire them in rapid succession. In previous slogfests like The Beast of Yucca Flats, Starfighters or Racket Girls this ends up creating it’s own momentum and can help the whole affair. But as valiantly as the boys try the movie is just to dower to really click.

A lot of jokes are based off of Hatton’s appearance. I’m not sure if the writing crew didn’t know about his illness, or if they decided they couldn’t riff The Brute Man without commenting on it. Hell, they did a similar thing whenever they tackled a movie with Richard Kael (like Eegah). But for some reason, it just seems in bad taste in Hatton’s case. I think it is because he is obviously in pain, moving so slowly and carefully through the film. I can’t say that some of the jokes didn’t make me chuckle like when Mike wonders if Moffet and his buddies went “bobbing for anvils” to get their faces that way. Crow comments that his profile looks like an Easter Island statue, and then later calls him Big Head Todd is the Monster.

Other times they just have fun with the fact that everyone in the movie keeps calling him The Creeper. When Hatton reaches his hideout and leans against a wall Mike quips, “What a day, I’m all creeped out.” I also like when Mike speaks for Helen with, “Creeper… may I call you Creep?” When our anti-hero is wandering around the bustling streets, with the cops supposedly out in force looking for him, Mike and the bots keep making the locals call out, “Top of the morning to you Creeper, old boy”, or “Have a murder filled day Creeper.” Or just, “Hey Creeper!” Mike declares that the movie would have moved a lot faster if they had called him The Jaguar instead.

Before Moffet was mutated into the Creeper, he was
a regular college joe.
They also try their best when The Brute Man gets visually dark. Often they try to guess what is going on, coming up with hilariously outrageous things. They speculate on what the director was trying to accomplish with the repetition of the fire escape scenes. In the end Tom wonders if the film “takes place in Alaska and filmed in winter… since there is never any sun!”

But the sequence that is the highlight of the show is the amazingly cranky performance by the old grocer berating his young clerk. Much like the bizarrely annoyed psychic in Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders this old fellow rants and raves at his young employee for no reason at all. Mike and the bots have a field day with this surly man and provide all kinds of additional dialogue for him. The old guy even captures the spot in the end of show stinger. 

My favorite riff comes from Crow who reflects on how Moffet becomes deformed because of an accident in chemistry class. “You know, none of this would have happened if Chemistry wasn’t a required course.” True enough my gold friend, true enough.

The episode starts with Tom Servo on the phone with his real estate agent and buying a duplex. Mike thinks this is going to end in tears. Back at the mad scientists’ lair, Dr. Forrester discovers that his mother Pearl is going out on a date with a sleazy guy named Sandy (played with verve by Paul Chaplin). Before Pearl goes, she puts Crow (who she is still calling Art) in charge of everyone – even Dr. Forrester. Of course the irony there is that Trace Beaulieu was playing both parts. At the first break, Tom is inspired by The Chicken of Tomorrow to encase himself in a giant egg. Mike knocks it over (the oaf!) and it’s a real mess. At the next break Mike tries to call his old girlfriend for help. But her little boy answers the phone and it all goes downhill from there. When we catch up with the boys again, Crow is inspired by the fact that one of actors looks kinda like Thomas Dewey. So he creates a song… Tom and Mike aren’t impressed. The episode ends with Tom attempting to be a landlord for his duplex and failing miserably. It does end in tears. Meanwhile Dr. Forrester turns the sleazy Sandy into a chicken of tomorrow.

Tom Servo may become, the Robot of Tomorrow!

For me this ends up being an average episode. The riffing of The Brute Man is solid, but the film itself just doesn’t lend itself too well to the whole process. However it is well worth checking out The Chicken of Tomorrow riffing.

I give it three Mae West talking chickens out of five.

This episode is available on Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII


  1. Prior to widespread TV ownership, people went to the movies A LOT -- my parents talked about having gone at least a couple times per week. (Movies were far cheaper then in relative terms of course.) Double features were common with the studios turning out slapdash flicks such as this one seems to be for the B slot. Some of them are kind of interesting anyway, for one reason or another, but this one (which I've never seen) sounds best used only with an MST3K lubricant.

    1. Yeah it's interesting when I hear folks lament the state of movies today, and how they made only good films in the black and white days. But as you point out, the studios made just as many slapdash features back then... and heck probably made even more because of the double features. This is certainly one that is best viewed with Mike and the bots along for the ride.