Monday, October 23, 2017

Bela Lugosi, vampire, mad scientist or god, he enhanced a film

It's October, which practically is Bela Lugosi month at Plan9Crunch. Besides Halloween approaching, October 20 is the birthday of the screen's iconic Dracula. So, in honor of this supernal month, we offer a Halloween treat for our readers. Five writers, well versed in the life and art of  Bela Lugosi, examine five of his late-career films. They explain how Bela Lugosi's performance enhances films that would otherwise have remained mediocre, derivative, boring, or oltherwise undistinguished. Lugosi often failed to get roles, or money, as prominent as his horror rival, Boris Karloff, but there's no debate that Bela gave his all in every role, adding his iconic stamp to even the attic offerings of Poverty Row.

Our five writers are: your's truly, Doug Gibson, co-blogger of Plan9Crunch, on "Return of the Ape Man"; Andi Brooks, blogger at The Bela Lugosi blog, and its attending Facebook page, as well as co-author of "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain," on "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire"; Frank Dello Stritto, author of numerous genre essays, many collected in "A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore..." The prolific Dello Stritto co-authored "Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain" with Brooks. He has also written his memoir of life as a monster boomer, "I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It ...," and most recently wrote "A Werewolf Remembers: The Testament of Lawrence Stewart Talbot." Frank offers his thoughts on "Glen Or Glenda." And Christopher R. Gauthier, who oversees the Facebook page, A Celebration of the Life and Art of Bela Lugosi, writes about Lugosi's last starring role, "Bride of the Monster."

So, on with the essays! We will go in the order the films were made, starting with 1944's "Return of the Ape Man" and ending with 1955's "Bride of the Monster."

Lugosi scientist makes “Return of the Ape Man” mad fun for viewers

By Doug Gibson

In “Return of the Ape Man,” one of Bela Lugosi’s final Monogram offerings, his deviously mad scientist, Professor Dexter, offers , with polite arrogance, this laconic remark at a fashionable party to another guest. “You know, some people’s brains would never be missed.” Shortly afterward, Dexter tries to prove it by luring the intended of his partner’s niece to his laboratory for an unwilling partial brain transfer to a reanimated, prehistoric “ape man.” Only the interference of partner Professor Gilmore, with the added persuasion of a gun, stops Dexter. “He might not die,” is Dexter’s defense.

If not for Lugosi, “Return of the Ape Man” would be virtually forgotten. Even John Carradine underplays his role as Gilmore to the point of near narcolepsy. The rest of the cast also seems to play their roles with lethargy. The script, frankly, is unimaginative, and cheats viewers of a climax with Bela’s character alive. But Lugosi’s Dexter is his second-best mad scientist role; only Dr. Vollin in 1935’s “The Raven,” surpasses Prof. Gilmore in mad, ethics-be-damned-crime-be-damned, obsession. Like Vollin, Gilmore is courtly, charismatic, dedicated and mad as a hatter in his desire to reanimate a primitive human and provide him a decent brain, at any cost.

Casual fans of the genre may not know that Lugosi played a mad scientist far more often on screen than he did a vampire. He has some great lines in “Return of the Ape Man.” They include: “Murder is an ugly word. As a scientist I don’t recognize it;” and “Fool, you’ll pay for this!” is Dexter’s angry retort when Gilmore stops him the first time. The too-passive Gilmore eventually becomes the subject of Dexter’s partial brain transplant, and the mad glee that fills the countenance of Lugosi’s Dexter is chilling and unforgettable. Do yourself a favor, Lugosi fans, see “Return of the Ape Man.

Mother Riley Meets the Vampire offers insight into Bela's misunderstood later years

By Andi  Brooks

Dogged for over half a century by a negative reputation which preceded most people’s chance to view it for themselves, "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" is in reality a far cry from the wretched, hastily thrown together, poverty row comedy it has regularly been portrayed as. Offering a precious insight into a much-maligned and misunderstood period of Bela Lugosi’s professional life, the film is essential viewing for his many fans.

In 1951, Lugosi had travelled to England with his wife Lillian to star in a revival of Dracula which, after a short tour of the provinces, would revive his flagging career with a triumphant run in London’s West End. Instead, he found himself starring in an under-funded production wildly criss-crossing the United Kingdom while awaiting an opening in a West End theatre. After almost six months on the road, the 68-year-old actor, exhausted by the grueling demands of travelling long distances through the provinces and twice-daily performances, asked the management to bring the tour to an end.

