Lucan and McShane gained a reputation in music halls within the British provinces. They made a string of "Mother Riley" films that earned small profits in England but were not released in the U.S. By 1952, the series was about kaput, and Lucan and his wife were separated. Renown Pictures, which was producing Mother Riley films, noted the success of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," and used a Renown executive, Richard Gordon, to get Lugosi to make "Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire." Gordon, a friend of Lugosi, had arranged a Dracula stage tour for Lugosi in England. For $5,000, Lugosi, well past his prime, was eager to make the film.
The plot involves Mother Riley getting her mail mixed up with a mad scientist named Von Housen (Lugosi) who thinks he's a vampire. Mother Riley gets a killer robot, Von Housen gets a bed warmer. Von Housen uses the robot to kidnap Mother Riley and take her to his mad scientist house, with sinister servants and secret passageways, etc. Von Housen, delighted to find out Mother Riley has his favorite blood type, serves her lots of rare beef and liver. Von Housen, also seeking uranium to build more robots, has kidnapped a young lovely (Maria Mercedes) and her boyfriend. The girl's dad apparently knows where to find uranium, or something.
It's often not too clear
because this movie is not really a Lugosi film. It's a showcase for Lucan's
manic Mother Riley, with her rapid dialect that is hard for Americans to
understand. Lugosi plays well in the film. As he did in every film, he gave it
his all. Lucan's humor is very corny and provincial. The final half of the
film is comprised of Mother Riley trying to get the cops to believe her, a battle with the robot, and a wild chase through London. As many critics
have mentioned, "Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" fails because it
makes the bad guys, the "monsters," look ridiculous. "Abbott and
Costello Meet Frankenstein" succeeds because the monsters stay scary, and
only the comedy stars do comedy. The director of the film was John Gilling, who
later directed better films, including Hammer's "Plague of the
Zombies." The role of a helpful maid, that might have gone to Lucan's
estranged wife, Kitty McShane, was instead played by Dora Bryan, who later
gained a measure of fame as a serious actress.
(The above two ads are from the July 14, 1964 Tucson, Ariz., Daily Citizen, researched by my friend David Grudt.) Gordon tried to pitch
the film in the U.S. as "Vampire Over London," but there were no
buyers. Lucan's Mother Riley act was too unique to British provinces for the
U.S. market. Gordon also considered taking out all Mother Riley scenes and shooting
new scenes with Lugosi for a film called "King Robot," but Lugosi's
soon-declining health killed that idea.
In the early 60s, it was eventually released as "My Son the Vampire," with comedy singer Allan Sherman singing a song with that nonsensical title in the opening credits. That version, which omits a dark Lugosi chuckle at the beginning as well as the actor's screen credit, is what is sold in the U.S. today and plays on Turner Classic Movies. The original British version, which might be interesting for Lugosi completists, is available at Tubi. Sinister Cinema sells a print with the little-used "Vampire Over London" title. The credits at least include Lugosi's name, although there is no Lugosi chuckle.
I am indebted to my friend Grudt for finding this cool ad (below) from the Guardian London, Great London England newspaper of Sept. 18, 1952. It shows the film by its real title, "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire," and that it plays with a Joseph Cotton film. Also below, Grudt has researched an Oct. 27, 1951 snippet from The San Francisco Examiner notes that Lugosi in London preparing to shoot "Old (sic) Mother Riley Meets the Vampire."
A footnote: For many years a myth endured that Lugosi's 1952 British Dracula stage tour failed and the actor and his wife were left stranded and broke in London. The myth further states that he made "Old Mother Riley ..." just so he and his wife could have transportation fare to return home. That myth is still repeated in books and on Web sites. It's completely untrue. As authors Frank Dello Stritto and Andi Brooks recount in their book, "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain," the Dracula tour provided steady work for Lugosi -- who enjoyed good reviews -- in England for several months. It played the English provinces and suburbs of London. Its only failing was that it was not of enough overall quality to make the West End, Britain's Broadway. The "Old Mother Riley" film was in fact a bonus for Lugosi, a nice windfall -- he and his wife had already earned enough money to easily make it back to the states. Today, the film, under its "My Son the Vampire" title often airs on the retro Movies channel, usually in the early AM hours.