Friday, April 22, 2011

Week 4: Santo contra el rey del crimen (Santo vs. The King of Crime, 1961)

            Well, its week four, and just as I was starting to think we're finally getting to the good stuff, I watch this entry in the Santo series. Actually, I shouldn't set things up for disappointment so early. It's not all bad. It's mostly bad. It starts out with a young boy named Roberto, who upon witnessing a group of a dozen or so older boys torturing a young girl's puppy, decides to intervene. Of course, there being a dozen boys, and most of them being bigger than Roberto, it comes as no surprise that little Roberto gets his ass stomped pretty good. Only the appearance of a foot patrol cop saves Roberto from massive head trauma. 

"I am justice..."

           Roberto goes home to explain what happened to his ailing father. Impressed by his son's courage, this sickly old man reveals that he is in fact El Santo, and that every man in their family for generations has held the mantle of El Santo at some point, and that its passed from father to son. Now things seem clear. This is suppose to be an origin movie. Think Batman Begins, if Batman Begins was as crappy as The Phantom starring Billy Zane. Through the miracle of the dissolve transition, Roberto becomes an adult, an adult who's unmasked face we do not get to see, thanks to some clever blocking. Roberto has honed his fighting skills in the professional wrestling circuit and is now finally ready to accept his inheritance. With the El Santo mantle, Roberto gets his own batcave (which we've seen in previous movies) and also a Mexican equivalent to Alfred Pennyworth, known as Mathias. This all sounds pretty interesting right? Well, hold on, because Fernando, Virginia and Kangaroo Kick all return from the very first Santo movie. Apparently this is their origin story too...

           This is where the whole movie basically goes off the rails, as it becomes a tedious police procedural. Aside from showing the initial meeting between Santo and Fernando and KK, the origin story line is dropped altogether. Instead, Fernando becomes the focal point, as he and KK investigate an illegal sports betting ring that may be fixing events either by getting players to throw their matches or killing players outright. The main sport this crime ring focuses their attentions on is Jai Alai. What in the blue hell is Jai Alai? Here's a video explanation...

           Santo isn't even aware of this crime ring until they try to kill him during one of his wrestling matches by dousing his ringside towel with acid. It's only through Virginia's intervention that is he saved from a face full of holy shit. Does Virginia get any thanks for this? Nope. Fernando and KK are provided with fancy communicator watches allowing them to converse remotely with Santo, while Virginia is chastised by all for being invasive and impudent. Sexism is fun! 


          It's hard not to draw parallels between Santo in this movie and Batman. Santo has a good deal of Batman-like story beats, or at least comic book-like superhero elements, more so than the previous three movies. One example I haven't mentioned yet, and actually one of the higher points of the movie for me, is when Santo gets a bit more vigilante with this crime ring, going so far as to interrogate a Jai Alai player who's been paid off by the crime ring, throwing the poor bastard around in a dark alley. Santo seems like so much of a goody good hero, (since he is a face wrestler) that it was refreshing to see him get a little nasty with the goings on in the story line. 

          Fernando also seems to be more like a Commissioner Gordon to Santo's Batman, although why a police detective (its made clear in this film that Fernando and KK are policemen) would just go along with a crazy in a silver luchador mask at his word isn't really made clear. Gordon's motivations and his relationship with Batman makes sense because of how crime ridden a place Gotham City is. However, Mexico isn't all crime ridden, at least I hope it wasn't back in the 60s. Beyond a basic pulp story convenience, the only explanation I can determine is that Fernando seems to know just how incompetent he is as a law enforcer, and needs all the help he can get. This is hammered home in the climax, when Fernando manages to get himself captured by the King of Crime, OFF CAMERA! 

Mexican Jackie Gleason and his midget hunchback friend.

          Speaking of the King of Crime, yet again, these movies leave me frustrated by not giving Santo a strong antagonist. For starters, the titular king of crime, who is a Mexican Jackie Gleason, seems to be more the King of Illegal Sports betting, as that's the only criminal activity the movie shows him lording over. Sure, it involves murder, intimidation, and even kidnapping, but its all for sports betting. He never dabbles in prostitution, or drugs, etc. One who dubs themselves the "KING" of crime surely would have to cover the entire range of crime, not just one niche of it. He does have one thing going for him. His chief henchman is a midget with a hunchback. This midget is never even given a name. It's amazing. 

Who the hell cares?

          The movie is also light on wrestling matches, which I found surprising. The previous three had at least three matches per movie. This one only had two. However, the first one is so brutal, and prolonged, that there really wasn't a need for more matches. This match is actually the most compelling action scene in the entire movie, as Santo and his opponent bound and leap around the ring at each other like a pair of dobermans given speed and let loose in a moon bounce. Seeing such violence in a movie from the 60s era western hemisphere is shocking, even if it is a wrestling picture from Mexico. 

        One of the more brilliant scenes in the movie, and the main element that keeps me from giving the movie one silver mask for the rest of its suckage, is a switcheroo that Santo pulls at the end of the second act. Jorge, a Jai Alai player who's got himself deep into debt with the king of crime, is being forced to throw a match. Santo switches places with him, getting Jorge to inform officials and the audience in attendance, that in honor of a player murdered in the previous scene, Jorge is going to wear a silver luchador mask for his match. It's such a ballsy, and brazenly stupid thing that all the characters accept, that it went from being dumb to being amazing. No one seems to notice that Jorge, wearing a wrestling mask, has suddenly gained 20 pounds of muscle mass, and is also shorter. It's stupefyingly awesome. 

A tender moment between Fernando and Virginia...

          El Rey Del Crimen starts out strong, trying to give its titular franchise carrier a prestigious back story and motivation, but all of that is scuttled by trying to shoehorn dullards from previous movies as costars. The lack of a strong antagonist also hinders the movie from being truly good. While the need for a second protagonist, whose face can be seen by audiences is understandable, the need for a strong, effective villain is too great a burden for the film to bear. 


Two Silver Masks out of a possible five. 

Fun Fact: Like El Santo,  the Dos Equis' "the most interesting man in the world" plays the game of Jai Alai.

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