A persistent legend holds that Mother Riley Meets the Vampire was hastily arranged to finance the return to America of Lugosi and his wife when the tour supposedly collapsed shortly after opening, leaving the couple penniless and stranded in England. In reality, Lugosi’s participation in the film was first announced in the press over two months before the tour ended. While a typical B production of the period, with a slapstick plot lifted directly from "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," the film boasts solid production values and acting from a supporting cast comprised of then-current and future stars of British theatre, film and TV.  Bela Lugosi himself delivers a deliciously confident and versatile performance as the mad scientist Von Housen.

With no known filmed record of the Dracula tour in existence, one of the treats of the film is Lugosi’s first appearance, which mirrors the play’s prologue. Awakened in a coffin on the floor of his bedchamber by his Renfield-esque assistant, Lugosi’s hand “spiderwalks” from beneath the lid before he exits the coffin in one fluid movement in full Dracula costume. Asked why he sleeps in his evening clothes, he replies, with a twinkle in his eyes, “I was buried in them.” Fully recovered from the rigors of the tour, the actor would never look in such great shape on film again.

While Lugosi is said to have been confused by the constant verbal gymnastics and ad-libbing of the never-out-of-character, or costume, Arthur Lucan -- in the guise of Mother Riley -- the two veteran actors display a delightful comic chemistry in their first big scene together. As Von Housen attempts to cooingly seduce the old washerwoman, Lugosi’s presence brings out a more subdued performance form his usually manic co-star. The interplay between them really is a joy to watch.

Lugosi’s much neglected comedic skills are demonstrated throughout the film. When pompously bragging of his proposed army of 50,000 robots, the suddenly deflated mad scientist is forced to admit that he has only succeeded in building one. Lugosi’s timing and delivery are perfect. Later, in an all too brief moment reminiscent of scenes in both "Dracula" and "Dark Eyes of London," all pretense of comedy is dropped. After finally ridding himself of the constantly interrupting Mother Riley, his face a mask of gloating evil, Von Housen menacingly approaches the prostrate form of Maria Mercedes as Julia Loretti before clamping his hand over her mouth. Conscious of the need to secure a “U” certificate, essential to allow children, Mother Riley’s biggest fans, to see the film, the scene is smartly edited to comply with the certificate’s requirement that scenes of “mild” violence should not be prolonged. 

Although the script makes it quite clear that Von Housen is not really a vampire to avoid losing its desired certification, it does play with fire by dropping several very clear hints that the mad scientist is a blood-drinking serial killer. This seems to have escaped the censor’s scrutiny, as does Lugosi’s final scene in which he guns down a police officer at close range.

Every aspect of Bela Lugosi’s performance in "Mother Riley Meets the Vampire" is a pleasure to watch. He demonstrates a versatility he is seldom credited with. In addition to his comedic flourishes, he effortlessly “alternates between a straight reading and a parody of his mad doctor stereotype, between scene-chewing bravado and a sinister, soothing charm." If you only know the film by its ill-deserved reputation, you are guaranteed to be very pleasantly surprised.

Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) -- Lugosi's authenticity reigns

By Steve D. Stones

Perhaps the only authentic aspect of "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" is the performance of the actor in the title – Bela Lugosi. Lugosi plays Dr. Zabor, a mad scientist on a tropical island. Zabor soon meets nightclub performers and Martin-and-Lewis imitators – Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo -- who become stranded on the island after a plane crash. Zabor plans to use a serum he has developed on the annoying Petrillo to turn him into a gorilla.

This was Lugosi's last role before starring in a number of Ed Wood Jr. features. As with all of Lugosi's films, he gives this role all his best. His Dr. Zabor role in this film is a precursor to the Dr. Vornoff role he plays in Wood's 1956 feature, "Bride of The Monster," (aka "Bride of The Atom"). Whenever Lugosi is not in a scene, we anxiously await for him to return after sitting through bad musical performances and the annoying antics of Sammy Petrillo. Lugosi may be the only reason to see this film.

Directed by William “One Shot “Beaudine ("The Ape Man" – 1943, "Voodoo Man" - 1945), the film was completed in less than two weeks for only $12,000 and was also titled "The Boys From Brooklyn." Producer Hal Wallis threatened to sue over Mitchell and Petrillo's impersonation of Martin-and-Lewis. This ended the movie partnership of Mitchell and Petrillo. At least actor Ray “Crash” Corrigan, the man in the ape suit, went on to star in a number of other monster movies, such as "It! The Terror Beyond Space" (1958). Only Lugosi purists should apply.


