1/9/07

702 The Brute Man

(1946, Horror, b&w), with:

The Chicken of Tomorrow
(1948, Educational-Industrial, color)

Creeper, Creeper, Creeper—you give me the creeps!

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Short: Apparently eggs come from chickens, which, in turn, come from earlier eggs.
Film: A disfigured serial killer stalks his former college friends.

Short Summary:

That's sexual harrassment, and I don't have to take it.The Chicken of Tomorrow demonstrates the life cycle of a domestic chicken from birth to roasting. Many other important chicken life events happen in between, including: incubation, as demonstrated by heated racks and gooey cutaways; sexing, or in layman’s terms, turning them over to divine their gender; shipping, made possible by the greatest invention of all time, the motor truck; laying, which they’d better do early and often to avoid the chopping block; and, finally, the auction, which seems to be the chicken equivalent of the Pearly Gates, with a fast-talking jug-eared man standing in for St. Peter. We also get to see the very latest in chicken farming technology (featuring the aforementioned indispensable motor truck), as well as the apogee of good chicken breeding, roasted and sliced thin to the point of transparence.

Film Summary:

In The Brute Man, a hulking, disfigured killer stalks the night, strangling people at will. The police are baffled, in a smarmy kind of way, and trade barbs with the mayor’s secretary while they pursue random hulking strangers through the streets. One of the hulking strangers turns out to be the right one. He flees up a tenement fire escape, through a window, and into the apartment of a blind piano teacher.

The lovely young blind girl mistakes him for a kind stranger, in some sort of trouble with mobsters. She hides the killer, a.k.a. the Creeper, when the police barge in to search the place for him. Of course they don’t show her a search warrant, or even identify themselves as cops while they search. The Creeper gets away, returning to his dockside hideout.

On the way home, he leaves a note under the grocer’s door, asking for some groceries to be delivered to his hideout. The delivery boy notes the odd instructions and wonders if it might be from the Creeper. The grocer spits out the immortal, “Creeper, Creeper, Creeper—you give me the creeps!” and sends him anyway, not reporting him missing until that afternoon. The cops find the hideout and the boy’s body later that evening.

From newspaper clippings found in the hideout, they discover the Creeper’s name is Hal Moffat. They look up his old college buddies Clifford and Virginia, who relate a long and mostly irrelevant flashback about football and love triangles. Basically, Cliff fended off Hal’s attempt to horn in on his girl Virginia by sabotaging his chemistry homework. As penance, the professor forced Hal to stay after class. In a fit of rage, he accidentally mixed too little of this with too much of that, and then dumped it on his own face. Now Hal has returned to seek revenge.

Meanwhile, the Creeper stalks the night, murdering a pawnbroker to steal a gift for the blind piano lady. He eventually discovers she can be cured by an operation, which she can’t afford. Determined to help her, he breaks into Cliff and Virginia’s house and demands jewels. Cliff gives him the jewels, but manages to pull a gun and shoot him at the last moment. Merely wounded, Hal strangles him and flees.

The police pick up the blind girl when she tries to pawn the stolen goods. She’s devastated when they reveal her friend as the Creeper and tells them everything. Hal feels betrayed when he reads her story in the newspaper, and heads back to her apartment to kill her. It’s a trap; the police catch him just as he’s about to put his hands around her throat. The cops give her the operation and a handsome young lieutenant as a reward.

Introduction:

The gooey, disgusting miracle of chicken birth.Tom buys a duplex in Pennsylvania over the phone. Mike tries to warn him that the rental income is less than the mortgage payments and maintenance costs, but Crow encourages him, calling the place “a drive-by cutie.”

Host Segment One:

A greasy little man named Sandy arrives for a date with Pearl. He interrupts Dr. Forrester’s experiment (grafting the head of a piglet onto the body of a fish) to make filthy insinuations about his mother. Pearl and Sandy go out, leaving “Art” in charge. Crow revels in his new authority. Quoth he, “Everyone go to bed and stay there, or I’ll put your hand in the garbage disposal.”

Host Segment Two:

Tom has somehow enveloped himself in a giant egg to experience the miracle of chicken birth firsthand. Mike tries to handle the egg and drops it. Crow goes to look for a whole lot of paper towels.

Host Segment Three:

Mike calls an old girlfriend, Carla, to ask for help. She puts her toddler on the line, who coos and babbles until Tom tells him to hang up. He’s waiting for his realtor to call him back and close the duplex deal.

Host Segment Four:

Crow has decided that Tom Neal, who plays Clifford in the film, looks a lot like former presidential candidate Tom Dewey. Furthermore, the old song “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley,” (sung by the Kingston Trio, among others) can just as easily be sung with the lyrics, “Hang down your head, Tom Dewey.” He demonstrates these points with posters and charts, playing through that line of the song with his banjo. Mike and Tom get bored and leave.

