Episode 702- The Brute Man


Episode 702- The Brute Man
(with "The Chicken of Tomorrow")

Short: "The Chicken of Tomorrow" is an intensely detailed look at chicken-raising, circa 1942, courtesy of an outfit called The Texas Company. The filmmakers dazzle us with futuristic gadgetry like incubators and henhouses and chicken-sexing-by-hand, not to mention the successful dividing of 210 by 70 -- leading to the implicit execution of a hen, by the way. Yet slipped in between all the wowee chicken stuff, there are at least a dozen hosannas directed at "the motor truck." Without the motor truck, all chicken ranchers everywhere agree, it would be ridiculous to even consider raising chickens. You might as well just give up and go back to eating dirt.

Movie: Mountain-faced Rondo Hatton is "The Brute Man," d.b.a. "The Back Breaker" and then most tellingly "The Creeper," once a football star at Hampton College, a tiny, expensive New England school filled with the not-so-brilliant children of the fading Protestant elite. Brute's real name is Harold Moffat. As the film opens, we see him murdering a series of college types -- an elderly professor, a coed inside an attractive sweater -- and we learn (as he murders some more) that Brute was always a jerk. But since he was "the best football player Hampton College ever produced," he was very popular. In fact, he was even part of a "popular trio," according to an old newspaper photo he carries around. Not a singing trio, just three popular people. This was a period when newspapers didn't have as much to write about, apparently.

Brute's rash decision to murder a peeping delivery boy really brings the heat down on his massive head, though, and, as the cops close in, the story becomes clear. Years before, back at hazy Hampton, Brute was involved in a romantic triangle -- actually, he was involved in a crude attempt to horn in on his best friend's girl, Virginia. Said friend, a Thomas Dewey look-alike named Clifford Scott, got back at hapless Brute by giving him the wrong answers to some chemistry homework. As a direct result, Brute had to stay after class the next day. He was made to mix dangerous chemicals in front of a picture window, forced to submit to the smirks of Clifford parading back and forth outside, squiring Virginia, headed on home to do God knows what.

Brute's rage is perfectly understandable. But he channeled it by mixing some chemicals badly, causing an explosion that zeroed in on his face, turning him into The Brute Man.

And now he's back, picking off people he blames or who get in his way: various members of the Class of '30, professor Cushman, the delivery boy, always with his trademark technique of strangling from behind. Given his flounder-like hands, it's a good choice of method.

He also befriends a blind young woman, briefly, although he's about to kill her, too, when he's finally caught in a trap and killed. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? Kind of, not really, it's unclear, although the blind woman does, and you have to respect the opinions of blind women in a case like this.

Prologue: Servo's on the phone, buying a duplex in Philadelphia with the help of an agent named Sherrie. "Points? Are those good? Sure, I'll take a few." Mike reads the income projections and tells Servo he'll be losing $2,000 a month; Servo says he'll write it off his income, Mike points out he has no income. "So I'll income average!"

Segment One: Mrs. Forrester has a date, and she leaves Crow in charge as babysitter. Crow flaunts his authority -- "Go to bed now and don't wake up or I'll put your hand in the garbage disposal!" The date, a sport-jacket gigolo named Sandy, leers at Pearl for the benefit of son Clayton, and leaves with a lurid "Poom!" and suggestive fist-thrust. Dr F: "Oh well, he's not the first oily man who's taken Mom to the mat."

Segment Two: Servo puts himself into a large egg, surrounded by warm nutrients -- "I want to experience the miracle of chicken birth, Mike." Mike objects, picks up the egg to get Servo out and drops it -- sploosh. Crow: "Oh, ick -- I'll go get a whole lot of paper towels."

Segment Three: Mike calls an old girlfriend, Carla, to tell her of his being trapped in space, and to get some help. "Miiike! How are youuuuu!" She puts her little boy, Matthew, on the phone, and there follows a disjointed infant-style conversation. Servo, impatient to hear from Sherrie, breaks in and instructs Matthew to hang up, prompting the lad's only discernible words: "Oh, okay, bye!" Click. Oh, is Mike mad.

Segment Four: Crow is thrilled by the similarity between the names "Tom Dewey" (whom one of the characters resembles) and "Tom Dooley" of folk song "The Crimes of Tom Dooley" fame. He explains his point with posters and other visual aids: "What if instead of singing 'Hang down you head Tom Dooley,' you went ahead and sang 'Hang down your head Tom Dewey?' Not Dooley -- Dewey? Let's try it."

Segment Five: Amid letters, duplex-owner Servo gets a phone call from an irate tenant. "What do you mean I'm already on the Village Voice list of the top ten worst landlords in New York? It's in Pennsylvania!" In Deep 13, Pearl and leering, triumphant Sandy reappear. Clay gives Sandy a potion that turns him into The Chicken of Tomorrow.

Stinger: The murdered delivery boy's extremely crotchety boss: "Creeper, creeper, creeper -- you give me the creeps!!"

Reflections: I didn't remember this until I just watched it again, but on sketch-writing day the partners were all out in LA, meaning Mary Jo and I had to come up with all the sketch ideas and write the first drafts. That may explain why I am simply everywhere. I'm Sandy. I'm the voice of the little boy Matthew during the phone call. The realtor's name was my realtor's name. Quite shameless, really.

The Sandy character became pretty famous around the shop, particularly the breathy, repulsive exhalation I produced (as Sandy) when ogling my date: "Pearl, you look -- hhaaagghhhh!!" I don't know where it came from. I don't where it is now, for that matter.

One detail I omitted from the movie description is captured in the stinger -- the old, crabby store-owner. We're introduced to him and his delivery/whipping boy during a five minute scene, a scene of nothing but unexplained rage and hatred directed at this soft, gentle-mannered lad, whose only sin is natural curiosity about the murders in town. It was one of those moments when a movie threw us such a great set-up: Why is this guy so mad? It makes no sense, it's just an attempt at some liveliness, and its illogic was perfect. Our comment as he looks at a newspaper: "God is dead? Good!!"

Oh, as was the case with many, many of our movies, this one is dark, as in you often can't see much of anything. I would say it was made in the days before lighting, but does that make sense? No.

Rondo Hatton the actor had acromegaly, the disease that enlarges bones in the hand, feet and face. That fact opens up a large irresolvable issue concerning the movie industry's use of this poor afflicted fellow; he was paid, after all, and movie work is nice work. Yet it can seem exploitive of misfortune. One thing's for sure: Rondo makes a great Brute Man.

Paul Chaplin

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