By Frank Dello Stritto
“All great art is a little mad,” goes the old saying, “and all mad art is a little great.” Glen or Glenda, Ed Wood’s 1953 tale of transvestism and transsexuality, is mad art. And it is at least a little great. Undeterred by a minuscule budget and his own limitations, Wood reached deep within himself to explore sexual identity as no film maker had done been before, and rarely since. The movie alternates between the surreal and documentary. The narrator of the documentary is Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell), a psychiatrist specializing in the complexities of human sexuality. Bela Lugosi embodies the surreal. His character is billed as “The Scientist,” but he is more a dark sorcerer or spirit who rules men’s fates.
Glen or Glenda begins and ends with Lugosi monologues. Lugosi’s task is to convey sexuality as more than Alton’s clinical explanations. Lugosi delivers his eccentric dialogue in a lush style: serious but mysterious, with more than a little of what the actor himself would call “mugging.” “The Scientist” knows something normal humans do not, and never will. As in some of Lugosi’s classic horror films, the supernatural impinges on the real world, and rational reasoning falls short of the full truth.

The documentary takes over with the suicide of transvestite Patrick/Patricia (a transvestite), and the tales of Glen/Glenda, a transvestite played by Wood, and Alan/Ann, a transsexual. Lugosi intervenes throughout the movie, but is little seen. In one of these pop-ins, he interrupts the sober discourses on Glen’s desires with the movie’s most famous line:
“Beware! Beware! Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys...puppy dog tails, and big, fat snails. Beware. Take care. Beware!”
Without Lugosi, the documentary would be rather dry, buoyed only by its sensational subject matter. Producer George Weiss allegedly inserted the soft-porn sequences in the middle of the film to liven up the action, make the running time a little longer, and perhaps add some comic relief (with insert close-ups of an apparently disapproving Lugosi). The presence of Lugosi throughout the movie adds the other-worldly element that makes Glen or Glenda more than just a sex-education video. It makes more palatable Glen’s weird dream sequences, with a truly bizarre Satan (played by Captain DeZita, who also played Glen’s father).
Lugosi achieved some great things during his career. The last one, unintentionally no doubt, may be exposing the sordid underbelly of Hollywood through his association with Ed Wood. Wood spent his entire career on Hollywood’s lowest rung, and Lugosi in his last years joined him there.  Wood might not be remembered at all but for Lugosi’s appearances in Bride of the Monster, Plan Nine from Outer Space, and Glen or Glenda. They should not be listed among “the worst films ever” as they often are, but perhaps among “the worst films that audiences can really enjoy.” No small part of that enjoyment comes from Lugosi.
Bride Of The Monster 1955, Lugosi's Dr. Vornoff is a monumental character
By Christopher R. Gauthier
Considered by many to be his final film despite making "The Black Sleep" in '56 after his release from rehab for his addiction to pain narcotics, Dr. Eric Vornoff is quite a vivaciously monumental character, rich with a substance that evokes a strange curiosity and under Lugosi's powerful command, conjures an undeniable intrigue that draws one into a world that might otherwise be languid and tediously mundane... Lugosi as Vornoff brings the film together, he remains the focal point and breathes promethean life into a filmic rhetorical anatomy that is otherwise dilapidated and near close to brain dead. 

The role is particularly emotional and poignant at times, no doubt could Lugosi identify with the tragedies his character for this film had endured. Being banned from his native Hungary, estranged from his wife and son, having to struggle with the inability to secure a home of his own in the forsaken impoverished jungle hell that was Hollywood, Lugosi is doing his best, as he always did, with this personally crafted role, that in many subliminal ways to the audiences at the time was cathartic for his browbeaten soul....It was his last speaking role on screen. There is a morose poetry to his performance, and he has made it something we as die-hard loyal Lugosi aficionados treasure deeply to this very day. I think Wood wanted this to be a swansong for Lugosi, and in its own right, indeed it is. 
Disregard the scoffs that often follow the very mention of the film, "Bride Of The Monster" is a beautifully flawed poetic masterpiece, which because of Bela is so incredibly wonderful to watch. The circumstantial production values were quite terrible, the film was not by far the best material he was ever offered, but as always, Lugosi being the true professional he was, uplifts the film into the echelons of cinematic greatness. Bela was the grandest mad scientist of them all during that era, and even in this lopsided production his indelible and incandescent ingenuity upon the nobility of his theatrical craft shines through the chinked flaws that overall make-up the entire sets and scripted inconsistencies of this slapdash and often incomprehensible film. 
Bride Of The Monster is a very significant film for Lugosi and as disciples we must study it and appreciate it. It is his last crusade and conquest as a lone Star of a Hollywood production. One of the last great performances, before the final curtain was descended upon him to collect him in the twilight winter of his life.

