When Beauty is the Beast

Studio portrait of Katy JuradoWhen I was a fledgling cinephile in the mid-70s, I used to pick up John Willis’ Screen World annual every year. I loved seeing all the movies that had come out, both domestically and from abroad, year after year and I was addicted to the obituary section, but I also spent a lot of time in the biographical index. There the names, birth dates and places of education for actors and directors were listed. You got to see how old actors were and maybe ten percent of those indexed got their pictures included as well across the top of the page. The big actors were up there, of course: Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand… but occasionally there’d be a picture of an actor with whom I was unfamiliar. Aaron Kincaid was one of these, and someone named Paige Johnson. These people must be friends of John Willis, I reasoned. And then there was Katy Jurado. Year after year, her picture appeared in the biography index, between 1974 and 1990, when I stopped collecting them.

Studio portrait of Katy JuradoAs I saw more movies, I occasionally picked Katy Jurado out of the cast: in High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper, in One-Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando, in Stay Away, Joe (1968) with Elvis and on a 1977 episode of Baretta with Robert Blake. She was a striking, fleshy woman whose broad Indio features made her different from the standard Delores del Rio-style Mexican hottie. Born into affluence as Maria Cristina Estella Marcella Jurado de Garcia in Jalisco, Guadalajara, on January 16, 1924, Jurado was a discovery of the great Mexican director Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez (later a familiar face in several Sam Peckinpah films). She supplemented her acting income with work as a radio reporter and – get this—bullfight critic and it was in this setting that she came to the attention of director Budd Boetticher, who cast her in The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951), her first English language film. Three years later, she received an Academy Award® nomination for playing Spencer Tracy’s wife in Broken Lance (1954). Jurado was married briefly to Ernest Borgnine, her costar in The Badlanders (1958), who later described her as “beautiful… but a tiger.”


Katy Jurado as Paloma in THE BRUTE

Whether Jurado was as ferocious as Borgnine pegged her to be is debatable but Spanish director Luis Buñuel certainly saw a measure of unchecked ferality in her when he cast the actress as an elderly landlord’s lusty young bride in El Bruto (The Brute, 1952). Set in the Mexican slums, the film describes a doomed romantic/sexual triangle enacted between Jurado’s hungering wanton, her husband’s brawny slaughterhouse hireling (Pedro Armendáriz) and the daughter of a peasant tenant that Armendáriz has killed accidentally during the process of eviction. Torn between these two desirable women, Armendáriz inclines towards the saintly Meche (Rosa Arenas)… driving Jurado’s vindictive Paloma to sic the police on him, leading to a downbeat conclusion from which Paloma strides off victorious and vindicated… but towards a future marked as uncertain by the eerie sudden appearance of a black cockerel.

Paloma's revenge

Buñuel later disowned The Brute, claiming that his producers had compelled him to rewrite his original scenario to make it more melodramatic. It certainly is one of the expatriate filmmaker’s more accessible works but there are still moments of pure Buñuel… as in Paloma’s first scene, where she pops grapes as she does housework, pausing by a wall mirror to check her teeth for skins; later, she illustrates how her venal but weak husband might rid his property of peasants by snipping the heads off of her windowbox roses. This Mestizo Lady Macbeth is a force to be reckoned with and Jurado's earthy beauty both particularizes and localizes the character while contradicting the devil-in-disguise cliche of the film noir femme fatale. Paloma is a classic cinema villainess, as alluring (and in her own way sympathetic) as she is entirely amoral and cunning.

El Bruto has just been released on a good-looking DVD from Facets Video , under their Cinemateca label of classic films from Mexico's Golden Age of Cinema and beyond.  Also available are Buñuel's Susana (1951) and A Woman Without Love (1952).

8 Responses When Beauty is the Beast
Posted By Kimberly : November 4, 2007 6:54 pm

She's such a knock-out! Everytime I catch her in some film I'm always stunned by how naturally beautiful and earthy she is.

Posted By Kimberly : November 4, 2007 6:54 pm

She's such a knock-out! Everytime I catch her in some film I'm always stunned by how naturally beautiful and earthy she is.

Posted By Alan : November 5, 2007 12:32 am

For an interesting personal perspective on La Jurado, check out Paul Picerni's (and Tom Weaver's) STEPS TO STARDOM.  According to Paul, Fiery Katy apparently wasn't shy about attempting to make her desires come true with her leading men.

Posted By Alan : November 5, 2007 12:32 am

For an interesting personal perspective on La Jurado, check out Paul Picerni's (and Tom Weaver's) STEPS TO STARDOM.  According to Paul, Fiery Katy apparently wasn't shy about attempting to make her desires come true with her leading men.

Posted By Jeff : November 5, 2007 4:52 pm

You are so right. She IS Lady MacBeth in El Bruto and is the sort of woman who wants vengeance because her lover doesn´t kill her in a fit of passion. Is this what they call mad love? Katy embodies the term…and steals the film.

Posted By Jeff : November 5, 2007 4:52 pm

You are so right. She IS Lady MacBeth in El Bruto and is the sort of woman who wants vengeance because her lover doesn´t kill her in a fit of passion. Is this what they call mad love? Katy embodies the term…and steals the film.

Posted By Bryan : November 6, 2007 8:11 pm

I believe I heard Robert O mention the subject of Beauty and the Beast during an airing of Johnny Guitar. He was referring to some famouse critic who suggested Sterling Hayden as the beauty and Joan Crawford as the beast.

Posted By Bryan : November 6, 2007 8:11 pm

I believe I heard Robert O mention the subject of Beauty and the Beast during an airing of Johnny Guitar. He was referring to some famouse critic who suggested Sterling Hayden as the beauty and Joan Crawford as the beast.

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