“SKELETON OF MRS. MORALES” (“El Esqueleto De La Senora Morales”)
A Mexican Black Comedy
“The Skeleton of Mrs. Morales” is a 1960 Mexican black comedy film adapted from horror master Arthur Machen’s 1927 story The Islington Mystery by screen writer Luis Alcoriza. Critics consider it as one of the hundred best Mexican films of all time. It is about a quiet taxidermist Pablo Morales (Arturo de Córdova) who suffers the demands of his prudish and hypochondriac wife Gloria (Amparo Rivelles). After twenty years of a terrible marriage, he decides to murder her. Performances are over the top and there is an ironic, final twist to the story.
No one could blame Pablo for murdering his wife. In 20 years of marriage, she turned into a frantic hypochondriac, faking illnesses and giving herself bruises to implicate Pablo. He kills her, puts her bones in acid, and displays then in the window of his taxidermy shop. The humor is sadistic and twisted. The film sides with Pablo completely – he’s flawless and the absolute victim. There is A Catholic presence in the film— a priest and a congregation visit almost daily, empathetic to Gloria as she feigns various illnesses, posturing for their pity in a bed surrounded by religious symbols. It’s a ludicrous act, yet the church sees her as a saint. At the same time, Pablo is outside playing with kids, puppies, and working during the day. The contrast is wondrously skewed and the religious hypocrisy does not stop.
Cordova’s performance is brilliant. Halfway through Pablo is in a bar with friends discussing murder and he is confident about killing his wife and even arrogant about it. No crime is perfect. Pablo let a detail slip his mind, setting up a brutally morbid, comically ironic twist ending that makes this movie so special. After talking about religion as a joke and warnings that God will judge, Pablo’s oversight comes at a cost. Amoral as the film seems to be, the final moments bring judgment to all, and a righteous end to a farce that focuses on death.
Two-thirds of the film is about the wife’s cruel treatment of the husband, and of her ability to make everyone see her as the victim. This is essential for the story to work; our sympathies are with the husband and must remain so even when he takes his revenge, it helps establish the characters of the various people manipulated by the wife, including a local priest, two biddies from next door, and her siblings. The setup of the perfect crime is brilliant, in that the husband uses his wife’s own wiles to clear himself, while setting up a situation where the most damning piece of evidence against him actually works to his benefit. This is not a movie for the squeamish; we get to see just enough of the taxidermist at work to put us on edge.