The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955) is Buñuel brilliantly playing off genre

The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz subverts all expectations of the noir genre. It runs counter to every natural impulse within the genre and all the familiar conventions. It’s funny because only a director with a deep understanding of noir conventions could make something this explicitly sideways. It’s a dark, symbolic narrative that follows a character in Archibaldo (Ernesto Alonzo) who yearns to be a hardwired serial killer he’s envision since he was a boy but unfortunately for him, is confined to his mundane life as an upper class bachelor with sociopathic tendencies. It’s a case of hilarious timed writing with many plot devices that take the quintessential noir intensity and alter it for comedic effect. Buñuel brilliantly plays off the basic moodiness of the genre while keeping his placid style. There’s a sense of truth in all his work and once again here as Archibaldo desperately wants to die a criminal with no morals, but is remembered as an upstanding citizen who helped others.

Even more, Buñuel coaxed amazing performances out of his cast and committed to his vision. The female characters are archetypal beauties that weigh deeply into the themes or have a relevance to the almost satirical humor of this depiction of a crime film. For instance, Rita Macedo as the prototypical femme fatale Patricia, or Ariadna Welter as the innocent virgin mary who commits herself to Archibaldo – both invoke the desire for murder. He’s captured participating in the fetishazion of murder. It’s as if a noir criminal decided to take his hard-boiled personality as a joke and stumble through his plans for benevolent behavior. The dynamic between each character is fascinating and vastly different from one another.

The mise-en-scène from Buñuel, as is the case in almost all his films, has such a provocative sense of atmosphere. The production design paints Archibaldo’s unfeeling nature and the absurdity of his situation. It’s one film long bit Buñuel commits to it in Archibald’s arc, but my lord, is it fantastically funny. The suspense sharpens before each murder attempt and each time the payoff becomes more rewardingly funny. 

Lastly, it’s an interesting, unorthodox look at genre films. No film I have ever seen plays off horror and noir in such an ingenious way. It will end up as one of Buñuel’s best comedies in his filmography.

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