Monday, October 16, 2017
Bela Lugosi the best part of early talkie Night of Terror
Review by Doug Gibson
I finally got around to seeing "Night of Terror," an early non-Universal talkie that Bela Lugosi starred in a couple of years after "Dracula." It never appears on Turner Classic Movies and only scenes appear on YouTube. Finally, at DailyMotion.com, I found it here. (It can be found easily to buy as a DVD online).
So, I watched it last week and ... I was a bit disappointed. Lugosi does a fine job as a solemn, somewhat menacing servant wearing a turban. He does a mean stare, as you can see from the lobby card above. But the film has a mediocre script and a "climax" that is a bit ridiculous. It's a "old dark house" mystery, in the style of its peers "The Bat" and "The Cat and the Canary,' but not as good, and quite derivative.
Someone, whom the press calls the "The Maniac,' is killing off people, with eventual emphasis on killing members of the wealthy Rinehart family. Despite this threat, none of the Rinehart family members appear eager to leave the house and the area to escape the threat. They are too concerned about the revealed will of family patriarch, Richard Rinehart, one of the early murder victims.
Some of the Rineharts crab that faithful servants Degar (Lugosi) and his wife, Sika (Mary Frey) are in line to inherit if the Rineharts die. That makes Degar a suspect to some. Pretty Mary Rinehart (Sally Blane), daughter of Richard, is engaged to boring Professor Arthur Hornsby (George Meeker) who wants to bury himself to prove that a formula he's working on can presumably keep people buried alive safe for long periods.
Really, however, Mary has the hots for romance-minded reporter Tom Hartley (Wallace Ford), whom she enjoys bantering with. Meanwhile, the maniac is still around, outside windows, killing, giggling. Eventually there is a seance in which Sika is killed by a knife that comes out from her chair and enters her back. Also, the professor is under the the ground testing his theory.
If this sounds convoluted it is. This film is almost as confusing as "Scared to Death." However, it's worth an hour of your time. Watching talented actors Blane and Ford spar romantically for an hour is good 1930s' cinema. And Lugosi does his usual good job, even in a "butler" role. He also handles all the rash accusations against him from scared Rineharts with dignity. (Below is an extended clip from film that shows Lugosi's talent.)
Columbia released this film, but it has a poverty row look to it. Maybe a Blu Ray release one day will change that. As mentioned, the "climax" scene, where the killer is unmasked and all explained, is poorly done. It strains credibility.
NOTES: Sally Blane, a middling movie star, was sister to actors Loretta Young, a major star, and Polly Ann Young, a poverty row starlet. Wallace Ford co-starred with Bela in "The Mysterious Mr. Wong" and "The Ape Man," also playing a reporter in both. The film is marred by racist comedy relief with a black chauffeur, Martin, who plays frightened very broadly. There is an epilogue where the maniac threatens movie-goers who give away the plot to the film. Watch it below: