Santo vs. el Estrangulador [Santo vs. the Strangler]

(Estudios América--Cin. Norte, 1963) Prod: Alberto López; Dir: René Cardona [Sr.]; Scr:René Cardona [Sr.]; Story: Rafael García Travesí; Photo: Alfredo Uribe Jacome; Music Dir: Enrico C. Cabiati; Prod Mgr: Luis García de León; Asst Dir: Tito Novaro; Film Ed: José J. Munguía; Art Dir: Arcadi Artis Gener; Camera Op: Roberto Jaramillo; Makeup: Antonio Ramírez; Sound Engin: Consuelo P. de Rendón; Music Rec: Heinrich Henkel; Union: STIC

Cast: Santo (himself), María Duval (Laura Montes), Roberto Cañedo (Goudini, the Strangler), Carlos López Moctezuma (Insp. Villegas), Ofelia Montesco (Lilián), Begoña Palacios (Irene), Alberto Vázquez (Javier), Eric del Castillo (Jerry Marcos), Emma Arvizu (Claudia), Julián de Meriche (Julián Fiorelli), Milton Ray (Milton), Mayté Carol, Gloria Chávez, Julio Ahuet (police agent), Manuel Dondé (suspicious man), José Cora, Guillermo Bravo Sosa (theatre caretaker), Salvador Terroba, Edith Barr (singer), La Sonora Santanera (musical group), Nothanael León "Frankestein" (hired killer), Jesús Gómez (policeman), "Picoro" (ring ancr), Benny Galan and Fernando Osés (Santo's ring opponents), Tito Novaro (stage hand)

Notes: both this film and the sequel, El espectro del estrangulador, are odd patchworks of musical numbers, wrestling matches, and a horror-mystery plot. Wait, you may say, isn't that what most wrestling-hero movies are like? Well, yes and no. Santo vs. el estrangulador doesn't have one or two musical numbers tossed in, it has NINE songs. Fortunately, five (including Alberto Vázquez singing "16 Tons" in English, and Begoña Palacios doing "Fever") of them are crammed into the first 20 minutes or so (Santo doesn't appear, except in two ring segments, until 27 minutes have passed!), so a judicious use of the fast-forward button will get you into a more plot-heavy section of the movie.

Someone has been strangling female performers at the Teatro Variedades. When a stagehand (assistant director Tito Novaro in a cameo) spots another employee, Marcos, aiming a pistol at star Laura, naturally Marcos becomes a suspect (he was just trying to eliminate the competition for singer Lilián, whom he loves). Police inspector Villegas asks Santo to help. The Strangler leaves a gardenia for each of his victims, and Santo says "this flower has two meanings--love and death."

While Santo investigates, singer Javier and his girlfriend Irene (Laura's sister, and a performer herself) try to solve the mystery. Although he normally kills only women, the Strangler decides to make an exception in Javier's case and sneaks into the singer's bedroom to stab him but Santo bursts in and foils the attempt. The Strangler escapes but, irritated, calls up a thug and orders a hit on the silver-masked man. Santo is lured to a remote location, but the assassin (and two henchmen) foolishly attack the superhero with their bare hands rather than shooting him from ambush. Santo thrashes them all; the police arrive and shoot two of the men (one, just before he--having belatedly remembered he's carrying a dagger--tries to stab Santo in the back). The third assailant truthfully says he doesn't know who hired him.

Lilián rebuffs Marcos because he failed to knock off Laura. Marcos (a former wrestler, established earlier) returns to the ring to try and impress her. His opponent? El Santo (what a coincidence! Apparently Santo is willing to wrestle just about anybody on short notice). The Strangler sneaks into the rafters of the arena and tries to shoot Santo, but misses and kills Marcos instead (this type of scene appears in several other wrestling movies of the '60s and ྂs). Leaving the arena, Santo discovers a young boy, Milton, in the back of his car. Milton says he's an orphan and he's chosen Santo to be his new father. Ooooh kaaayy--this is really ridiculous! Santo finally agrees to adopt Milton, although he says the boy will have to stay in a boarding school during the week and visit Santo on weekends (he comes right out and says he doesn't want the kid hanging around the secret Santo laboratory all the time).

Although Inspector Villegas had ordered the Variedades closed, manager Claudia gets an injunction and the theatre reopens. The Strangler's next victim is Lilián (this is the only murder shown in its entirety, without squeamish cutaways). After a couple of more songs (including Javier singing "Cuando calienta al sol" and Milton doing a Spanish-language version of "Blame It on the Bossa Nova"), Santo and Villegas meet to set a trap for the Strangler. Laura is nearly strangled in her dressing room by the killer, but Santo arrives and scares him away.

The cast assembles in Claudia's office. Villegas tells them the Strangler is a former performer named Goudini, a quick-change artist and impressionist who made a speciality of seducing his female co-stars, until a showgirl threw acid in his face. The actress was murdered and Goudini vanished--but he's been living in the catacombs under the Teatro Variedades ever since. Santo yanks a lifelike mask off Claudia's face, revealing Goudini's scarred visage (this is a surprise, I was betting on director Julián, although Claudia is kind of butchy looking). The transvestite murderer escapes through a secret passage but is tracked down and shot by the police, falling to his death from the rafters of the theatre.

As Santo speeds off in his white convertible sports car, Laura asks Villegas: "Who was he?" Villegas replies: "He's a man--or rather, a legend--in the service of good and justice."

Once you get past the first 25 minutes of this movie, it actually becomes a mildly entertaining Santo adventure. But exactly who was the intended audience for this picture: wrestling fans, horror movie fans, or fans of musicals? Or all three? It doesn"t seem like any of the three types would have been completely satisfied. Not too many of the Santo movies pit him against just one man: usually a gang is involved, and the 'hired killers' sequence here seems to have been included just to give Santo somebody to fight. He never really confronts the Strangler, who is pretty successful (until the very end) at lurking and fleeing.

The cast is solid, and the script tosses in a few tidbits of characterization (Lilián's rivalry with Laura, Laura's relationship with her sister Irene, Irene's romance with Javier, dopey kid Milton). One of the best performances comes from Julián de Meriche as the wise-ass theatre director, who smirks and sneers when Insp. Villegas calls him a suspect. Ofelia Montesco as the sultry Lilián is also very good, as is Eric del Castillo as her slavish would-be lover.

The production values are adequate. There are a number of nice shots of Santo driving his sports car on Mexico City freeways at night (you wonder what the other motorists thought, or maybe they were used to it).

This page created 16 Jan 2003 by D. Wilt. Revised 6 July 2018. Html fixed 9 Sept 2021.

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