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Criminal Life Of Archibaldo De La Cruz, The

VCI // Unrated // August 23, 2022
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted August 23, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:


The last of storied director Luis Buñuel's ‘Mexican period' and a more commercial and accessible film than you might expect from the man who gave us films like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and the Salvador Dali-penned exercise in surrealism that is Un chien andalou, 1955's The Criminal Life Of Archibaldo de la Cruz (or, Ensayo de un crimen in its native Spanish titling) is an interesting mix of the macabre and the comedic, a trait that the director would exploit throughout his career.


When the story starts, a bourgeoisies boy is given a music box that has been handed down through his family for generations. The legend behind the antiqued piece is that whenever the music box is played, an enemy will be killed. Not one to take things lightly, the boy decides to give the music box a test drive of sorts, and after letting it play, a stray bullet, courtesy of a revolutionary fight going on outside, flies through the window of the room he's in, hitting his governess (Leonor Llausás) in her head and knocking her down dead. The boy can't help but get a look at her legs once she's fallen dead. Given that they'd only recently had a disagreement that led to the boy wishing she were dead, he figures that this can't be just a coincidence and that this heirloom has given him the power to kill anyone who should cross him.


The boy grows into an adult and it's clear that Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ernesto Alonso) has never forgotten the lesson he learned that day as he's essentially evolved into a would-be serial killer. Archibaldo loves women but not nearly as much as he loves figuring out creative ways to kill them. That said, Archibaldo has never been able to replicate the success of his first ‘kill' those many years ago, as any time he attempts one, something gets in the way and messes it up for him. Case in point? He gets married, planning to kill his bride after their honeymoon, only for her to be killed by her ex-boyfriend. After a bit of this, he tosses the music box in the water and walks away from it, but will Archibaldo de la Cruz ever be able to adapt to being a ‘regular' member of society?


A witty and twisted slice of oddball black comedy with thriller tropes tossed in for good measure, The Criminal Life Of Archibaldo De La Cruz is quite an interesting and entertaining movie. Well-paced and nicely shot, the script, which was co-written by Buñuel and Eduardo Ugarte and based on a novel by Rodolfo Usigli, is quite intelligent and manages to keep the audience equal parts intrigued and amused throughout. The cinematography from Agustin Jiménez is quite strong, the black and quite picture often using some impressive visuals to complement the quirky story being told. The production values are strong here, and while the film was likely made with a modest budget, it never matters, as Buñuel never overreaches.


An interesting exploration of a man who would like to be a murderer, his sexual hang-ups and their effect on him and the flaws of the upper class and alpha male castes, The Criminal Life Of Archibaldo de la Cruz features some strong performances. Ernesto Alonso is very good in the lead and he carries the movie. Leonor Llausás' role is over fairly quickly but it's an important one as he cements the connection between sex and death that exists in Archibaldo's head. It's also worth pointing out that the beautiful Prague-born actress Miroslava has a role in the film as one of Archibaldo's women and that she would tragically die by her own hand shortly after this film was completed in 1955.


The Video:


VCI Entertainment brings The Criminal Life Of Archibaldo De La Cruz to Region Free Blu-ray framed in 1.33.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with the feature taking up 18.7GBS of space on a 25GB disc. Taken from a new 4k restoration of the original 35mm negative undertaken by the Mexican Cinematheque, the black and white image is quite nice. Compression artifacts pop up in a few spots somewhat commonly throughout the movie but contrast, more often than note, looks good and we get nice black levels and a good greyscale throughout. The film's grain structure has not been sandblasted with digital noise reduction, a common problem on VCI releases, and it generally looks quite film-like throughout. Detail is quite good and there's some depth and texture on display throughout most of the film. This won't win transfer of the year but it's a pretty decent looking picture.


The Audio:


The only audio option on the disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track in Spanish. Optional subtitles are offered in English and Spanish. Audio is a bit flat and it would have been preferable to get a lossless option (particularly since there's a fair bit of space left on the disc to accommodate it) but the track is clean, clear and properly balanced despite the occasional intrusion of some minor sibilance.


The Extras:


The only extra of much substance on the disc is a twenty-seven minute The Criminal Life: A Video Essay By Dr. Davit Wilt, Film Historian. This piece, which features English and Spanish subtitle options, goes over the production history of the movie, where Buñuel's career was at this point in time, the director's work in Mexico, details on the cast and crew as well as the writers, some of the themes that the movie explore, the way that relationships are depicted in the movie, the film's release history, the way that American tourists are depicted in the film and much more.


English and Spanish language menus and chapter selection options are also provided.


Overall:

The Criminal Life Of Archibaldo De La Cruz isn't the film that its director is best known for and it doesn't stand as a picture so unique and groundbreaking as some of his surrealist efforts, but it is a very good black comedy with solid production values, good acting and an interesting story behind it all. VCI Entertainment's Blu-ray release could have used more extras and better audio and the compression leaves something to be desired, but overall it does look pretty decent. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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