While Bunuel had nothing to say about his routine melodrama Susana, he similarly barely mentions El Bruto (The Brute) in his autobiography—describing how his actors refused to behave unconventionably. The best news about the recent DVD release of this and a trickling of a few other films from Bunuel's Mexican period (1946-64) is that it gives hope for access to more of these films (Mexican Bus Ride and Nazarin please!). Another straightforward narrative, El Bruto plays out like a Frankenstein variant as the title character is physically as strong as the cattle he slaughters, yet the gentle soul remains vulnerable to the charms of women. This is his fatal flaw.
Indebted to slumlord Don Andres (Andres Solar), slaughterhouse workhorse Bruto (Pedro Armendariz) agrees to rough up Don Carmelo Gonzalez (Roberto Meyer), the leader of rebelious tenants who refuse eviction. Chronically sick Carmelo dies from the beating, only stirring avenging passions from the male tenants. Thus, Don Andres has created a Frankenstein-like monster—beloved butt of slaughterhouse jokes and trusted strongman by his “master,” yet feared and evemtially sought by the townfolk.
Bruto brings out other emotions within Don Andres' home, however. His strong willed wife Paloma (Katy Jurado of High Noon fame) lusts for Bruto and comes on to him strong—even ripping his shirt off and kissing his chest. She's a monster tease, however, turning off her sexual engines one moment and jumping into his bed at other times—always maintaining control. Paloma controls her older husband much the same way, and lately she's always got a headache whenever he wants to make love.
Poor Bruto remains a pawn in Bunuel's universe, a victim of sexual desire. When fleeing revenge seeking tenants, Bruto snaps the neck of a chicken to quiet it, only to become smitten by the sight of Carmelo's daughter Meche (Rosa Arenas). When learning of her plight, he empathetically switches sides and woos her to be his wife. Not only does this dredge up the irony of hooking up with the daughter of the man he's inadvertently killed, but it inevitably enrages jealous Paloma. That doesn't portend well for the male leads in the melodrama, and in the wake of the slaughter a triumphant Paloma pauses before a rooster preparing to greet the dawn.
Bunuel explores sexual themes in a less sophisticated fashion than his stronger films, focusing on man's animalistic nature. Given his strong interest in biology and religious views, this comes as no surprise. Bruto's raw strength is used to block the revolting tenants, but he remains vulnerable. One sign of his eventual demise is hinted by Don Andres' comical elderly father (Paco Martrinez), who remarks how he was once super strong enough to crack walnuts by flexing his biceps, but sexual desire proves his undoing, reducing his control over life to little more than the cattle and chickens killed during the narrative.