BR: Bloody Brood, The (1959)

February 9, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  KINO Lorber / Unobstructed View

Region: All

Released:  October 15, 2019

Genre:  Drama / Crime

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

Special Features:  Audio commentary with film historian Jason Pichonsky and film historian / Canuxploitation founder Paul Corupe / Featurette: “Beatniks and Broken Glass: Remembering the Bloody Brood” (16:02) / 2 short films: “FDR Hyde Park” (16:15) + “Freedom to Read” (14:12) / Theatrical Re-release Trailer.




After setting up 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 in which two beatniks murder a kid for kicks. As the private investigation, by the dead boy’s brother Cliff (Jack Betts), rattles the nerves of the murderous pair, nervous Nellie Francis (Ron Hartmann) becomes paranoid, and over-confident schemer and bully Nico (Peter Falk) seems to relish the challenge of getting close to his enemy, and whether Cliff’s vengeance will land on his doorstep.

As a low budget venture, The Bloody Brood is cleverly kept indoors; being a late night / late morning story where characters interact, so much of the scenes occur in the beat club where Nico is entertained by his flock of gullible poets, sculptors, dancers, models, and wannabes. The rare forays outdoors include a fight scene by a car lot (see stills at the very end), and a dim and deep delivery corridor for the finale, but the lack of exteriors adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film.

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 young adults, and sell heroine as a chic form of rebellion as the kids believe they’re out-classing their square 9-5 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 pays off when later scenes have Cliff calling out Nico’s girlfriend Ellie (Barbara Lord) as a hypocrite, playing airy rebel by night when she works long hours at a TV studio as an assistant to bombastic commercial director Francis.

Francis’ own clumsily hidden duplicity is called out in the opening scene – he’s immediately branded one of the ‘eggheads’ who’s sold his soul to the older square generation – but Ellie has a few inches of credibility, admitting to being a little lost in a soulless career, and using Nico’s group and impromptu house parties to ‘feel free’ and maybe grasp a new purpose.

Ever-formal Nico wears fitted suits, and he resembles a Don when he drapes a very nice coat over his shoulders during a bargaining session with two leather jacketed thugs, both of whom could easily slit his throat and snatch his roll of cash.

When Ellie visits a beat-up Cliff during a lunch break, her casual evening sweaters are replaced with an almost Victorian wardrobe that seems to infer a free spirit trapped in a regimented world with thick glass ceilings, and Cliff’s first attempt to infiltrate the group has him similarly dressing casual, yet his Sears outfit makes it clear he’s either a wannabe, or a perhaps an undercover cop, watching Nico work his minions from the sidelines.

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 basic structure is sound, and both the musical direction by Louis Applebaum and jazz cues and source music by Harry Freedman (Isabel, Act of the Heart, The Pyx) are pretty solid. Eugene Shufftan’s cinematography is very noirish, 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 in a leading role (which preceded his Oscar-Nominated performances in Murder, Inc. and Pocketful of Miracles) 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 human cruelty stemming from boredom.

Inspired by an actual case, 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 Cliff for help. (The pair’s behaviour is foreshadowed when they not only deny medical aide to an old paperman in the opening scene, but Nico takes back the dollar tip he’d given the doomed man 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 kill as regular feature at future parties, perhaps with the intention of making it a group effort if his control can increase past twitchy Francis. (It’s worth noting that Nico’s senior benefactor tells him to reel back on his performance as an arbitrator of cool, fearing he’ll become an annoying beatnik himself.)

Although planned as a career builder and attempt to show Hollywood and disinterested Canadian distributors that Roffman and Canadians as a whole could make perfectly slick films, Brood failed to gain much traction, perhaps because it had to be filmed quickly and meet the theatrical release date set by U.S. distributor Allied Artists, an indie whose bread & butter during the late fifties lay in exploitation and C-grade fodder like World Without End (1956), Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) and Not of This Earth (1957), and the delightfully sleazy shockers The Hypnotic Eye (1960), Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962), and The Strangler (1964).

