Santo contra el rey del crimen [Santo vs. the King of Crime]

(Películas Rodríguez, 1961) Dir: Federico Curiel; Adapt: Federico Curiel, Antonio Orellana; Story: Antonio Orellana, Fernando Osés; Photo: Fernando Colín; Music: Enrico Cabiati; Prod Mgr: Luis Quintanilla Rico; Asst Dir: Alberto Mariscal; Film Ed: J. Juan Munguía; Art Dir: Arcado Artis Gener; Camera Op: Raúl Rodríguez; Makeup: Graciela Muñoz; Sound Rec: Enrique L. Rendón; Re-rec: Félix Henkel; Sound Ed: Sergio Soto; Spec FX: Javier Sierra; Union: STIC

CAST: Santo (himself), Fernando Casanova (Fernando Lavalle), Ana Bertha Lepe (Virginia), Beto "el Boticario" (Conrado), Begoña Palacios (dancer in club), René Cardona [Sr.] (Sr. de la Llata), Yolanda Ciani (Mercedes, Jorge's girlfriend), Augusto Benedico (Matías), Guillermo A. Bianchi (don Cosme), Víctor Velázquez (Morales, editor), Fernando Osés (Santo's first ring opponent), Enrique Couto (police chief), Alberto Mariscal (Tony), Enano "Santanón" (don Cosme's assistant), Francisco Curiel (Roberto de la Llata as a boy), Fredy Guzmán Jazz Combo, Tito Novaro (henchman Hoyer sp?), Antonio Raxel (Fredy, henchman), María Cecilia Leger (Virginia's mother), "Picoro" (ring announcer), Juan Garza and Vicente Lara "Cacama" (henchmen), ?Eduardo Bonada (Max Stromberg); Aquiles Elorduy and José Luis Salsamendi (jai alai players)

Mexico City release: November 1962; 1 week run; Authorization: A

Spanish release data: Authorization date: 28 October 1964; Total spectators: 429,381.

NOTES: this film, the first of three long-missing Santo films from 1961--filling in the gap between Santo contra los zombies and Santo vs. las mujeres vampiros--is an important entry in the Silver-Masked Man's filmography. Although it has no fantastic elements, and Santo isn't central to the plot (although he has marginally more to do than in the other two Rodríguez pictures in this trilogy), Rey del crimen includes a unique version of the Santo "origin story" and is bolstered by a strong cast. The plot deals with jai alai (aka cesta punta or pelota), not exactly a commonplace topic (although it had also figured prominently in the superb film noir directed by Roberto Gavaldón, La noche avanza in 1951).

As the film opens, a group of young boys leave school; one of them, Beto (Fernando Curiel, probably the director's son), sees a bunch of older boys tormenting a puppy which belongs to a little girl. Beto challenges the chief bully, and is besting him in a fair fight when the other boy's friends step in. As a result, Beto is unfairly beaten. When he gets home, the kindly servant Matías (Augusto Benedico, his hair dyed dark) tries to sneak him inside, but Beto's semi-invalid father, Sr. de la Llata, spots them. Beto explains what happened, and his father says, "I wouldn't have expected any less of you. Always come to the aid of the helpless." He then asks if Beto has ever heard of El Santo. "He's a character in a legend, right?" Beto replies.

Sr. de la Llata opens a secret compartment behind a portrait on the wall; inside is a silver mask. The older man was El Santo, protector of the weak, for many years, before his health failed. The tradition started centuries earlier, and each male member of the family has donned the mask to fight evil. "So I could become El Santo," Beto says. His father agrees, but only if his son has a strong character and follows certain precepts: "never do evil to anyone, never deceive your fellow men, dedicate yourself body and soul to defending the weak, implacably punish evil." If you can't handle the task, Sr. de la Llata says, burn the mask rather than let it fall into the hands of a stranger. He also adds that once one becomes El Santo, he has to wear the mask for 10 years; even if he falls in love, he has to wait until his duty is done before he can take time for himself and a family.

Years pass; Roberto, now a grown man (shot from behind, his voice dubbed), has just won the wrestling championship. However, Matías reminds him of the conversation Roberto had with his father, years earlier (his father died a few months afterwards). "I know what my duty is and I am willing to carry it out," Roberto says. Matías reminds him that he will have to renounce everything, including the championship belt. "Put [the mask] on me, Matías," Roberto says, and he becomes El Santo. Matías takes him through a secret passage to a laboratory in the basement of the house; it is filled with various devices to fight crime. One of the last inventions of Roberto's father was "X Alpha," a radio-wristwatch.

The next day, the newspapers are full of headlines about the disappearance of star athlete Roberto de la Llata. They do not know he has begun his career as El Santo.

The scene switches to the frontón (jai alai arena). For the unintiated, jai alai is a sport somewhat similar to handball or squash, but the players wear a long, curved, wicker cesta ("basket") on one arm, using these to hurl and catch the ball. Jai alai is played in a number of countries (including the USA: Miami is a major center of the sport), often in conjunction with spectator betting; many professional pelotaris (jai alai players) are of Basque origin (hence their long, unusual-sounding names; the sport was invented in this area of Spain).

Police detectives Fernando and Conrado, along with Fernando's reporter girlfriend Virginia, are in the audience watching a match. Virginia sees a spectator (Hoyer) apparently signal one of the players, who promptly loses. Virginia is irritated, since she was betting on this team, but Fernando downplays her suspicions that the match was fixed. But it really was: the corpulent don Cosme (constantly making international phone calls to place bets or make deals) runs a gambling ring that employs Fredy, Hoyer, and a number of other gangsters.

