Placido (1961)

Directed by Luis Garcia Berlanga
Written by Rafael Azcona, Luis Garcia Berlanga, Jose Luis Colina, Jose Luis Font
Jet Films
First viewing/Film Struck

“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

This black comedy is a savage indictment of false charity and the state of the Spanish population in the Franco era.

A cookware company is mounting a “have a poor person to dinner” campaign on Christmas Eve.  Wealthy Spaniards are, at least superficially, enthusiastically cooperating.  When they are in private it is clear the exercise is a giant pain in the neck.  The event includes a beauty queen and a raffle of gift baskets with second-rate movie stars as “prize” dinner guests.  Elderly “poor persons” are kept out in the freezing cold for hours to welcome the movie stars.

Placido’s prized possession is his truck which he uses as a taxi and delivery van.  The family is barely making ends meet – his wife works as a restroom attendant.  Placido must make payment on his truck on this particular day or he will lose it.  All his efforts to scrape together the money or go to actually make the payment are derailed by the organizer’s demands that he drive various people around.  None of the organizer’s promises to help Placido with his dilemma will be kept.

In the meantime, the campaign is a comedy of errors capped off by a poor old person’s heart attack and forced marriage to his common law wife.

I might need to see this again to fully appreciate it.  I found myself getting irritated on Placido’s behalf rather than laughing.  The comedy might not translate well.  At any rate, it is of a very black stripe.

Placido was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Trailer (no subtitles)

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

Mr. Sardonicus
Directed by William Castle
Written by Ray Russell from his novel
William Castle Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental


Baron Sardonicus: [leading Sir Robert to the torture chamber] This castle is very old, Sir Robert. It was built in a dim age of fearful barbarity.

William Castle’s films never live up to their trailers.  They are a lot of fun anyway.

The story takes place late in the 19th Century.  Sir Robert Cargrave is a genius researcher into treatments to relax muscles stiffened in cases of tetanus.  One day he receives a letter from Maude Sardonicus begging him to come to her in the Eastern European country in which she lives.  Maude was Robert’s sweetheart when she was forced by her father to marry the Baron Sardonicus and he has never loved another.

On arrival, Robert is met the baron’s creepy one-eyed “man of all trades” Krull (Oskar Homolka).  He observes fearful experiments being done on the maid using leeches. Eventually, Robert meets the Baron who constantly wears a mask.  He learns that Sardonicus was once a simple peasant.  His face was frozen into the grotesque permanent grin of his dead father when he opened the grave in search of a winning lottery ticket.

Sardonicus is a terrible sadist and he threatens Maude with unspeakable torture if Robert does not fix his face.  I will stop here.

This movie could have been much scarier but not much more fun.  Castle himself opens the proceedings to provide the audience with a definition of the word “ghoul” and closes them by running a rigged audience poll on whether Sardonicus deserves further punishment.  The best thing about the movie is Homolka’s delicious hamming.  What a long career he had!  The DVD print is outstanding.