The studio did make less goofy and risqué materials and occasional reared its head for A-level productions (Friendly Persuasion, and later El Cid and Papillon), but certainly the poster campaign presents a lurid tale of Deceit! Murder! And Naughty Women! (The re-release trailer, presumably hacked together by Sutton Films, is awful, with shoddily slapped together material selling the film as another outrageous performance by then two-time Oscar Nominee Falk.)

It’s easy to brand Brood as a naïve or earnest social problem film, but there’s surprising depth in the work; even the weaker performances have aged rather well. (The lone exception is the bongo drummer, who rarely hits the skins, and is way off beat from whatever temp track or final source cue was used in the mix.)

Roffman’s film has been available in various grey / bootleg VHS and DVD editions, but it’s been worth the wait to see an uncut version restored for both Blu-ray, DVD, and future theatrical screenings, such as the premiere in the fall of 2019 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of the UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. (See end for link to the post-screening Q&A between Peter Roffman and Jason Pichonsky.)

Much like their successful efforts to bring a proper legal edition of the 3D classic The Mask to home video and theatrical venues, film historian Jason Pichonsky and Peter Roffman worked with KINO Lorber again to produce the definitive edition of Brood, packed with an informative commentary, a making-of featurette, and two rare shorts directed by Julian Roffman.

Pichonsky is joined by Rue Morgue writer and founder and CanCon historian Paul Corupe, and the pair trace the film’s genesis as a script initially developed for Hal Roach Studios, and Roffman later teaming up with producer Ralph Foster, and distributor / Canadian Film Weekly publisher N.A. Taylor, the future co-founder of Cineplex.

The historians present a lively and very detailed account of the film, its talent pool, and sparse locations. There’s also an unexpected discussion of A Cool Sound from Hell, a very similar themed film shot by a young Sidney J. Furey (The Ipcress File, The Entity) at Roffman and Foster’s Meridian studios at Frater and Woodbine. Furey whisked the film to England, where it had limited distribution; the movie was never released in Canada until a restoration by the BFI, and a lone screening at TIFF before it was taken  back to England.)

Peter Roffman offers a short anecdote in the commentary on Falk’s casting, and is the main interview source in the featurette which contextualizes the production in Roffman’s unusual career as writer, producer, cinematographer, director in Canada and the U.S.

As better detailed in The Mask‘s Blu-ray bio featurette, Roffman went from news cameraman during WWII to NFB filmmaker, producer and assistant director in Hollywood, TV producer-director, blacklisted filmmaker, and CanCon champion who in the late 1950s set up Meridian Films and made a string of successful TV ads and industrial productions.

The two short films offer striking snapshots of his skills within the documentary format. The oldest is FDR at Hyde Park, a very reverent portrait of the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which screened for several years as an added attraction in NYC. Written by Norman Rosten and longtime Roffman collaborator Bern Kerner, the doc is part experimental, relying on objects, rooms, and locations to trace FDR’s birth as a “plump and pink and nice” baby to active college boy; being stricken with what was then branded as infantile paralysis; and his lengthy political career in state and federal positions.

Roffman, who also doubled as cinematographer, blends lush diffused images of the Hyde park compound with elegant slow tracking shots of the house interior. The camera often swings to a window to give an impression of what FDR saw during his bedroom convalescence, and from his modest office where he steered the country through the New Deal, WWII, and the founding of the United Nations. There are no voices save for the soothing tone of the great Norman Rose, and no humans except in stills, paintings, and sketches. Perhaps the two most effective uses of FDR effigies are a series of highly dramatic lap dissolves of a brass bust, and the finale which closes on an unfinished portrait, frozen after its seated subject passed away in 1945.

The documentary is neither propaganda nor outright adulation, but a feting of a figure whose character and beliefs impacted people in various economic and social strata; and the UN, which became an important bulwark against Communist aggression, and in later years, controversial for lacking the impact and full-on positive role in tackling crises, aggression, and bridging gaps among member states.

