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The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales
El esqueleto de la señora Morales

The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales
Facets / Cinemateca
1960 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 92 min. / El esqueleto de la señora Morales / Street Date December 27, 2006 / 24.95
Starring Arturo de Córdova, Amparo Rivelles, Elda Peralta, Guillermo Orea, Rosenda Monteros
Cinematography Víctor Herrera
Production Design Edward Fitzgerald
Film Editor Jorge Bustos
Original Music Raúl Lavista
Written by Luis Alcoriza from a story by Arthur Machen
Directed by Rogelio A. González

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Mexican cinema embraces black comedy in this engaging domestic thriller about a sincere husband who becomes an unrepentant murderer. Luis Alcoriza, the writer of most of Luis Buñuel's Mexican films, lightens the macabre subject with a comic tone similar to that of the then-current Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show. A mocking critique of false piety, The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales thumbs its nose at the conventions of 'respectable' Mexican film fare.


Taxidermist Dr. Pablo Morales (Arturo de Córdova) is making the best of a domestic hell. His frigid, church obsessed wife Gloria (Amparo Rivelles) is revolted by his profession, won't sleep with him and tells her neighbors and the local priest that he drinks to excess and mistreats her. Gloria also falsely accuses Pablo of sleeping with the maid Meche (Rosenda Monteros of The Magnificent Seven). Pablo tries to reason with the spiteful woman but decides that enough is enough when Gloria bruises herself and claims that he has beaten her. What's needed is a perfect crime, and Pablo has the perfect tools in his taxidermy shop -- where he also prepares skeletons for medical purposes.

The jolly Dr. Morales might have wandered out of a film by Luis Alcoriza's collaborator Luis Buñuel, except that he's not a standard surrealist protagonist. Archibaldo de la Cruz from Ensayo de un crimen and the fetishist husband of "El" are driven by uncontrollable obsessions, but Skeleton's Pablo is simply Dagwood Bumstead stuck in a nightmare marriage. He tries to cope, but sometimes (sigh) the only solution is murder.

Gloria is determined to make her husband's life miserable. She pretends to be bedridden for the neighbors but insists on accompanying Pablo to the dinner table, just to ruin his meal. The woman claims that the flesh and decay of the dead deer and other animals Pablo stuffs is making her nauseous, and repeatedly asks Pableo to wash his hands with alcohol. According to Gloria, Pablo's profession is the work of the devil.

Although Pablo is still interested, Gloria refuses to have sex with him, claiming that he disgusts her. Gloria has a crippled leg, and when Pablo protests that her condition is not hereditary, she accuses him of wanting to bring deformed children into the world.

Gloria hosts a sanctimonious prayer group almost every day, and maliciously steals a thousand pesos from her husband to give to the priest. When Pablo demands his money back, the congregation is convinced he's a satanic influence on the 'saintly' Gloria. Pablo seriously considers murder only after his brother in-law takes Gloria's stories at face value, and clobbers him over the head.

Dr. Morales is too gentlemanly to counter Gloria's absurd charges in public, preferring to react with humor or polite resignation. He meets a pretty widow with two cute children that he wishes were his own, but Gloria is scandalized by the suggestion of a divorce. Her sole mission in life seems to be to torment him.

Pablo's good nature persists even after he's thrown in prison to await trial for homicide. Denounced by most of his neighbors, he maintains his composure. The authorities think they'll convict the doctor because the new skeleton in his shop display has a telltale twisted leg bone. Pablo doesn't seem the slightest bit worried.

Good performances add to the air of perversity. Amparo Rivelles' Gloria is a maddening harpy, a woman dedicated to underhanded tricks like using an eyedropper to enhance her charades with false tears. Arturo de Córdova's Pedro is the soul of discretion, but behind his jokes hides a potential fiend.

The original story is credited to Welsh writer Arthur Machen, a specialist in macabre stories and a credited influence on the haunted worlds of H.P. Lovecraft. The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales avoids any depiction of Pablo's skeletonizing process, although we do see him quartering a deer carcass. His basement shop resembles an alchemist's lair, with a tame hawk sitting on a perch like a witch's familiar. Pablo's creepy jokes occasionally cue the lighting to switch briefly into Rue Morgue mode. Director Rogelio A. González made many slapstick vehicles for the Mexican comic Clavillazo, including the infantile Sci-Fi film La nave de los monstruos (Spaceship of the Monsters). His direction of this offbeat black comedy is impeccable. The film was originally distributed by Columbia, as were many comedies by Cantinflas.

El esqueleto de la señora Morales tears an additional page from Alfred Hitchcock with a close-up of a glass that might contain poison. Pablo tells all to a scandalized priest -- and laughs because the priest cannot betray the sanctity of the confessional. The film is just eccentric enough to make us wonder if Pablo is going to get away with his crime.

Facets Video's DVD of 1960's The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales uses a medium-grade flat transfer that appears to be slightly cropped left and right from a 1:66 original. The B&W source element has some mildly distracting density shifts but is intact and has clear audio. Raúl Lavista's haunted house music adds greatly to the creepy fun. Cinemateca's subtitles are removable; the disc includes no extras.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good ---
Sound: Good
Supplements: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 24, 2007

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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