Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bela Lugosi, Buster Keaton, Death Kiss and more

By Doug Gibson

Here's another update on some films your Plan9Crunch blogger has been seeing. Watched "Zombies on Broadway" again. I have reviewed it in the past but want to add a couple of tidbits. First, it's clearly the best of the RKO (Abbott and Costello imitators) team of Carney and Brown. And the reason it's the best is due to, drumroll, Bela Lugosi's presence. Before the Hungarian is prevalent, "Zombies ..." drags. Second, it occurred to me that C and B may have not threatened A and C, but they were first in using a Hollywood scare legend in a series film, beating Abbott and Costello by two or three years. Incidentally, Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein is arguably the duo's best film, thanks to Lugosi ... not that Universal execs cared a fig.

I watched, courtesy of TCM, "So Funny It Hurts: Buster Keaton and MGM," a doc on Buster Keaton's ill-fated tenure with MGM 80-plus years ago. I have mixed feelings on all the angst for Buster. True, the later MGM films were mediocre, and the teaming with Jimmy Durante a horror, although "What -- No Beer?" gets obscenely appealing with repeat viewings, but the films didn't harm Buster's career. They made lots of money, and Buster could have used that success to move on to a different studio where he'd have more control. (Harry Langdon would have loved to have the grosses that Buster's MGM films attained.) What sent Keaton into a long tailspin (that he eventually worked himself out of) was his personal ruin, including adultery and severe alcoholism, the latter of which prompted MGM to boot him. He recovered, though, with a happy later marriage and a wonderful last decade as an elder statesman of comedy; I urge comedy fans to catch the late Buster short film The Railrodder.

Finally, watched 1933's "The Death Kiss," a small-budget Lugosi film that also includes Dracula alumni David Manners and Edward Van Sloan, as well as a very attractive Adrienne Ames. This is a murder mystery, not a horror. A film star is shot to death while doing a scene where he's, ahem, supposed to be "shot to death." His estranged wife and fellow actor, Ames, is suspected of the murder. Lugosi plays the studio manager. The role is kind of unexciting; he's neither very sinister or admirable; however, he's Bela, and that makes his scenes stand out. The sleuth/hero is played by Manners, who tries hard to be charismatic with mixed success. A gimmick was a climax scene of colored gunfire. It must have been impressive 82 years ago but seems a bit hokey today. All in all, a film worth viewing, though.

Also watched an Egyptian version of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and the 1944 Lugosi-included film, "One Body Too Many," and I will discuss those in a future post.

No comments: