Archive for Bela Lugosi

Murder Comes Calling

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 28, 2017 by dcairns

Bela’s out of focus! Bela’s out of focus!

I saw WHITE ZOMBIE as a kid and liked it, though maybe I was also a bit underwhelmed. But you couldn’t say that about a film with Bela Lugosi and zombies in it. I was certainly surprised to find that my bible, Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, was wrong about the film’s climax, falsely alleging that villain Murder Legendre (Lugosi) is torn apart by his own rebellious zombies. That would indeed have been a fine end, instead of which we get a sequence in which almost the entire population of the film falls off a cliff. There’s something intensely bathetic about the way the last one to go is the character we’re least bothered about. Additional dying by Robert W. Fraser.

But reviewing it forty years later (oh shit, I have become old) I was amazed by how much I remembered, specific images that had lurked somewhere in the recesses of my brain, not consciously recalled, but ready to resonate upon reacquaintance. I recalled the zombie mill, though my memory placed the camera higher. It’s still a spectacular scene, impressive for such a low-budget production. But the vulture on the window pane, and the burial of Madge Bellamy were ah-hah! moments, since I didn’t remember that I remembered them.

Really a handsome film, and I’m sure the new restoration looks a thousand times better. The set design is atmospheric, the photography moody, and the music score enervating but innovative. The real frissons come from the sound effects, which deliver some striking moans and screams.

The acting, mind you, is pretty dreadful, and Lugosi is by no means the worst offender. I’m surprised my young self wasn’t traumatized by the googly-eyed Bellamy.

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Phantom Limburger

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2016 by dcairns

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Recently watched two fantasy-fright type films which had very interesting elements but were strangely boring overall. One was ANGRY RED PLANET, the other was NIGHT MONSTER, a Universal horror movie I’d never heard of and which I figured must be dull. How else to explain its obscurity?

Well, it mostly IS dull, and there are lots of irksome things about it — Bela Lugosi plays a butler, and he’s JUST a butler, not even a meaningful red herring. A mauve kipper at best. But unlike a real snooze like SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, it actually revolves around a cool idea…

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Ralph Morgan, the Wizard of Oz’s brother, has been reduced to limbless paralysis by the fumbling efforts of his doctors. When said medicos, including Lionel “Pinky” Atwill (deep joy) start getting bumped off, only Morgan has the means, motive and spectacular lack of opportunity that must, by the rules of DR X, establish him as the perpetrator. But rather than mad science as facilitator for his limbless killing spree, the film gives us a cherubic swami whose ministrations have given Morgan the power to generate ectoplasmic extremities using the power of his mind, so he can walk and strangle and be avenged using phantasmal arms and legs which fade as the dew when no longer required. The perfect alibi.

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The movie begins charmingly, with the turbanned guru strolling up to Morgan’s mansion and remarking on the uncommunicative character of the local frogs. I immediately liked him. I did not, however, recognize him as Nils Asther, the once-sculptural beauty who specialised in oriental roles (a bit like Warner Oland, but lovelier) despite being Danish (a bit like Warner Oland, who was Swedish). A shame the interest is dissipated across too many characters with too little to do (the hero, as is often the case, is a waste of time), but a number of the supporting cast are better than they need to be. Movie serial specialist Ford Beebe directs with what one might call efficiency. He got it done inside two weeks, anyway.

Just a gorilla who can’t say no

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2014 by dcairns

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Look, I made it a gif! It depicts Kay Kyser being violated by a stuffed gorilla. Yes, I *am* proud of myself. Why do you ask?

YOU’LL FIND OUT (1940) is worth resenting slightly because it unites Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre but is nothing but a silly comedy with not very good comedians. Kyser tries way too hard and isn’t funny. Sidekick Ish Kabibble tries less and is almost funny. On the other hand, Kyser also stars in John Barrymore’s last film, PLAYMATES, so we should be lenient on this one. And none of the ghouls is embarrassing, in fact all get to do their accustomed stuff and do it well. They are the reason to watch.

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There’s also some fun stuff with electronic voice effects, Sparky’s Magic Piano style, which play a big role in the plot. I want to use this feature to decode the film’s writing credits. Director David Butler and James Kern are credited with the story, which is nothing much — an old dark country house spookshow with Scooby Doo explanation. Kyser and his band are playing a gig at this joint, so it’s like THE GANG’S ALL HERE with ectoplasm. Butler directed a lot of “zany” films which aren’t good like HELLZAPOPPIN. He worked with Kyser and with El Brendel and Eddie Cantor and did ROAD TO MOROCCO. Jerome Kern, a former attorney and singer wrote the script itself — I guess they needed someone with an education.

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But three more schmoes are credited with “special material.” Monte Brice seems like a real Pat Hobby character, a silent era hanger-on with lots of vague credits for “story construction” or “special material,” mainly in comedy. One title intrigues: the lost WC Fields version of TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE. We can assume it’s lost because it has an IMDb review by our old friend F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. I suspect Brice may be responsible for the more visual-comedy material, such as the ape assailant above, and maybe the film’s one real inspired gag, the dog playing fetch with a stick of dynamite. Comedy with real terror, as whenever the petrified comics hurl the high explosive away from themselves, the playful pooch brings it back.

Andrew Bennison is also credited, and also has silent movies on his CV, but mainly as a titles writer, so I expect he was writing cheesy quips for Kay and Ish.

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And then there’s the mysterious R.T.M. Scott, who has no other screen credits at all. But I think I now who he is. Musician Raymond Scott worked with early electronic music. He also contributed tracks to David Butler’s earlier ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN. So I suspect he came up with the electronic vokes. I have no idea what the TM stands for though. Scott’s real name was Harry Warnow.

The guy credited for providing the film’s “Sonovox” equipment, however, is someone called Gilbert Wright, so that confuses things. But my theory is that Scott knew of the Sonovox and suggested it to Butler as a plot device. This is of no importance whatsoever. Thank you for your time.