Jan 2, 2009
The Brute Man (1946)
Rondo Hatton was a World War 1 veteran who contracted acromegaly, a condition affecting the pituitary gland, thereby causing facial deformity. (It has often been said that exposure to a gas attack during the war was the cause of the affliction.) This former reporter had initially been given bit parts until Universal put him under contract, giving him more substantial roles, obviously exploiting his condition by giving him villanous roles, namely as The Creeper in Pearl of Death and House of Horrors.
While having read about Hatton over the years, it was only today that I ever saw his notorious cinematic swansong, The Brute Man, once again playing a mysterious killer with the pseudonym of The Creeper, who plots revenge against former college chums who indirectly caused a lab accident which resulted in his disfigurement. After its completion, Hatton had died suddenly from a heart attack, and Universal sold the property to poverty row studio PRC for release. I'm surprised that this wasn't a PRC picture initially, because it looks even cheaper than any of Universal's B-lot features of the time.
Despite the familiar structure of detectives investigating the identity of the killer, there is a surprising amount of sentiment, in a subplot where The Creeper befriends a blind woman who teaches piano. But still, this picture was made to capitalize on Hatton's condition, and so the movie is a strange blend of exploitation and melodrama. It is hard to evaluate Hatton's acting ability in this picture, perhaps because the condition had made the ability to make facial expressions difficult. But The Brute Man, clocking in at 58 minutes, is perhaps one of the fastest second features ever made, as veteran director Jean Yarbrough keeps the story moving at a brisk, economic pace. As such, this movie is a lot more enjoyable than it ought to be. Today this movie has an added exploitation value for the appearance of Tom Neal, from Detour (who in real life was later convicted of murder), as one of the heels on The Creeper's hit list.