Rondo and Bob documentary explores what you leave behind

Rondo and Bob - Courtesy October Coast and Electric Entertainment
Rondo and Bob - Courtesy October Coast and Electric Entertainment /

“The evil that men do lives after them,” Robert Burns repeats the quote from Julius Caesar in the documentary Rondo and Bob as he struggles to imitate the emotions of Marc Antony in a school play. It might seem like a throwaway line, but the flashback scene provides insight into a young man whose instrumental work and talent made Tobe Hooper‘s 1974 horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre so successful.

The famous quote from William Shakespeare is frighteningly relatable. The memories of human decency and kindness become pleasant shadows in the mind while greed, corruption, selfishness, and cowardice wreak generational harm all over the world. It also speaks true to the message of the film. Inner beauty and talent become lost in a sea of negativity and spiteful bullying. Rondo and Bob highlights the talent of two men whose contributions to the world of horror are valued by many and yet run the risk of being forgotten.

Written and directed by Joe O’Connell, Rondo and Bob explores the passion of the late Robert “Bob” Burns (reenacted by Ryan Williams) with the journalist-turned-actor Rondo Hatton (reenacted by Joseph Middleton) as separate yet interconnected sagas of two icons who never met. Through its use of dramatic reenactment, archived footage and interviews with knowledgeable individuals, Rondo and Bob examines the men behind the magic and reminds us that their legacies must be treasured.

Best known for his work in horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Tourist Trap (one of my favorite horror movies–the mannequins are so creepy) and Re-Animator, Bob Burns had all the outward appearances of someone who “fit in” to society. The public didn’t see a man who felt like an outsider because of his internal struggles with mental health and the stigmas created by social conventions.

Rondo and Bob
Rondo and Bob – Courtesy October Coast and Electric Entertainment /

Rondo and Bob tells the story of two men who never met but whose lives became intertwined. 

It was the feeling of being an outsider and struggling with inner “ugliness” that drew him to Rondo Hatton, a veteran and former journalist for the Tampa Tribune who was diagnosed with acromegaly during World War I. Acromegaly is a rare condition in which the body produces too much growth hormone. Hatton’s hands, legs, and face grew out of proportion with the rest of his body. This left the kind man vulnerable to the abuse of family and strangers, who saw him as a monstrous oddity.

After marrying his second wife Mae (reenacted by Kelsey Pribilski) and finding much-deserved happiness, Hatton moved to Hollywood and put his unique features to work, appearing as the Creeper in the ninth Sherlock Holmes film The Pearl of Death. Rondo played the Creeper in two other films and had several uncredited acting roles.

Rondo Hatton died of a heart attack at the age of 51 in 1946. In the 1960s, Burns attended the University of Texas and edited the Texas Ranger humor magazine. He discovered Rondo and became an expert on the man’s life. In scenes depicted in the documentary, Burns reached out to the teachers, friends, family, and coworkers who knew Rondo best. The documentary explores his determination to honor and remember the man he saw so much of himself in.

“My belief is that he (Burns) saw something of himself in him,” said O’Connell in an interview with the Austin American Statesman. “He saw Rondo’s outer ugliness as a manifestation of his (Burns) inner ugliness.”

Rondo and Bob
Rondo and Bob – Courtesy October Coast and Electric Entertainment /

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Rondo and Bob at first, but it didn’t take long for the pieces to fall into place and for the documentary to snare my interest. The film’s conclusion is emotional because through the personal stories of Rondo Hatton and Bob Burns, O’Connell made me re-examine the superficial ways we are conditioned to see other people and ourselves. I also gained a new appreciation for the work art directors put into cinema; without them, films just wouldn’t work.

When we celebrate and remember iconic movies, especially in horror, we often direct all of our attention and praise to the onscreen monsters and icons like Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, and Michael Myers. Sometimes we forget to look at all the people who make our greatest fears and our favorite characters come to life through film.

It’s easy to remember the wickedness and cruelness of this world. “The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” Rondo and Bob is a reminder that just as much good people do during their lifetimes live after them as well. Those closest to Rondo passed down stories from his life to people who never even met him but who will treasure the impact he made on them and on cinema. Many remember Robert Burns as an eccentric outsider. Others treasure him for the art and tone he created for some of the most iconic films in horror and the personal ways he impacted their lives.

Some individuals touch others in unexpected and meaningful ways. It’s up to us to pass down their legacy, and O’Connell’s documentary Rondo and Bob succeeds in honoring two men whose impacts in horror will be forgotten.

Next. Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters is a great documentary. dark

Rondo and Bob will be available on streaming platforms June 7 from Electric Entertainment. Will you be watching? Let us know in the comments!