Host Segment Five:

Tom gets his first call from an angry tenant. While Mike and Crow read letters, he wanders in and out with the phone, saying things like, “Don’t flush the toilet,” and “Do you need the water?” Down in Deep 13, Sandy and Pearl have returned. Pearl heads off to “freshen up,” while Sandy regales Dr. Forrester with bawdy tales of their date. Dr. Forrester gives him some bubbling potion and POOF! Pearl reemerges to demand, “Did you just turn my date into the Chicken of Tomorrow?” Dr. Forrester admits that he did, but only because he loves her. “And I feel quite strongly towards you as well,” Pearl replies.

Stinger:

Creeper, Creeper, Creeper—you give me the creeps!

Thoughts:

Et tu, Brute Man?The Chicken of Tomorrow is actually pretty informative. It’s also rather staid, for the most part, with only occasional lapses into weirdness. The moderate lapses have to do with trucks. Why did the filmmakers feel compelled to stop the action every five minutes to praise the automobile industry? Sure, chickens have to be driven places occasionally, but then so do tennis rackets, loaves of bread, and my kids. In all the hours of home movie footage I’ve shot for the benefit of their grandparents across the sea, I have never once felt compelled add, “And these all-American children would not be possible without the fine motor vehicles and quality gasoline used to distribute them across town every day!” For one thing, my in-laws don’t speak English. For another, when someone translated for them, they’d think it was weird. And speaking of weirdness, the most incongruent lapse comes when one of the brooding hens talks back to the narrator, addressing him as “big boy.” What was that about? Was that chicken coming on to him?

The main problem with The Brute Man is that I’m not sure who to root for. Is it Hal? Sure, he tries to help the blind girl, but later he tries to kill her. Besides, according to the flashback he was a nasty jerk even before his disfigurement drove him insane. (For that matter, so were Clifford and Virginia. You’d think that, as the narrator of that flashback, Cliff would have cast himself in a better light.) Is it the police? They come off as a bunch of oily, smarmy politicians making light of a series of horrible murders. Is it the blind piano lady? She’s nice, in a helpless sort of way, but she’s just so, so abysmally stupid. In fact, the only character I like is the grocery boy. I was really hoping he’d get away to rub news of the Creeper’s hideout in his boss’ unreasonably crotchety face.

Rondo Hatton starred as the disfigured Creeper in several films. Though he was obviously cast solely for his frightening appearance, the fact that he can make believable conversation through his disability puts his acting ability head and shoulders above most other professional movie monsters. (Tor Johnson and Richard Kiel, I’m looking in your direction.) He died from complications of acromegaly shortly after filming The Brute Man. (Acromegaly: when an overactive pituitary gland secretes too much human growth hormone, causing the bones of the face, hands, and feet to distort and grow out of proportion.) Universal apparently dumped the film on another distributor because they didn’t want to be accused of exploiting Mr. Hatton’s unfortunate disease. An odd move, since they were obviously exploiting him regardless, presumably with his blessing. As a former journalist going into show business, he must have been smart enough to know the only roles available would be henchmen and monsters. In his situation, I probably would have signed on as well. If I had to look like that anyway, I might as well get paid for it.

The third host segment was my favorite. As a father of several barely verbal children, I know what it’s like to talk to a toddler by telephone. My oldest son memorized my work number before he could talk, so I got used to hearing heavy breathing over the phone at random intervals during the day. The “Tom in the egg” sketch, the “Tom Dooley/Dewey” sketch, and the “Landlord Tom” series all start off promisingly, but just sort of trail off without punchlines. I really liked the segments dealing with Pearl’s night out. She obviously considers men to be disposable, useful for their purpose but ultimately to be discarded like Kleenex. Does anyone really care about the relative quality of their tissue paper? As long as it holds together for the important part, I’m pretty much fine with anything. As for her date, there is a certain class of gentleman who can make you feel unclean just by standing next to you. As Sandy, Paul Chaplin captures that vibe with unsettling ease.

The film segments work well. The short is bland, bland, bland, but gives plenty of opportunity for mockery. When the poultry worker looks down on some newly hatched chicks for the first time, Tom says, “Hey guys, it’s God!” When another worker wheels a cart full of feed through the henhouse, Tom says, “Soylent Green is made from chickens!” The film is mostly competent, but can bog down occasionally. When reading the credits, Crow says “Et tu Brute Man?” When we see the Creeper’s flat face for the first time, Mike says, “Him and his buddies went bobbing for anvils.” Near the end, when the Creeper climbs up the fire escape to kill the friendly blind woman, Tom says, “That would be really awkward if he walked in and she was entertaining another deformed murderer.” It’s a decent episode; worth at least one viewing.