Thanks so much to Steve, Andi, Frank and Chris for their contributions!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Vampire Dracula turns 135 with the birthday of Bela Lugosi

It's been 135 years since Bela Lugosi was born in 1882. His biography is well know to many, including most readers of this blog. Suffice to say that he was a working actor until he died. Just prior to his death, he was promoting "The Black Sleep," a film he had a role in and shooting random footage with Ed Wood, some of which turned up in "Plan 9 From Outer Space. (To read the many obituaries published at his death, go to the Vampire Over London blog.) (I also published my review of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain in the Standard-Examiner newspaper.)

At Plan9Crunch, we offer three links today to posts regarding Bela Lugosi, who has become the most famous, and iconic, figure from the Universal glory days of horror that began with "Dracula" in 1931. Lugosi did not require loads of makeup to play the vampire, his acting skills and personality defined the role.

So, let's celebrate Lugosi's Birthday. Read the posts below, and even better, spend time today watching one of our favorite actor's films. It's been a while since I have seen Bela as the Count in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." My son and I will enjoy it again.

Here are three links, with a short snippet from each blog:

1) --
'Bela Lugosi In Person' captures the stage, personal appearance career of screen 'Dracula'
"He was a star, and a gracious star, attentive to fans and charmingly tongue-in-cheek sinister with the media, particularly local media, which pursued him often during his long stage assignments. Lost in dusty old-media files and updated media websites are reviews of the many plays Lugosi entered, as star, or supporting role."

2) -- 
A Tribute to Bela "Dracula" Lugosi
"I have seen "Dracula" scores of times, and Lugosi is the key to the film. He is a tall, courtly, menacing figure who promises a fate worse than death. And that is the appeal of these early horror films compared to the sadistic gore-fests of today — a fate worse than death awaits the vampire's victims. That fate is conveyed to perfection in the scene where Lugosi's vampire murders actor Dwight Frye's cringing, pathetic, mad disciple Renfield. Dracula's exterior is charming. But his filthy interior attracts darkness, fog, storm, chill winds, rodents, flies, spiders, blood and undeath."

Voodoo Man, Monogram's last Bela Lugosi production
"... it may be the best-paced, least convoluted Monogram film Lugosi made. It's ably directed by William Beaudine and looks like a lean, mean film-in-a-week film. (It was helmed in October of 1943). The plot involves Dr. Richard Marlowe, who kidnaps young lovelies in an attempt to transform their conscious life into his "dead" comatose wife, Evelyn (Ellen Hall)."

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, 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:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The vampire as kitsch -- Carradine as Dracula fights Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid versus Dracula

Billy the Kid versus Dracula, directed by William Beaudine, Circle Films, 1961. Starring John Carradine as Count Dracula, Chuck Courtney as Billy the Kid, Melinda Plowman as Betty Bentley. Others in cast include Harry Carey, Jr., Roy Barcroft, and Olive Carey. 1966, Color, 73 minutes. Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10. 

I have a soft spot for this movie, which puts me at odds with just about every other film critic. Okay, I know that the plot is feeble, the acting poor, the special effects a joke. And it's a fraud to vampire lore, since Carradine spends a lot of his time out in broad daylight. (NOTE: Tonight, Oct. 8, 2017, as part of October Vampire Month, TCM airs this film at 8:45 p.m. MST.)

Nevertheless, it's a fun little film if not taken seriously and the offbeat plot (Hero Billy the Kid matching wits with Dracula) is unique enough to merit a few stars. The plot: Dracula (on vacation?) is in the Old West. He provokes Indians into killing everyone on a stagecoach, then assumes the identity of a rich Eastern banker whose niece (who Dracula has the hots for) is about to marry a reformed Billy the Kid. THAT IS a bizarre plot -- even Ed Wood may not have come up with something that unique. Virginia Christine, the future Folger Coffee lady, is great as the real vampire-hunter in the film, and Olive Carey is feisty and likable as an elderly lady doctor. There is one semi-chilling scene in the film, where a collection of stagecoach riders lie dead, murdered by Indians in a plot hatched by Dracula.

This is definitely not Carradine at his best; in fact he seems many times to just walk through his role (he considered it his worst film, but it's not), but the old vampire master has a few good scenes, and manages to be quite sinister at times. Billy The Kid versus Dracula was made with Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (not quite as good). Both were directed by Beaudine and played primarily Saturday kiddie matinees together. Watch a scene below.


