The Penitente Murder Case

  • 1936
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

In the remote mountains of New Mexico, a journalist arrives to do a feature story on the Penitentes, a secretive Catholic cult in which, in imitation of Christ, one chosen member is flagellated and crucified each year. The journalist hires a houseboy (Rubio) who is a member of the cult, and bribes him to show him one of the secret ceremonies. Meanwhile,...read more

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In the remote mountains of New Mexico, a journalist arrives to do a feature story on the Penitentes, a secretive Catholic cult in which, in imitation of Christ, one chosen member is flagellated and crucified each year. The journalist hires a houseboy (Rubio) who is a member of the cult,

and bribes him to show him one of the secret ceremonies. Meanwhile, Rubio's former girl friend, de Forest, has left the village and is posing nude for artist Marcos. Rubio denounces her before the cult elders and demands that she be punished. The reporter asks Rubio to be shown the Good Friday

ritual, when the chosen Cristo of the village is scourged and lashed to a cross. Soon afterward Rubio is called before the council. They tell him that his actions in guiding the journalist have been discovered and that in atonement he must kill the meddler. While the reporter sits writing his

story, Rubio shoots him in the back. That night de Forest is dragged from her bed by cultists, who strip her and tie her up. She is given 20 lashes for her lascivious behavior, while her little brother runs for help. She recovers from her injuries thanks to a friendly doctor, and Rubio is arrested

and confesses to the killing. The film is based on a real incident, in which a reporter was murdered by his houseboy while researching a piece on the Penitente cult. In the wake of that story, some actual footage of a Penitente scourging and crucifixion, shot at great risk by Roland C. Price, was

dusted off and a framing story was concocted to accompany it. Because of the nude scene involving de Forest, the producers had a great deal of difficulty distributing this film, and even after cuts were made the Hays Office refused to give the film its seal of purity. A version was shot at the

same time with the same actors speaking their parts in Spanish and was released under the title EL ASASENATO DE LOS PENITENTES. A difficult film to see, but, overlooking the limitations of the amateur actors and $15,000 budget, a fascinating experience.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: In the remote mountains of New Mexico, a journalist arrives to do a feature story on the Penitentes, a secretive Catholic cult in which, in imitation of Christ, one chosen member is flagellated and crucified each year. The journalist hires a houseboy (Rubi… (more)

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