During the late 1930s and early 40s, Universal Studios became synonymous with the Horror genre, churning out a great deal of B-grade horror films, some of which have appreciated and gone on to become classics in their own right, while others have only degraded in value and rightfully sank into the abyss of anonymity where they belong, with Jean Yarbrough’s ‘The Brute Man’ (1946) being a perfect example of the latter category.
Ostensibly staring Rondo Hatton’s face, the film follows the murderous misadventures of Hal Mofet, the deformed “brute man” of the film’s title, who goes on a revenge-filled rampage against all of those whom he feels are responsible for his deformity, or whom stand in his way of getting revenge. A simple plot for a simple film, Yarbrough’s “The Brute Man” might only come in at a paltry 58 minutes, but even then it still feels rather long and patted out, with its thrills few and far in between, and its tension so dull that the film is about as suspenseful and captivating as watching a Hotpocket cook in a microwave.
Certainly, it’s obvious enough from his performance that Hatton was chosen solely for his “uncharacteristic” looks rather than for his thespian abilities, his acting consisting of little more than some stilted, gruff deliveries and, on occasion, confused glances that suggest he doesn’t even know where he is, let alone what his next line is or even that he’s staring in a picture.
Normally, such grotesquely inept and laughably bad acting abilities would be ripe for satire and mockery, however, such jeering at Hatton’s expense would be too mean-spirited given the fact the man was slowly dying at the time from acromegaly (the very same disease responsible for his gargantuan face), and would pass away before the film was released to audiences.
As for the other “actors” in Yarbrough’s film, they have no excuse for their complete and total lack of acting, with their performances ranging anywhere from ham-fisted to painfully unfunny. Perhaps the only exceptions, or rather ‘highlights’ from Yarbrough’s picture are Jane Adams, who gives an affable performance as Helen, the blind pianist who befriends Mofet, and Oscar O’Shea, whose unintentionally hilarious performance as an overly cantankerous store-clerk is funny enough to at least warrant watching the few scenes he appears in.
The only seemingly redeemable factor about Yarbrough’s abysmal picture is the film’s cinematography, courtesy of Maury Gertsman. Gertsman’s use of shadows, unbalanced compositions, and chiaroscuro-like contrasts between light and dark manages to give ‘The Brute Man’ an eerie, film noir atmosphere that seems rather wasted on Yarbrough’s film, and would’ve been put to much better use on one of Universal’s other, better B-pictures than Yarbrough’s boring foray into the horror genre.
Ultimately, Yarbrough’s ‘The Brute Man’ leaves a lot to be desired: its one-dimensional plot, poor acting, and lack of actual thrills or scares making it little more than a forgotten relic from Universal Studio’s horror-craze, and would’ve even scare a house-cat, let alone a person with a pulse. For those seeking actual frights or scares this Halloween, seek elsewhere, for the only thing scary about Yarbrough’s ‘The Brute Man’ is the fact that they went to the trouble of keeping the film in tact instead of letting it to rot with all of Hollywood’s other “lost” films.
Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.