I will add, upon repeat viewings, this film improves. At its heart, it's more western than horror, a fond nod to this hour-long oaters of the 1930s and 1940s from C movie studios. Carey, I believe, was in the classic film "The Grapes of Wrath," which included Carradine in its cast as well.

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Clint Eastwood Westerns – by James L. Neibaur

Review by Steve D. Stones

Although I was not alive in the 1960s when Sergio Leone's Italian westerns came to the United States, I'll never forget seeing A Fistful of Dollars (1964) for the first time in the early 1990s. I was completely mesmerized by the stylized qualities of the film, the more violent approach to depicting the old American West and the iconic poncho worn by Eastwood's character. Leone's view of the American West was far removed from anything I had seen in a John Ford or Howard Hawks western. This excited me and made me thirst for more of these films.

In his 2015 book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), (link is here) author James L. Neibaur sheds light on many details of Eastwood's acting and directing careers in western films. It is a pleasure to read not only because it goes into details about the Italian westerns Eastwood did with Leone, but the book also covers Eastwood's early TV career as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, as well as projects Eastwood accomplished between his western films, such as the iconic Dirty Harry films.

Neibaur points out the many similarities of Eastwood's “Man With No Name” in the Italian westerns to many of his later screen roles, such as Dirty Harry (1971), and even his early Don Siegel collaboration – Coogan's Bluff (1968), in which Eastwood plays a simple Arizona lawman in pursuit of a criminal tracked to New York City.

In Coogan's Bluff, Eastwood lays the foundation for many of the character traits found in his Dirty Harry Callahan character. He is a cynical outsider who works within the system, but hates all the rules and protocols of the system itself. In in sense, he is a cowboy of the past placed into the metropolis of our modern world.

As a fan of the Italian westerns, I often wondered why Eastwood's character in the three westerns he made with Leone were all named differently. I assumed all three characters were supposed to be the same man. Neibaur points out why the character had a different name for each film. Eastwood is a loner in the first film (A Fistful of Dollars), and duo in the second film (For A Few Dollars More) and part of a trio in the third film (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly). In A Fistful of Dollars, he is referred to as “Joe” by the town coffin maker. In A Few Dollars More, he is called “Manco.” He is known simply as “Blondie” in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

Neibaur points out that A Fistful of Dollars was produced by Jolly Films. This company had a falling out with director Leone and did not become involved with the sequel – For A Few Dollars More. Jolly Films sued, claiming rights to the “Joe” character in A Fistful of Dollars. It was decided in court that a unknown gunfighter, bounty killer character, such as “Joe,” cannot be copyrighted, so therefore he exists in the public domain. Giving Eastwood the “Manco” name in For A Few Dollars More may have been a way to try and not connect the two characters in any way.

Although the Italian westerns of Leone and Eastwood were a box office smash worldwide, their relationship was quite strained by the time The Good, The Bad & The Ugly wrapped up production in 1966, as Neibaur points out in the book. So strained, in fact, that when Eastwood was offered the Harmonica role (later given to Charles Bronson) in Once Upon A Time In The West (1969), Eastwood turned it down after a meeting with Leone that went poorly.

The book would not be complete without placing some focus on Eastwood's great accomplishments as an American director. As with his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Eastwood became a master of his directing craft, and went on to direct some of the greatest westerns in cinema history, such as High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), which many consider his greatest directed western, Pale Rider (1985) and the crown of his western film achievements – Unforgiven (1992), in which he won a Best Director Oscar. The American Film Institute has listed Unforgiven as the fourth greatest western in cinema history, right after The Searchers (1956), High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953).

If you are a fan of Clint Eastwood westerns, I recommend James L. Neibaur's book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns. Happy reading.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Enjoy a 'Dracula' night on TCM this evening!

On Oct. 1, 2017 that's today, Sunday at 6 p.m. MST, Turner Classic Movies will air Tod Browning's masterpiece, "Dracula," with Bela Lugosi as the iconic Count Dracula. Watch it scores of thousands of others ...
But before then, read these two Plan9Crunch reviews of the 1931 Universal "Dracula" by your bloggers, myself, Doug Gibson, and Steve D. Stones. Besides "Dracula," TCM is also airing "Dracula's Daughter," "Son of Dracula" and "Nosferatu!"

On with the reviews, and don't forget to watch "Dracula" on TCM this weekend.

