‘Rondo and Bob’ is a Discombobulated Love Letter to a Pair of Genre Icons [Review]

This heartfelt documentary is full of passion but the execution is sorely lacking.

Rondo and Bob

Joe O’Connell’s Rondo and Bob is a tough picture to critique. The documentary, which chronicles the careers of character actor Rondo Hatton and art director Robert Burns, was made with a lot of heart and a lot of admiration for both of the subjects profiled. Sadly, the presentation of the doc is a bit lackluster, leading to what I would dub a challenging viewing experience. 

One of the biggest challenges I faced with Rondo and Bob is the use of reenacted footage of its primary subjects (both of whom are deceased). That tactic works well enough for true crime series on the ID network. But it feels out of place in this feature-length doc. Simply interviewing those familiar with Hatton and his work and combining that footage with snapshots and old clips seems like it would have been a more fitting way to recount the legacy of Hatton and Burns. I suppose it would be a different story if the reenactments were more effective. But as it stands, they are pretty unpolished and distracting. 

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Also challenging is the editing. The way the film is spliced together makes it a challenge to keep up with. The doc weaves the stories of its respective subjects together in a manner that feels choppy and haphazard. Rondo and Bob will focus on Burns’ career as an art director and then, without a lot of obvious rhyme or reason (or even a clear segue), shuffle back to Hatton. Just as the film would start to find a groove with one subject or the other, the focus would shift and the process would start all over.

The presentation does an injustice to both of the subjects profiled. It’s difficult to get a clear picture of who either man was when the focus is so scattered. Everything sort of melds together and the viewer is left to put the pieces together. 

Additionally, I was a bit perplexed by some of the creative choices. For example, one of the interviews is shot without the subject’s face fully in frame. I’m sure there were reasons for said decisions. But the logic behind those peculiar choices escapes me and serves to distract from the experience. 

Another concern I have is that the film takes a bit too long to clearly establish a link as to why Hatton was such an important presence in Burns’ life. We see bits and pieces of what drew Burns to Hatton as the doc goes on. But the connection often feels tenuous, particularly in the early stages.   

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Moreover, Rondo and Bob lacks a strong angle, outside of chronicling the legacy of the subjects. The flick succeeds on that very basic level. It does shine the spotlight on Burns and Hatton and celebrates their respective contributions to the horror genre. But outside of that basic conceit, it doesn’t always feel effective. Everything comes across as somewhat haphazard. And that is a shame. This documentary was clearly a love letter to a couple of iconic figures in the horror genre. I just wanted it to be a bit more cohesive. 

Aside from lacking a strong angle, the doc also comes across as unpolished. One of the subjects being interviewed about Burns’ legacy mispronounces Tobe Hooper and Brian Yuzna’s names. I can speculate that the idea may have been to deliver an unfiltered experience. But Rondo and Bob is going to live on for years to come. And I think it would play as a more effective tribute if that scene had been excised from the final cut or reshot with accurate pronunciation.   

Finally, the scope of the talent interviewed in Rondo and Bob is impressive. Yet, several of the more recognizable subjects (like Dee Wallace and Joe Bob Briggs) are under-utilized. For example, Wallace admits that she doesn’t really remember working with Burns (which is chronicled during her interview). Then she effectively vanishes from the picture. I wish she had been given a chance to speak to the impact of both Hatton and Burns had on the horror genre. The same goes for Briggs. The man is a wealth of information about cult cinema. Yet, he only pops up in the doc for a matter of moments. 

Rondo and Bob is available now if you’re keen to take a look for yourself. 

  • Rondo and Bob
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Summary

This heartfelt documentary is full of passion but the execution is sorely lacking.

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