Virginia is sent to cover a championship wrestling match between the myterious newcomer Santo and someone else (Fernando Osés, although he isn't referred to by name). The match is long and brutal (Osés and Santo were good opponents), and Osés even gets a bloody face. Virginia sees one of Hoyer's accomplices pour something (acid) on Santo's towel when Matías--acting as Santo's corner man--isn't looking. She shouts a warning; a fight breaks out in the arena. Santo thanks Virginia; he is awarded the championship belt.

[EPISODE 2: "La Mafia"]

Fernando and Virginia have a big argument over her conviction that a ring of gangsters is influencing sports events. Santo sends Fernando one of his radio-wristwatches in gratitude for his actions in the arena (although it was really Virginia! Typical male chauvinists).

At a roadhouse (featuring a hot jazz combo--Begoña Palacios appears in one scene as a customer who jumps up and dances), don Cosme's men try to convince a pelotari to throw another match, but the man refuses. Fernando agrees with Virginia that there is a conspiracy. When some of the gangsters attack him, Fernando is aided by Santo. The Silver-Masked Man says he is also a crusader for justice.

That night at the frontón, Fredy (one of Cosme's men) tells the stubborn player (Sumalacarregui) that they are betting on him to win, so he can go ahead and play well that night; instead, he deliberately does poorly. Tony, a pelotari in don Cosme's employ, fires a ball at the back of Sumalacarregui's head, killing him (the pelota is slightly smaller than a baseball, but as hard as a golf ball and can travel up to 180 miles per hour; since the late 1960s, helmets for players have been required, at least in Florida). The death is explained away as an accident.

Later, Santo grabs the drunk and distraught Tony, trying to make him confess, but the athlete is shot and killed before he can talk. Virginia writes a story about the murders, and Santo warns Fernando that her life could be in danger.

[EPISODE 3: "Muerte en el frontón"]

Jai alai player Jorge gets in a card game at don Cosme's gambling den, and loses a large sum of money. He gives Fredy an IOU for the money, but the gangster shows up and says don Cosme wants immediate payment or Jorge will have to throw that night's match. After Fredy leaves, Santo comes into the locker room through the window.

An announcement is made: "for sentimental reasons," Jorge will participate in that evening's match wearing a mask! It is really Santo, of course, who plays (the long shots show a much smaller man wearing the white pelotari pants and shirt and a Santo mask; closeup inserts apparently show the real Santo making some moves). Afterwards, Jorge's fiancee Mercedes embraces "Jorge," but Santo shows her the real Jorge, bound and gagged in a locker! He did it to save him. But later that night, Fernando gets an phone call sending him to the arena, where Jorge's corpse is discovered.

Santo is set to wrestle "Max Stromberg" (this wrestler has a goatee and long sideburns; could this be Eduardo Bonada?) at the wrestling arena (there is an establishing shot of the Arena México's neon sign, but a poster in the immediately-following shot says "Arena Coliseo"). During the match, one of don Cosme's men fires a silenced gun (hidden in a violin case with a hole for the barrel to poke out of), but kills Stromberg instead of Santo.

Virginia is kidnaped by don Cosme, and Fernando goes to the frontón to save her. When Santo arrives to save them, he is confronted by the gangsters. Don Cosme, using a sword cane, starts to cut off Santo's mask, but somebody (never explained--possibly Conrado) cuts the lights! When the lights come back on, two of the gangsters are dead on the floor and Santo is missing. The lights go off again, and this time Hoyer is shot. Finally, Santo appears with a cesta on his arm and a handful of balls. He knocks down (kills?) Fredy and don Cosme's dwarf assistant, then "shoots" around don Cosme (knocking the cane from his hand and the hat from his head), until the mastermind confesses. The police arrive to arrest him. Santo disappears. "That's Santo, an eternal enigma," Fernando says, as he and Virginia clinch.

Santo contra el rey del crimen is an interesting film for the Santo origin story, and the jai alai setting is unique. Both of the arena wrestling matches are fast and furious. Augusto Benedico as "Matías" shows up in the next two films in the series (Santo contra el cerebro diabólico and Santo en el hotel de la muerte) but isn't identified and thus his relationship to Santo isn't really clear unless you see this one first (the fact that he showed up again in Santo contra las mujeres vampiros in a different role is confusing).

The bickering between Fernando and Virginia is annoying rather than cute (there is one completely extraneous scene at "sports club," where Fernando dives into a pool and hides underwater while Virginia and Conrado search frantically for him), but at least the writers were trying to give the characters some depth. Don Cosme's characterization (he speaks German, French, and Spanish while making his phone calls, and does a good job as the irritated gang boss) and the romance between the ill-fated Jorge and his fiancee Mercedes are also nice touches.

Aside from the arena wrestling matches and the jai alai games, there isn't a lot of action in Rey del crimen; Santo is involved in several fight scenes, but none of these are especially exciting or well-done (Cerebro diabólico is the best of the trio for action). However, the cast is quite good; it's amusing to see René Cardona play Santo's father, considering he had directed El enmascarado de plata (1952), a seminal masked-hero film (he also directed many Santo films during his career); future directors Tito Novaro and Alberto Mariscal have good roles, and an unbilled Antonio Raxel has a substantial part (in contrast, the third-billed Begoña Palacios shows up in only one scene).

Since this film--and its two sequels--had long been out of circulation, information about it was sketchy. The synopsis in Emilio García Riera's Historia documental del cine mexicano is a little confused but not totally inaccurate; however, it does mention that "Roberto" (soon to become El Santo) has to leave his girlfriend behind when he dons the mask, but no such character appears in the finished film.

On the whole, definitely worth watching.

Reviewed 26 Jan 99 by Updated 19 January 2000.

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