Rondo and Bob, the new documentary feature by Joe O’Connell, is a small film with lofty ambitions. An analogy between two, mirrored personalities, O’Connell’s doc creatively juxtaposes the lives of actor Rondo Hatton and art director Robert A. Burns—yin and yang opposites whose eternal connection was forged with Burns’ lifelong obsession with the mysterious Hatton.
Burns, a legend in horror circles for being the casting and art director on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is best known as the guy who discovered actor Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface) and for creating the weird ass bone shit in the Sawyer home. He would go on to do art direction for The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, and Re-Animator, gaining an industry reputation for budget-impervious set solutions. Rondo and Bob details Burns’ life through a series of reenactments, interviews, and contemporaneous footage, and thus making clear that his fascination with Hatton began at a young age and dominated his life thereafter, i.e., throwing birthday parties each year for Hatton’s birthday, as well as tracking down his widow for an interview.
For those who don’t spend all their time in sketchy horror chat rooms with 71-year-old men, Hatton became a very minor celebrity after playing the Hoxton Creeper in the Sherlock Holmes movie, The Pearl of Death in 1944. Hatton suffered from acromegaly, and his misshapen facial features were both, what Universal failed to exploit in attempting to make him a horror star and the very thing that appealed to young horror fans who discovered his brief filmography on television in the 50s and 60s. He remains a cult icon to this day and is the namesake of the popular, annual Rondo Awards.
(Hey, Rondo Award folks! Did you know I have a new book out this year?)
And if the film were merely a rehashing of Burns’ lifelong quest to dig up information about Hatton, it would be a relatively engrossing watch for us genre film geeks. However, O’Connell imbues his documentary with a thematic core that not only gives the proceedings maximum pathos, but a tangible framework in which to grasp such esoteric history. Less dialectical (in a tension sense) and more of a contrasting character study, Rondo and Bob explores the individual dichotomies of the eponymous subjects’ personalities: Hatton, whose internal warmth eclipses his “ugly” exterior, and Burns, who struggles with personal relationships due to his Asperger’s. Therefore, while each person’s arch ends in opposing directions from one another, both carry an emotional heft you won’t soon forget.
Talking heads include Joe Bob Briggs, Dee Wallace, Fred Olen Ray, Stuart Gordon (RIP), and David Gregory from Severin. Rondo and Bob will be available on streaming platforms June 7 from Electric Entertainment.