Bela Lugosi is a very scary fellow…

Don’t believe me? Try watching THIS with the lights out — to the END, mind you —

From THE INVISIBLE GHOST, a poverty row cheapie directed by Joseph H Lewis, who resourcefully shows the correct way to handle an appalling script*. Rather than attempting to impart dignity to it with classical mise-en-scene, as an older director might do, to little effect, he throws out the handbook and just goes nuts, filming from inside the fireplace (the dreaded Santa Claus POV shot) and from inside people’s heads (that Gothic Ozu frame at the end of the clip, with Bela looking RIGHT AT US). Note also the brilliant use of source music, an up-tempo romantic dance band, playing against the mood of the scene. Later, the girl’s corpse will be discovered with the radio still on, playing a keep-fit show.

The movie is seemingly out of copyright and thus available cheap all over the place. Well worth seeing, and I’m not sure that can be said for ANY of the other Poverty Row Lugosis (although GLEN OR GLENDA is of course a misunderstood avant-garde masterpiece).

Lugosi, as usual, is unintentionally amusing but also frightening. And SURPRISING — just when you think he’s committed wholeheartedly to ham, he’ll discover the joys of underplaying, and always at the worst possible moment. After witnessing a corpse in a mortuary come back to life, then die of shock at the sight of him, Lugosi sits at the dinner table with his daughter and remarks, mildly, “It was horrible,” as if he’s describing an unsatisfactory goulash.

*How bad is the script? Well, start with the fact that there’s no ghost, invisible or otherwise, in it. Leave aside the fact that the phantasmal woman is Lugosi’s wife, who lost her memory in an accident, and has been secretly kept in a shed by the gardener, who didn’t want to upset Lugosi — upset him with the knowledge that his wife’s alive? Notice that the police are aware that there have been quite a few murders in Lugosi’s house, but don’t seem to know how many. Notice also that they never suspect Lugosi, despite the fact that it’s his house and he’s known to be hopelessly insane (since his wife’s “death” — so much for not upsetting him). And revel in the fact that after the romantic male lead is executed for Lugosi’s crimes, his identical twin brother  turns up to solve the case. It sounds like hilarious fun, and it is, but only because of Lewis’ antic camerawork, Lugosi’s erratically superb performance, and able support from Clarence Muse.

5 Responses to “Bela Lugosi is a very scary fellow…”

  1. Samuel Dale Says:

    Y’know DC, I think you might have even given me a copy of this stinker, (or was that Scared to Death?) either way, The Invisible Ghost, nestles amongst my DVD’S waiting to be off loaded on an unsuspecting victim, BWA, HA, HA, HA, HA, HAR… Sorry I came over a bit Bela for a moment there.

    The undoubted highlight of the movie is the twin turning up and, if memory serves, proving to be close enough to his dead brother for the deceased sibling’s girlfriend to take up with him almost at once… I remember finding this casual disregard for human life, (or at least lack of interest in which human the female lead chose to spend her life with,) more chilling than anything the killer in the movie got up to.

    Face Off is another great example of a bereavement being solved by a family who simply replace a lost loved one… For those who’ve missed out, Nicholas Cage kills John Travolta’s kid then, after steeling Nichola Cage’s face, getting his kid’s mother killed and killing Cage, (who is now John Travolta,) Travolta, (who’s now Travolta again) steels Cage’s kid… And all is right with the world!

    Now, I was perfectly happy to go along with the barking mad “TWO MEN LITERALLY SWAP FACES” premise and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to find any joy in a “MAGNO-BOOT PRISON ON AN OIL RIG,” but even bulked at the replacement kid finale.

  2. I’ve been anxious to watch Martin Arnold’s hour-long movie based on Invisible Ghost (Arnold’s “Alone, Life Wastes Andy Hardy” is one of my favorites shorts ever). Got it on DVD, just waiting till nearer to halloween to set it loose. Description found online:

    The avant-garde filmmaker Martin Arnold subjects a legendary American horror movie of 1941 to radical cinematographic surgery. Actors disappear thanks to digital technology, leaving the cinematic space to become the actual leading actor in a precise and absurdly comical new interpretation. Arnold transforms the original movie “The Invisible Ghost”, in which a wife hypnotises her husband into a murder plot, into “Deanimated” – a study in the increasing disintegration of actor movies; at its close the camera’s eye wanders through sets devoid of human life where the lights literally seem to have gone out.

  3. Christoph Huber Says:

    Oh yes, I saw the Arnold piece when it premiered in a (cinema-simulating) art installation. It has something, though the concept worked better in short form (it was accompanied by two shorts, one quite nice – a western showdown run through the people-delete software, so you had this lovely puffs of smoke mysteriously emanating in bushes). Deanimated is intriguing enough for a while, but at some point going the same distance as the movie feels like an (bad pun alert!) empty exercise; I oftentimes wished to see the Lewis instead. Frankly I’m kind of worried about Arnold, his first three shorts were brilliant, then this – mist have been 5, 6 years ago, and nothing since . . .

  4. I love that bit of peek-a-boo with Lugosi’s face at the end of the clip.

    Wonder if Lewis’ “Mad Doctor of Market Street,” which I have vague memories of having seen on ’60s Los Angeles television, contains anything noteworthy …

  5. B. Kite had (has?) a plan to edit together moments from movies when the actors have left and we just get a moment of empty set. The high-tech approach sounds promising, but as you say, maybe not sustainable.
    The Invisible Ghost is certainly a good candidate, especially since the title suddenly would acquire responance (wait, he’s CHANGED the title?). I wonder how he handles the moment when Ligosi takes off his coat and then covers the lens with it?

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