Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From the Lucha Diaries Vaults: Santo contra el Rey del Crimen (Mexico, 1961)

In this installment: the sport of the future!


The plot of Santo contra el Rey del Crimen -- aka Santo vs. the King of Crime -- concerns corruption in the sport of Jai Alai. I had seen this sport depicted in an old episode of Miami Vice, which not only saved me some Wikipedia time, but also kept me from spending most of the movie scratching my head and saying, "What the hell?" Like Santo contra el Cerebro Diabolico, which I had watched previously to this, El Rey del Crimen is one of three pictures that Santo did for Peliculas Rodriguez with stars Fernando Casanova and Ana Bertha Lepe. As with Cerebro Diabolico, Casanova and Lepe are really the focus here, with the bits of Santo action rather awkwardly -- almost inexplicably, in fact -- integrated into the story.

Watching El Rey del Crimen gave me some insight into what gives these films that strange, disjointed feel. The producers here were trying to present Santo as a traditional superhero, hampered by the fact that his alter ego couldn't be shown. In your usual masked crime fighter yarn -- such as those told in the old Republic serials that clearly had such an influence on these films -- those scenes that here feature Casanova as police detective Fernando Lavalle would be those featuring the hero's alter ego. It's as if Superman and Clark Kent really were separate people -- and Superman really did just show up coincidentally whenever Clark and Lois were in trouble, just like Clark was always saying he did. (In fact, in her role as Virginia, an ambitious and fearless "girl" reporter -- and also Lavalle's girlfriend -- Lepe fills the Lois Lane role in all but name.)

El Rey del Crimen even gives us an origin story for Santo, showing us Santo as a young boy being told by his ailing father of the legacy of the Silver Mask, and goes on to introduce an Alfred-like manservant, Matias, who gives the young Santo his first look at the Batcave-like Santo lab. (Interestingly -- to judge by the cars, architecture and clothing -- the scenes of Santo's boyhood take place in what was then the present day, which means that the film's later events take place, well, a couple of years ago, though the films' version of our very recent past looks a lot like the early 60s.)

There's a fascinating, monastic element to the Enmascarado de Plata role that young Santo's guardians lay out for him here; the mask isn't meant for concealing identity so much as it is a means of renouncing it altogether. By becoming faceless, Santo is turning his back on the sin of pride and any potential for the desire to do good to be tainted by the desire for fame or worldly reward. Unfortunately, the film kind of skirts over the whole issue of how this version of Santo jibes with him pursuing fame as a professional wrestler -- and, needless to say, doesn't even touch upon the fact that his mask would just eventually become his (very famous) face. In any case, by 1966, we had a version of Santo whose house featured a room containing a simulated tropical beach in which he made sweet love to bikini clad women whom he dismissed with a snap of his fingers (see Operacion 67), so I think it's pretty safe to say that the idea of Santo as an ascetic was ultimately pretty much abandoned.

Anyway, while I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Santo contra el Cerebro Diabolico, I found this film to be fairly entertaining. And, it saddens me to say, it wouldn't be much less so without Santo. I just find Casanova and Lepe to be tremendously appealing actors (and Lepe is adorable, even with the tremendous hairdo they've got her hoisting around). I'm looking forward to Santo en el Hotel de la Muerte, the last of the Rodriguez pictures that I have to see. But, by this point, I know what to -- and what not to -- expect.


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I can't believe I'm thinking about this - will I start to talk about the continuity between Santo films and say things like "Alfredo Crevenna raped my childhood" next? - but I think Santo's saintliness and his work as a wrestler go together fine. See, he uses his popularity to a) pay his rent and b) demonstrates the proper, heroic way to strangle men with one's legs to educate and better his public. It's the perfect fit.

Todd said...

I like that explanation. He could also claim that he was wrestling ironically, but that would just make him an ass. Wrestling didactically is much better.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

I also don't think they told Santo about irony. Should be more Mil Mascaras' thing.

Todd said...

Mil Mascaras: Always the envelope pusher.