Santo frente a la muerte [Santo Faces Death]*

(Fonexsa Films--Tusisa Films, 1969)** Prod/Dir/Scr: Fernando Orozco; Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera; Music: Daniel White; Prod Mgr: Pedro A. Rivera; Chief of Staff: Miguel A. Rincón; Admin: Adolfo Fernández; Co-Dir: Fernando Osés; Film Ed: Reynaldo Portillo; Camera Op: Enrique de la Rosa; Makeup: Alvaro Bernal; Sound Tech: Jesús Jiménez, Luis Gutiérrez

Mexico City release: December 1972; 1 week run; Authorization: A

*[this film has also been released as Santo contra los asesinos de la Maffia (sic)]

** Spanish source lists FONEXSA and Cin. Fermont as co-producers (TUSISA is listed as distributor); Antonio Graciani as film editor; Manuel Bengoa as screenwriter; Aurelio G. Larraya as cinematographer; Manuel Bengoa and Enrique Eguiluz as directors (Fernando Orozco is only credited as producer)

Spanish release data: authorization date: 24 April 1970; total spectators: 264,556

CAST: Santo (himself), Mara Cruz (Lina), Angel Menéndez (Dr. Igor), Elsa Cárdenas (Alicia), César del Campo (Lt. Víctor Valle), Celia Roldán (Mario's girlfriend), Fernando Osés (assassin), Johana Aloha (Agent X-25), Frank Braña (Mario), Antonio Pica (Igor's henchman), Ramiro Corso, Jimeno González, Luciano Merchan, Nelson Cuellar, Francisco Tejada, Antonio Granados, Guillermo Morales, Manuel Velázquez

NOTES: This is definitely one of the 5 worst Santo films overall, both for production values and general entertainment value. The plot is boring and muddled, Santo doesn't have much to do, and the production, direction, photography, editing, and so on are all sub-par. For the record, it was a Spanish-Mexican co-production shot mostly in Colombia, with post-production done in Barcelona.

First, a few words about the connection between Frente and Santo en el misterio de la perla negra. While the latter picture is usually cited as a 1974 production, it seems clear that these two films were actually made back-to-back, or at least very close together. Both are Mexican-Spanish films shot in Colombia; both were written and directed by Fernando Orozco; both were photographed by Juan Manuel Herrera (with Enrique de la Rosa as camera operator), edited by Reynaldo Portillo, and production managed by Pedro A. Rivera. Both films feature Santo, Mara Cruz, Fernando Osés, Antonio Pica, and Frank Braña. Some footage from Frente also appears in Perla negra. The plots are also similar, dealing with stolen or smuggled jewels, and both films have two female villains who are reluctantly turned over to the police by Santo at the end (except, in the case of Frente, only one survives this long). Santo en el misterio de la perla negra was released in Spain under a different title in 1971, but in what form has yet to be determined.

To top this matter off, Campeones del ring, a "1972" film featuring Frank Braña and masked wrestler "Rayo de Plata," contains large amounts of footage from Frente (as well as what may be some out-takes). Angel Menéndez plays the villain in both pictures, but in a curious twist, Braña goes from bad guy to hero (as does Fernando Osés), while César del Campo switches from good guy to villain! Guillermo Gálvez appears only in footage from Perla negra (a "1976" film!), yet receives prominent billing!

Santo frente a la muerte begins with a raid on a Colombian emerald mine. A gang of crooks, led by female wrestler Alicia, steals the huge "Cruz del sur" emerald. They have been hired by the mysterious "Gran Desconocido" (Great Unknown One), who is going to sell the stone to Dr. Igor. Alicia is being forced to work for the Gran Desconocido because he is holding her father prisoner somewhere.

Santo arrives in Colombia and is met by Lt. Víctor Valle of the local police. Valle is suspicious of Lina, a blonde who became acquainted with Santo on the flight. As it develops, she is the courier who will take the emerald back to New York when it is delivered to Igor.

Santo's cover story requires that he wrestle in some matches. In the first one (where he has a masked partner who does nothing but stand outside the ring, leaving Santo to fight two opponents at once), a sniper in the employ of gangster Mario tries to shoot him, but misses. The assassin reports to Mario in a nearby nightclub, which also happens to be the hangout for Dr. Igor, his assistant, and Lina. Valle spots Lina talking to Igor, which confirms his suspicions about her.

