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Monday, January 4, 2016

Three great Bela Lugosi films from Monogram

In the early 1940s, Bela Lugosi signed a deal to star in several Monogram low-budget horror flicks (a couple were comedy/thrillers with the East Side Kids). It was a decision that allowed Lugosi to be the top actor on the set, an occurrence diminishing at Universal Studios. The films are mediocre save Lugosi's usual excellent performance. Unlike Boris Karloff, for example, Lugosi never phoned in performances in low-budget films. We've reviewed most of the Monogram films at Plan9Crunch, but I want to give capsule salutes to three of my favorites.

Doug Gibson



BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT, 1942:

Although the competition is fierce, this is likely the most kitschy delight when it comes to chaos and convolution. Lugosi plays a man cursed with three personalities: college professor, kindly operator of skid row soup kitchen and ruthless criminal. My favorite Lugosi scene: When the master criminal, reacting to a low level crook's joy at being part of a big robbery, casually tosses the crook off a multi-story roof, thereby creating the disruption necessary for he crime. Review here.



THE APE MAN, 1943:

Often derided as a "worst film," it isn't. Lugosi goes way beyond what's just to give some dignity to this film as a mad scientist who turns himself into part ape and has to kill to get a spinal fluid that might cure him. Wallace Fox and Louise Currie are also excellent co-stars who play journalists who foil his plans. See this film. Our review is here.



THE INVISIBLE GHOST, 1941:

Lugosi's first Monogram has a convoluted plot but benefits from above-average direction from Joseph H. Lewis. Lugosi plays a kindly man whose wife deserted him. Unbelievably, she still lives on the grounds and he goes quite mad when he catches glimpses of her. The deaths lead to the execution of one innocent man whose brother (same actor) comes to the house to seek justice. Lugosi's hypnotic walk when under the murder spell of his wife is campy but the actor also brings pathos to it. Former silent star Betty Compson plays Lugosi's estranged, insane wife.

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