Then Playing — Cronos; Duel at Diablo; Time Without Pity

Cronos (Guillermo del Toro, 1993). If Guillermo del Toro isn’t exactly a fully formed filmmaker with his feature debut, Cronos, it’s still remarkable how much of his careerlong creative voice is present from the very beginning. Most distinctly, he brings an almost childlike exuberance to depictions of the most horrific elements of the narrative, which in turn makes those details feel like sources of wonderment rather than gory tests of the audience’s endurance. The plot revolves around Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi), an older antiques dealer who discovers that an item in his shop contains a strange, scarab-shaped artifact equipped with hazardous steel pincers that are prone to plunging into flesh. Jesús finds that the side effect of those puncture wounds is a revitalized physicality and craving for blood, so your basic good news/bad new situation. He also runs afoul of a local businessman (Claudio Brook) who’s been dispatching his brutish nephew (Ron Perlman) to track down this treacherous treasure. As might be expected, especially for the earliest entry in his filmography, del Toro does better with the brooding menace than the handful of moments of full-on mayhem. Overall, though, the film is good, grim fun.

Duel at Diablo (Ralph Nelson, 1966). There a welcome touch of added roughness to this Western released as the Motion Picture Production Code was teetering toward the canvas. Jess Remsberg (James Garner) is a scout and gunslinger made butter and vengeful by the murder of his wife, a Comanche woman, several years earlier. He’s recruited to accompany an Army cavalry transporting goods across Apache territory, a trek that a retired military man and horse breaker named Toller (Sidney Poitier) is also dragooned into. Without ever getting too raw, Duel at Diablo makes it clearer than most of its era counterparts that existence on the American frontier was a monumentally difficult task, too often made even worse by chauvinism and bigotry. Director Ralph Nelson handles the genre tropes well while leaving room for beats of emotional insight. Both Garner and Poitier pop in starry turns that don’t necessarily dig all that deep into the characters. Bibi Andersson is solid enough in a supporting role, though it’s bizarre to realize that this pat Hollywood studio work came out just a few weeks before her staggering turn in Ingmar Bergmann’s Persona. The Neil Hefti score occasionally dallies with the mod pop of the era, which is simultaneously distractingly incongruous and kind of a kick.

Time Without Pity (Joseph Losey, 1957). This bleak drama stars Michael Redgrave as David Graham, a man fresh out of inpatient treatment for alcohol abuse who investigates the murder that has his son, Alec (Alec McCowen), bound for the gallows. It’s like one of the sweaty Hollywood film noirs about a man desperately racing against time to solve a crime, but staged with the moving-books-slightly-to-the-left solemnity of British cinema. That makes it a little dull, even if Redgrave brings an impressive gravity to the role. The flip of his vivid but controlled work is the work of Leo McKern, who brings industrial strength overacting to a villainous turn as a wealthy car dealership owner. Joseph Losey’s directions is clear but somewhat rote. Time Without Pity never really comes to life.

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