Film: Bloody Brood, The (1959)

February 9, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Drama / Crime

Synopsis: A young man infiltrates a hipster crowd to find the killer of his young brother.

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

After setting up Meridian Films, Canada’s first commercial video production house, Julian Roffman (The Mask) took another crack at feature film directing, and the gamble was this unusual crime film that riffs the Leopold-Loeb murders wherein two beatniks murder a kid for kicks. The private investigation by the dead boy’s brother Cliff (Jack Betts) rattles the nerves of the murderous pair’s nervous nellie Francis (Ron Hartmann), but its over-confident schemer and bully Nico (Peter Falk) seems to relish the challenge of getting close to his enemy and seeing how near vengeance will reach his doorstep.

As a low budget venture, the overwhelming scenes within The Bloody Brood occur indoors, being a late night / late morning story where characters interact. The main locations include the beat club where Nico is entertained by his flock of gullible poets, sculptors, dancers, models, and wannabes; and rare outdoor forays include a nighttime fight scene by a car dealership, and a dim and deep delivery corridor for the finale, but the lack of exteriors adds to the story’s claustrophobic atmosphere.

Nico’s pretentious followers are more caricatures – the script by Anne Howard Bailey, Ben Kerner, Elwood Ullman, and Des Hardman offers silly poetic beat babble and earnest dialogue – but that may have been the ultimate intention, as Nico is later revealed to be a poseur himself, colluding with the club owner to lure in young adults, and sell heroine as a chic form of rebellion and a hip ploy to out-class their square parents.

If the period argot and posturing date the film, it’s perhaps because it’s played straight – a stark difference from the overt satirical elements in Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959) in which a schnook yearns to be an artist and kills to create striking sculptures – but Brood’s dramatic tone works when later scenes have Cliff calling out Francis’ Nico’s girlfriend Ellie (Barbara Lord) as a hypocrite for playing ‘rebel by night’ when she works long hours assistant directing at a commercial studio with bombastic Francis.

Francis’ own hypocritical behaviour is called out in the opening scene – he’s immediately branded one of the ‘eggheads’ whose sold his soul to the older square generation – but Ellie admits to Cliff being a little lost, and using Nico’s group and weekly parties to ‘feel free,’ if not hope for some sense of being or purpose to materialize.

Nico’s attire resembles a mob boss – when he bargains with two scummy thugs, he wears his nice white coat like a cape over his nice clean suit – but when Ellie visits a beat-up Cliff, her clothes are more restrained, if not a little Victorian, as she’s made the trip on her lunch break from the studio. Cliff is quickly branded a mid-level square partly from his clothes, age, and demeanor, but he nevertheless manages to ease into the group, hanging on the edges, and watching Nico work the followers.

In spite of the script’s weaknesses – the idea a detective would hand over a suspect list with contact info to a vengeful brother and let him do dangerous leg work is absurd – the structure is sound, and both score and source jazz cues by Harry Freedman (Isabel,Act of the Heart, The Pyx) are pretty solid. Eugene Shufftan’s cinematography is very creamy, and it’s unsurprising the veteran from Metropolis (1927) and Port of Shadows (1938) would soon earn an Oscar Award for his sublime B&W cinematography in The Hustler (1961).

Falk’s noted film debut (which either came before or after Murder, Inc.) shows his charisma for playing characters who watch, absorb, assess, and execute a carefully coordinated strategy – something he’d refine to perfection in the long-running series Columbo, but perhaps the most menacing aspect of the story is its most everlasting: of cruelty stemming from boredom. Nico and Francis kill Cliff’s younger, studious brother by feeding him a hamburger laced with broken glass, and watch him writhe to death as he calls for help as the shards shred his intestines. (The pair’s behaviour is foreshadowed when they not only deny medical aide to a dying paperman in the opening scene, but Nico takes back the tip given to him moments earlier.)

Nico regards his followers as morons, and squares as scum, making the death of a decent kid all the more terrible, and Falk makes it clear Nico likes the amusement, the power, and is willing to make a slow murder a regular party feature. (It’s also worth noting a later scene in which Nico’s benefactor tells him to reel back on the performance, fearing he’ll become an annoying beatnik himself.)

It’s easy to brand Brood as a naïve or earnest social problem film, but there’s surprising depth in the work, and it’s a shame the film’s never received a proper legal home video release, let alone special edition. The ideal would be a full restoration (reportedly underway as of this writing) with an isolated score track, historian commentary, and a special featurette on the filming, which seems to have occurred within and around Roffman’s Meridian Films studio by Mortimer and Woodbine Avenue, Toronto.

 

(Sort of) Postscript

Little details of Roffman and Nat Taylor’s Meridian Films outfit exists in print and archival media, but as recounted in Dear Guelda: The Death and Life of Pioneering Canadian Filmmaker Julian Roffman, the production studio occupied the Community Theatre, and an adjacent building that either contained or later evolved into a garage.

In terms of interior sets, the office where Nico’s benefactor cautions his protege to avoiding becoming one of his pretentious flock is the same office set used by the psychiatrist in The Mask, and part of the Meridian studio and an equipment rack was likely used in the scene showing Ellie and Francis filing a commercial.

The film’s exteriors are very limited – there’s only the phone booth where Cliff’s brother makes his final call, the fight by a car dealership, and the long tunnel in the finale – but among the three locations the dealership is still easy to identify, since the corner of Frater and Woodbine remains pretty much intact.

 

Wide shot of extant corner, with old playhouse centre, and garage (right) + brown buildind (extreme right).

 

Main fight area by brown building. Note metal parking signs on wall, and beige cladding of building front.

Same brown building, same beige cladding.

Tighter angle. Note sign and edge of front cladding.

Camera farther back, showing street, but sign and beige cladding still visible.

Camera flipped to the other end of the axis, still showing brown building.

 

Reverse angle, showing street, as Cliff makes a break for the alley between the brown building and the parked cars on the dealer lot.

Reverse angle as the two thugs run past 2 parked cars after knocking down Cliff. Note that downward L-pipe to the far right that’s part of the brick building which the thugs pass before leaping into the garden of a classic 1920s Toronto row house.

Current alley, with room for 2 parked cars, and at end possible rear of same house. Faintly visible is that downward L-pipe at the end of the brick building.

Front of the 1920s row house.

It’s admittedly pure conjecture as to whether the above is the house whose back yard and fence were seen in Bloody Brood, but there’s a sense Roffman kept filming close to home base to minimize permits, and ensure easy camera setups since the scenes could occur anywhere in Toronto; the architecture of the area is found in many old residential-main streets throughout the city centre, although these humble homes are worth more than half a million in today’s bonkers real estate market.

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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