The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Luis Buñuel / Mexico, 1955):
(Ensayo de un Crimen)

The fable of the razor and the melody, fused before a mirror by a small slash. ("Just use an electric shaver" is Justice’s shrugging verdict.) Luis Buñuel has a lovely prologue to set things up, Archibaldo the little bourgeois entranced by a music box his scolding governess assures him has wish-granting powers. His mind turns to death and she is struck by a bullet from the revolution outside, and the tableau mort -- blood bubbling from her neck, skirt hiked up to expose thighs wrapped in stockings -- gives the boy the frisson of all frissons. An artist who’s "amusing despite a doleful air," the adult Archie (Ernesto Alonso) locates the childhood toy in a pawnshop, and its tinkling chimes promptly turn into electric notes drilling into his psyche. To recreate that instant of macabre delectation becomes his obsession: "I could kill her cheerfully," he quips, but reality refuses to play ball with the wannabe ripper's plans. The "potentially great criminal" as deflated bachelor is the lambent joke, the dutiful nun (Chabela Durán), the casino coquette (Rita Macedo) and the fake-pious fiancée (Ariadna Welter) all meet their ends in ways that rob the protagonist of the joys of murder. Emerson's "act quite easily contemplated" versus the prison of aestheticism, the hollowness of purity ideals and macho honor, "lots of blood and little sense." In the wackiest bit, Archibaldo contrives a love triangle between a teasing model (Miroslava Stern) and a mannequin, and is left pressing his lips against the dummy’s. (Dragged into the incinerator, the effigy vibrates when licked by flames and liquefies in an unforgettable close-up.) The central work of Buñuel’s career, a midpoint between the early savagery and the later urbanity, a most dapper derangement of normalcy. Alonso’s resemblance to Rex Harrison points up the debt to Unfaithfully Yours, and there’s also Ealing wryness estilo mexicano (Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers is concurrent). The figure sauntering down the road at the close might be the director himself, the mischievous maniac finally reconciled with the world’s endless reserves of comic horror. With Andrea Palma, Rodolfo Landa, José Marias Linares-Rivas, and Carlos Riquelme. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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