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La mente y el crimen: The Undefinable Strangeness of Alejandro Galindo

By: Rafael Aviña

In 1960 Radio XEW was broadcasting the regular program ‘El que hace la paga’, a series of dramatizations, voiced by the Police Commander Luís E. Pérez, which featured cases of crime and violence from the archives of Mexican and international journalism. By the dawn of the new decade, then, crime had become a daily, domestic affair. Violent murders, drug trafficking, prostitution, psychopathy, rage, blackmail and sex became the favourite topics of the police cinema made in the 1960s, in a modern Mexico that was full of violence and corruption.

In this context, Alejandro Galindo – director of Champion Without a Crime (Campeón sin corona, 1945) and A Family Like Many Others (Una familia de tantas, 1948), among other classic films – was betting on an intriguing, independent film experiment. He would have to mortgaging his house to produce it. La mente y el crimen (1961) is a curious film, that is ahead of its time in its consideration of the work of science, the police, the sordid world of crime journalism and the psychology of murder. It is a strange and fascinating combination of documentary, reportage and fiction that is based on a real story – the discovery of a human torso in a canal near the Merced area of Mexico City. The film explores both the psychopathic mentality and the police investigation, with a style that is closer to the brutal, realistic world of crime noir.

La mente y el crimen (1961, dir. Alejandro Galindo)

La mente y el crimen (1961, dir. Alejandro Galindo) | FOTO: Filmoteca UNAM

The film features atmospheric black and white photography by the soon-to-be director Sergio Véjar and was co-written by Juan Alfonso Chavira based on testimonies from real-life members of the world of crime investigation, including: the criminologist Alfonso Quiroz Cuarón; Ignacia Diez de Urdanivia from INTERPOL; psychiatrists and professors from the UNAM, like Dr. José Quevedo; Professor Fernando Beltrán Márquez, head of fingerprinting at the Attorney General´s Office; the polygrapher Richard B. Cain, as well as other renowned figures in the fields of medicine and crime. This lent the film a certain scientific credibility. It is perhaps the only film in the history of Mexican cinema that attempts to unravel the mysteries of crime and the mind (as the title suggests), doing so with enthusiasm and good intention, even as it suffers from a certain naivety.

La mente y el crimen makes good a premise that at first appears absurd, even impossible: to tell a story about scientific and criminal investigation with a well-narrated fictional pot, and starring only incidental or secondary actors (like Wally Barrón, Mario Cid, Alejandro Guerrero, Alejandra Meyer, Queta Carrasco or Antonio Raxel). At the same time, with an experimental documentary spirit, Galindo includes images of such enormous impact that they seem disjointed: erupting volcanos; military scenes; witchcraft; cars that speed along main highways; crowds that bustle through streets and sequences of dance and sport, all aimed at building an image of crime, insanity, prostitution and more. The film also answers each of the “seven golden questions” essential to any criminal investigation: What happened? When? Who is the victim and who the perpetrator? Where? How? With what weapon? What was the motive?

All of this and more in a 105-minute film, featuring little dialogue and the voice of several narrators. Among them was Pedro de Aguillón, who would star in many future true crime series’, including Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), Mysteries and Scandals (1998), Unsolved Cases (1999 – 2006) or the Mexican Expidente 13/22:30 (1996), as well as other similar programs.

La mente y el crimen (1961, dir. Alejandro Galindo) 2

La mente y el crimen (1961, dir. Alejandro Galindo) | FOTO: Filmoteca UNAM

In La mente y el crimen, modern criminology and specialized agents determine that on September 11, 1961, a young nurse named Magdalena Alfaro was kidnapped by Aurelio Ruiz Redondo in his meat-delivery truck. He later brutally beat, strangled and raped her, dismembered her body and threw her torso (minus a bite) into the fetid canal at Puente de Carretones. In the film, the murderer ends up giving himself away after he is fooled by a trap set by the police and a doctor, who was the unfortunate victim´s boss.

In the film, scenes are recreated with enormous solemnity. Manichean hypotheses about the criminal and antisocial behaviour of individuals abound: “misery, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, ignorance… they prey upon these unfortunate brains”. There are also references to sadistic criminals like Peter Kürten, The Red Light Killer, Jack the Ripper, Francisco Guerrero Pérez nicknamed ´El chalequero´ and considered the first Mexican serial killer of women, José de Jesús Negrete and ´El Tigre de Santa Julia´, as well as to the business of prostitution (there are references to the ´Long Play Baby´, or high-end prostitutes who tended to be contracted by rich businessmen, for example).

The film shows an enormous amount of intuition as it takes us down different paths, proposing a format far removed from the commercial norm at a time when popular Mexican cinema was losing more and more ground to television, falling into the repetition of hackneyed stories and themes. La mente y el crimen is an atypical documentary noir, an unclassifiable rarity made 60 years algo that serves as a starting point for the exploration of a whole slew slew of must-see films from Mexico´s cinematographic history. Galindo´s film won an award at the Scientific Film Festival in Rome in 1962 and was released in 1964 at the now defunct C-rated Mariscala cinema, where it stayed for just one week.