Peter Roffman’s commentary extends to most of the short’s running time, and he rightly regards the doc as very special, and cites it as among his father’s favourite and best work, which also includes co-directing with John Fernhout And So They Live (1940), a very Griersonian portrait of an isolated Appalachian community; and the NFB short Nahanni (1962), which he produced and directed without credit.

Depending on one’s tastes, composer Irving Landau’s score for FDR at Hyde Park is either shrill and overstated, or a lush orchestral suite tracing FDR’s life events, and adding extra poignancy to frozen objects within his house, such as his desk, the dining room, and the ramp and wheelchair he used.

The second short film is a kind of propaganda piece designed to refute anti-Communist rhetoric. Freedom to Read (1954) was commissioned by Columbia University to mark their centenary and defend the banning of library books with a provocative drama designed as a teaching tool and spawn discussions among affected organizations.

Citing the credo “The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas,” the drama begins when a librarian finds a lingering patron, and her short ‘Can help you?’ reveals the twerp’s intention to ban works deemed fifth column, traitorous, and un-American. He soon departs with the intention of arguing his case at the board’s next meeting, and the librarian considers her defence strategy as she sorts through the piles of books the twerp presumably set aside as examples of wrong thinking, including works by Voltaire, Milton, and others.

The two leads excepted, the acting is stilted, but as anti-propaganda during the Communist witch hunts that ruined careers and lives – Roffman had to return to Canada soon after being blacklisted – it’s fascinating. As the librarian articulates her stance that “Americans have a right to read all sides,” the twerp makes his short retort directly to the camera, and the drama freezes with an onscreen caption for the projectionist to halt the film so the group can discuss “How can a library best save our freedom?”

Not unlike the dissolves between objects, Roffman’s montages include footage of books, names, and etched or painted figures, and as precious as the film may appear, it still works as a contrast between reason and fear-mongering.

Switching back to Brood, star Peter Falk soon found a stable career playing TV’s Det. Columbo over several decades, while Jack Betts had a recurring role on Checkmate (1961-1962) and Perry Mason (1961-1966), and like many actors trapped in episodic TV, hopped over to Europe and starred in a variety of spaghetti westerns, playing Django and Sabata under the name Hunt Powers before he returned to American TV and the occasional feature film. Ron Hartmann appeared in countless TV productions and the occasional feature film, including The Reincarnate (1971), which was largely directed by Roffman.

Although Julian Roffman wasn’t happy with Barbara Lord’s performance, she’s actually fine playing a character withholding emotions, because she’s trapped in a kind of limbo. Lord appeared in a few more TV series before stepping away in 1961, and returning for appearances on Hunter (1988) and Beauty and the Beast (1989).

Twisty dancer Anne Collings made her debut in the Toronto-set anthology Now That April’s Here (1958) and co-starred as the sort-of doomed secretary in The Mask. Aside from several TV credits in the U.S. and Canada, Collings’ other formal feature films include Seven Alone (1974), and Escape from Angola (1976) from executive producer Ivan Torns, for whom Roffman directed episodes of Flipper (1964-1967) and Daktari (1966-1968).

Films formally produced under the Meridian Films shingle include The Bloody Brood (1959), the short documentary You Can Go a Long Way (1961), Explosion (1969), and The Reincarnate (1971).

A podcast interview with Peter Roffman on the publication of Dear Guelda: The Death and Life of Pioneering Canadian Filmmaker Julian Roffman is available, as well as a podcast interview with film historian and restorationist Jason Pichonsky.


(Sort of) Postscript

Few details of Roffman’s Meridian Films outfit exists in print and archival media, but as recounted in Dear Guelda, 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; part of the Meridian studio proper 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 buildings at the corner of Frater and Woodbine remain 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.



© 2018; revised 2020 by Mark R. Hasan




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