The next day, Santo and Valle try to tail Lina and Igor through downtown Bogotá (to the accompaniment of an instrumental version of "Sunny"); they see Lina pass something (or get something) from Alicia. Alicia and her men flee to their hideout, with Valle and Santo in pursuit (Santo has to ride up the side of a mountain on top of an aerial cable car). After a short tussle, Alicia manages to escape.

Mario's henchman pays off Santo's next ring opponent, who tries to kill him during the match, but fails. The belly dancer in the nightclub is really X-25, a police agent. She sends Santo a message to meet her in her dressing room. However, while Santo is chatting with Lina at a nearby table, the assassin--who just happens to be wearing clothes identical to those Santo is wearing, and who just happens to have a Santo mask in his pocket--murders X-25. Santo and the killer have a brief fight, but the fake Santo escapes.

Alicia wins a wrestling match and asks Mario to join her in her dressing room. Mario's girlfriend finds them kissing, and in a jealous rage calls Dr. Igor and says Mario is going to double-cross his boss. She then tips off Santo that Igor will be leaving the city by private plane. [This footage--featuring what appears to be a Santo double**--is repeated in Perla negra] Santo stows away in the plane and is taken to Igor's hideout, where Alicia's father has been forced to cut the giant emerald down to a smaller gem. Apparently, Santo steals the plane and goes back to the city (this isn't shown--Santo just disappears, and then we see Igor calling to have another plane sent to pick him up!), where he reports to the police. Later, the assassin--again dressed like Santo--attacks Santo in his hotel room. After a decent fight, the assassin takes a long dive from the roof to the pavement.

The Gran Desconocido reveals himself to be Dr. Igor. He has Mario tossed off a cliff for his alleged treachery. Mario's girlfriend is to be next, but the arrival of Santo and the police save her. Alicia is shot to death in a gun battle with the cops. Santo has a sword fight with Igor's assistant, and the assistant winds up skewered. Igor and Lina flee in a light plane, with Santo and Valle in pursuit in a large Colombian army transport plane. Army paratroopers capture Igor's hideout. Igor and Lina land their plane and escape by boat, headed for Brazil. Santo's plane is too big to land at the same strip, so he has to parachute out (there is an amusing shot of Santo, wearing an Army helmet and an orange jumpsuit, poised to leap out of the plane). A helicopter picks him up and drops him on Igor's boat. Igor--who is a rather elderly, thin man--unwisely tries to fight Santo and winds up in the river. Lina: "Do you think the doctor will be saved?" Santo: "No, there are a lot of crocodiles here." (We don't see any, though, and the boat doesn't even slow down to try to save the villain)

Santo reports that Igor and Lina were drowned, so Lina can have a chance to go straight. However, she later steals the emerald from Santo and he has her stopped at the airport and arrested. His job done, Santo departs for Mexico.

Santo frente a la muerte doesn't even have the freak-entertainment value of Santo en el misterio de la perla negra, the "so bad it's good" status. There are some very minor points of trivia worth discussing: a wrestling poster in the film says Santo will wrestle "Drácula," but none of his opponents has any sort of vampire aspect (another poster misspells Fernando Osés as "Osses"). The fans in the wrestling arena (as Emilio García Riera points out) attend all of the matches in the film wearing the same clothes and sitting in the same seats (some shots of the audience look like they are in a theatre rather than a sports arena).

There are so many inconsistencies and loose ends in the plot that they aren't worth enumerating. Another sore spot is the musical score by Daniel White, which veers wildly from inappropriate jazz and big band style music to themes played on a marimba, to the aforementioned "Sunny" during the Bogotá street sequence (which goes on WAY too long, but it's briefly amusing to watch the real people react as Elsa Cárdenas, César del Campo and especially Santo walk by). Without a doubt, this is a real low point for Santo--maybe not THE worst, but right down there with them.

** Cool Ass Cinema has some interesting information on the various Santo doubles in this movie.

Posted by on 13 April 1998. Revised 19 January 2000.

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