CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ, THE (Ensayo De Un crimen/Rehearsal For A Crime)

(director/writer: Luis Buñuel; screenwriters: Eduardo Ugarte/from a story by Rodolfo Usigli; cinematographer: Agustín Jiménez; editors: Jorge Bustos/Pablo Gómez; music: Jorge Pérez; cast: Ernesto Alonsa (Archibaldo de la Cruz), Miroslava Stern (Lavinia), Rita Macedo (Patricia), Ariadna Welter (Carlota), Rodolfo Landa (Alejandro Rivas), Andres Palma (Senora Cervantes), Leonor Llansas (Governess), Eva Calvo (Mother), José María Linares-Rivas (chief of police), Rafael Banquells hijo (Archibaldo as a boy), Chabela Durán (Sister Trinidad), Armando Velasco (Judge); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alfonso Patino Gomez; New Yorker Films; 1955-Mexico-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“It never amounts to more than a cheaply made one macabre joke movie that was only slightly amusing and only somewhat more effective as satire.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A black comedy about an upper-class gentleman would-be murderer, who is always thwarted before the crime. It’s the last film of Luis Buñuel’s (“Nazarin”/”The Exterminating Angel”/”Él”) Mexican period and though minor it still has a few witty bizarre touches and some great imagery to hang its hat on (a toy music box that supposedly can kill, a wax mannequin of our hero’s girlfriend Lavinia (Miroslava Stern) that goes up in smoke after our hero fails to murder his spiteful loved one he puts on a pedestal, and the mirror in a room, acting as a look into our hero’s soul, reflecting his unfaithful bride Carlota’s rendezvous with her suave married lover Alejandro).

The wealthy, well-bred pottery craftsman, Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ernesto Alonsa), tells the chief of police about all his intentions to kill women that were thwarted. He reminisces when as a child of five, in Mexico City, to soothe the bratty child his pretty governess (Leonor Llansas) concocted a tall story about a king who had the same music box like the one in his house that has the power to kill his enemies. It was the night of the revolution and his governess was killed by a stray bullet after the spoiled child played the music box and as a test of the music box’s powers wished for her death. This incident, whereby he remembers her skirt flying upward to reveal her bare legs, left him traumatized for life with a sense that killing is a pleasing sexual thing. As an adult, Archibaldo accidentally finds and buys the same music box in a shop (during the revolution his house was ransacked). This brings on an urge for him to kill women. The attempts made on his hospital nurse Sister Trinidad (Chabela Durán), the upward striving innocent Carlota (Ariadna Welter), the fickle kept society woman temptress Patricia (Rita Macedo) and the untruthful model Lavinia, provide some room for Buñuel to poke fun at his machismo hero while having some fun by also turning the suspense genre on its heels by reducing it to a tale of sexual politics.

Buñuel has some laughs at the expense of the decadent hypocritical bourgeoisie, dumb Yankee tourists, the complacent priests, the capricious artist and at the Latin male lover image, while including his obsession with foot fetishism. It never amounts to more than a cheaply made one macabre joke movie that was only slightly amusing and only somewhat more effective as satire, but it paved the way for his later more productive period of creating many masterpieces.