The Brute Man is a 1946 American horror thriller film starring Rondo Hatton as the Creeper, a murderer seeking revenge against the people he holds responsible for the disfigurement of his face. Directed by Jean Yarbrough, the film features Tom Neal and Jan Wiley as a married pair of friends the Creeper blames for his deformities. Jane Adams also starred as a blind pianist for whom the Creeper tries to raise money for an operation to restore her vision.
By 1946, Universal Pictures was coming to the end of their Golden Age, World War II having enough horrors of its own. This was decidedly poor timing for Rondo Hatton, for whom Universal had high hopes, his facial disfigurement and stature the results of the condition acromegaly but sadly, also a horror film maker’s dream.
The film is a semi-sequel to House of Horrors from the same year, in that it featured Hatton in the same role as The Creeper. Rondo also appears as The Creeper in the Sherlock Holmes outing The Pearl of Death (1944), but this too is unconnected. The Brute Man attempts to put some flesh on the bones of the character and explains the origins of his features.
The plot sees the return of The Creeper, still on the prowl and with an incompetent police force, most of whom are busy smoking, vaguely on his trail. After killing a professor and another girl who he introduces himself to as Hal Moffet (she refuses to believe it’s the handsome man she once knew), he seeks shelter in the apartment of a blind girl, Helen, played by Jane Adams from House of Dracula. Unable to see his alarming visage, she hides him from the pursuing cops and develops a bond with him, one that mirrors that of Frankenstein’s Monster and the hermit in The Bride Of Frankenstein.
More killings follow, leading the police to his lair beneath a pier, where they find a newspaper cutting about Hal Moffet – through a flashback we learn that he got his facial deformity from an accident during a chemistry experiment, hence his dislike of doctors and scientists.
After learning that Helen could have an operation to save his sight, The Creeper steals a brooch from a pawnbroker (killing him for good measure) and gives it to her as a gift so that she might sell it to pay for the treatment she needs. Helen’s just the kind of friend you need in Hal’s position and she barely hesitates to blow his cover and the net closes in…
The Creeper was intended to be a long-term project for the studio and more sequels were planned but sadly Rondo died shortly after filming. So concerned were Universal that they would be accused of exploiting a genuinely ill, disfigured man, they hastily sold the film to Producers Releasing Corporation for $120,000, a diabolical case of ‘you touched it last’.
The script for The Brute Man was written by George Bricker and M. Coates Webster, based on a story by Dwight V. Babcock; Babcock and Brister had previously worked together on The Devil Bat (1940), House of Dracula (1945), Pillow of Death (1945), She-Wolf of London (1946) and House of Horrors (1946).
Hatton’s acromegaly had reached an advanced stage at the time of filming and had begun to affect him mentally, making it difficult for him to remember his lines; critics at the time were extremely unkind about his performance, and though rough around the edges, he’s perhaps no worse than most of the other actors in the film.
New York Post critic Arthur Winsten criticized the story and the acting of Rondo Hatton, commenting that his facial disfigurements alone did not make up for his poor acting skills: “Just as clothes don’t make a gentleman, so a face doesn’t make both a villain and continuous thrills. All this picture has is a face, handicapped by encircling improbabilities.”
Adams, also a charmer in real life, recalled him as a friendly and thoughtful man, but called him “so pathetic to work with [and] almost autistic”.
Due to Universal’s casting off of the film, The Brute Man has never received a release which has shown any real care or attention to the quality of the print, the noir-ish shadows just appearing gloomy and muddy. The score by Hans Salter (The Wolfman/Creature From The Black Lagoon) is very lack-lustre and rather than the planned horror blockbuster that was planned, the end result is rather pedestrian and akin to a third-rate detective yarn.
Regardless, Rondo has subsequently become an icon, with his name and face now immortalised in the yearly Rondo Hatton awards, rewarding achievement in all areas of the horror genre.
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
Buy a Rondo Hatton poster print: Amazon.com