Dracula, 1931, 75 minutes, Universal, black and white. Directed by Tod Browning. Starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, Dwight Frye as Renfield, David Manners as Jonathan Harker and Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing. Schlock-Meter rating: 9 and 1/2 stars out of 10.


As a film, Dracula too often appears like a stage play. Most of the actors aren't particularly strong, and the climax of the film (Dracula's death) foolishly takes place off screen. Nevertheless, thanks to Bela Lugosi -- and to a lesser extent Dwight Frye -- the film remains a classic, a true cult film that brings viewers back for repeat visits to Transylvania, foggy London and Carfax Abbey, the lair of the Count. The plot: Dracula prepares for a move to London. He drives Renfield (a Londoner in Transylvania to help him move), mad, and then arrives in London. He soon ingratiates himself with the Seward family, and lusts for the blood of two ladies. He is foiled when a family friend (Van Sloan) suspects he is a vampire, and pretty Mina Seward (Chandler) is saved when Dracula is destroyed.

It's safe to say that first half hour of this film is perfect, in atmosphere, Lugosi's Dracula, etc. After it moves to Carfax Abbey and the Seward sanitarium, it dips a tad in quality, but returns to perfection when Lugosi is in a scene.

Lugosi's performance is magnificent. He is truly the Count, with his urbane charm, his sly humor (I never drink ... wine.), his greedy eyes sighting blood, his melodramatic answers to questions, and his artful fencing with vampire hunter Van Helsing. However, few critics capture another personality of Lugosi's Dracula: His desire to die. In a poignant scene at an opera, Dracula expounds in melodramatic fashion the peace of death. One realizes in that scene the Count wants to die, that he's as much a prisoner of fate as his victims. He simply lacks the will power to end his long existence.

Frye's Renfield is marvelous. He succeeds in convincing viewers that the secret of the Count -- discovered first hand -- is so horrible that it would drive anyone insane. His mad chuckles when discovered on a deserted ship are chilling. Frye also conveys terror and adoration when pleading with Dracula late in the film. Manners and Chandler are barely adequate as two lovers threatened by Lugosi's Dracula, but Van Sloan is pretty strong as Van Helsing. He manages a sense of humor despite the seriousness of his task, and reminds me of Donald Pleasance's slightly crazy psychiatrist who pursued monster Michael Meyers in Halloween.

Lugosi's eyes, used to seduce victims, are hypnotic. He knew this character -- he'd played Dracula on Broadway. Director Browning conveys atmosphere early in the film with scenes of a coach in the wilds of Transylvania and a ship tossed at sea. Unfortunately, the last two-thirds of the film is often too static and talky. But every scene with Lugosi is a pleasure, and he turns an ordinary film into a classic of the genre.



Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” — Dracula

Creeky castle doors, thick spider webs, a fog-infested cemetery and coffins filled with earth from Transylvania. These items stir up images of one of the greatest screen villains in cinema history — Dracula. The vampire Dracula has appeared on screen and stage more than any other fictional character in the history of literature and films.

What would Halloween be like without Dracula and vampires? We have Irish writer Bram Stoker to thank for the count's immortal image. Considering the fact that Stoker's novel was thought by many critics to be nothing but a trashy, late-19th century exploitation pot boiler that many readers didn't want to know about, it's amazing to think just how long the story and image of Dracula have lasted.

From the moment Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi emerges from his coffin in Tod Browning's 1931 “Dracula,” Hollywood history was made. Lugosi's old-world mannerisms, receding hairline, thick Hungarian accent and flowing cape set the standard for every vampire movie that followed. No actor who portrayed Dracula after Lugosi has been able to top him.

Seeing Dracula on the big screen is a sight you will never forget. Close-up shots of Lugosi's face show just how menacing the immortal count can be. His image both attracts and repels the viewer. He is the ultimate boogeyman who will stop at nothing to leave behind a trail of victims. When Dracula says “there are far worse things awaiting man than death,” we believe him.

Dracula's contribution to popular culture cannot be overestimated. He appears on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs, action figures, comic books, Halloween masks, postcards and lunch boxes.

After the success of “Dracula,” Lugosi became a victim of the fickle Hollywood industry who typecast and pigeonholed him as an actor who could only play Dracula. He appeared as a vampire a total of three times, which included the hugely successful  “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” in 1948. Lugosi was never able to obtain the riches of his rival, Boris Karloff. Today, sales of merchandise associated with Lugosi surpass those of Karloff’s.

May the story and image of Dracula live on for centuries.

Originally published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper.