Friday, February 13, 2009

Thinking about Bowery at Midnight

By Doug Gibson

I saw Bowery at Midnight again, this time courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. It's an example of the Monogram Studios C-film magic Bela Lugosi was putting out in the early 40s.

The 1942 61-minute film is a classic cheapie. Lugosi dominates the film in a dual role. He's a kindly NYC Bowery shelter operator and college professor. At night he's a sociopathic criminal mastermind who kills on a whim. In the basement of his soup kitchen/shelter he runs his operations. A deranged drug-addicted doctor revives most of his victims and keeps them hidden below one of the "graves."

Lugosi's assistant, played by 40s starlet Wanda McKay, eventually snoops on him. Her boyfriend, a student in Lugosi's character's class, snoops too much and gets shot. A baby-faced killer (Tom Neal) is recruited by Lugosi but eventually become too much for the evil doctor to handle.

You can't make this stuff up. It's a wonderful, almost magical film in its low-budget wackiness. Its low budget can't possible meet its expectations, but it somehow more than pleases, with its grimy, bowery settings, Monogram staple music and, of course, Lugosi.

My review on Plan 9 Crunch's Review of the Day site is here:

I'd like to add some notes: The director, Wallace Fox, was a dependable C-movie director of the time. Co-star Tom Neal made the film noir masterpiece Detour. He was a star in the 50s before flaming out and later going to prison for manslaughter. Starlet McKay was in a few Lugosi Monogram films. Her road to Hollywood was paved via winning beauty pageants. Michael Copner, ex-editor of Cult Movies Magazine, lists Bowery at Midnight as his favorite film.

Like any cult film, Bowery certainly improves upon repeat viewing. I tag it with The Ape Man as my favorite of Lugosi's Monogram films of the early 40s.

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