I thought The Brute Man was all right, but it was only after watching it that I learned about its reputation. My first clue should have been that there was no Universal introduction; instead, the beginning read, “Producers Releasing Corporation.” Apparently, Universal produced The Brute Man during a pending merger with International Pictures and adopted a policy against releasing any more B movies.
Or did they? Because Universal was still releasing other B movies in the months before the merger, film experts believe the studio simply wanted to distance itself from a film that would tarnish its corporate image. Instead of taking a loss by shelving it, they sold it for $125,00 to Producers Releasing Corporation. Their decision may have been based on the movie’s exploitative nature toward Hatton.
Rondo Hatton died eight months before The Brute Man was released. He suffered from a syndrome called "acromegaly" that produced the natural deformities for which he became famous. I don’t know why Universal’s handling of Hatton would be considered exploitative; all they did was promote the fact that he didn’t need makeup for his monstrous roles. (That’s sarcasm.)
Part of the problem was also that the backstory for Hatton’s character in The Brute Man eerily echoed details from Hatton’s life. He was also a handsome young football star before becoming disfigured. In the movie, though, it’s not from a debilitating disease; it’s from an experiment gone wrong in a college science class. Hatton’s character, Hal Moffat blames everyone but himself for the accident…
…and sets out on a murderous rampage to exact his revenge. First he murders his old professor, then begins targeting the friends he believes were responsible for placing him in the lab on that fateful day. When other people interfere, he murders them, as well, and becomes known in the papers as “The Creeper.” Hatton played this generic killer character in at least two other movies prior to The Brute Man.
One of the complaints about the movie, and one that probably caused it to be ridiculed on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, is the horrible acting by Hatton. I guess I don’t expect great acting from any movie like this, but I thought he was simply playing himself and was somewhat natural. It seems cruel to criticize the movie for this, especially when it makes his character more sympathetic.
Another complaint is the script. Yes, it blatantly steals from Bride of Frankenstein’s blind hermit sequence. On the other hand, it includes a subplot about the police force’s inability to catch the killer that I don’t think I’ve seen in other movies of that time period. The story suffers from the same issues as any other Universal Monsters movie; it doesn’t stand out to me as being any worse.
Truth be told, I enjoyed watching The Brute Man. It held my attention tighter than some other movies I’ve seen. It may have helped that it runs just under an hour. There are probably better examples of Hatton’s work when his disease had not progressed as far, but there’s historical value in this being his final performance. I don’t regret the experience.
Written by George Bricker and M, Coates Webster
Original story by Dwight V. Babcock
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
Starring Rondo Hatton, Tom Neal, Jan Wiley, Jane Adams
Released October 1, 1946
RT 58 min.
Home Video Amazon Prime (streaming)