Archive for Bela Lugosi

The Sunday Intertitle: Off the Rails

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2022 by dcairns

Enjoyed Elvis Mitchell’s documentary IS THAT BLACK ENOUGH FOR YOU? on Netflix — an appreciation of “blaxploitation” that doesn’t get particularly in-depth on any given topic but turns up a lot of interesting stuff. The field, it turns out, is too broad for a single documentary

One film I’d never heard of before caught my eye — TRAIN RIDE TO HOLLYWOOD (1975), starring Bloodstone, a band I’d never heard of, and directed by one Charles R. Rondeau, a filmmaker I’d never heard of, though I guess I’ve seen his work, growing up, on TV shows from Batman to The Gemini Man. The newly designed IMDb makes it hard to separate film from TV but Rondeau seems to have helmed a couple of bona fide features in the early sixties, THE LITTLEST HOBO, THE THREAT, DEVIL’S PARTNER, all of which seem small and a touch odd. This was his last hurrah or hrumph in the actual movie business, and it’s fittingly a love letter.

Bloodstone, a doo-wop/r&b/soul/funk/oldies band, take the titular train journey alongside W.C. Fields (a remarkable impersonation by Bill Oberlin and no, I hadn’t heard of him either), Humphrey Bogart (Guy Marks, who can do the voice but bears no resemblance), Jean Harlow, Rhett Butler & Scarlett O’Hara, and Dracula (Jay Robinson from QUO VADIS THE ROBE, doing an excellent Lugosi). Musical numbers obtrude, but a plot does not. It’s a peculiar ride.

It seems possible to me that Harry Williams, playing himself, has been dubbed by Scatman Crothers, but I can’t prove it.

Anyway, there are intertitles — for no special reason, the film turns sepia and silent — I guess because there’s a Sheikh aboard and this is harking back to a still earlier era, though no resemblance to Valentino is attempted. The sleeping car is entirely taken up with the harem, and a bit of bedroom farce is trotted out when the night’s wife turns out to be entertaining a lover. The head transplant routine from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES is attempted, with the wife’s head protruding from the curtains above her lover’s (smooth and shapely) legs. Which is reasonably funny, but the intertitles being written in a modern style is funnier:

The film isn’t quite inventive enough — Rondeau isn’t a huge stylist and he’s obviously dealing with a limited budget — but it’s a likable curate’s egg. It evokes a nostalgia, not for the thirties or forties, but for the seventies, when all those old movies were on late night TV all the time and everybody would have got the references. It’s still strange to me that there’s a couple of generations toddling about for whom Jean Harlow conveys nothing.

Rising Vamp

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 29, 2022 by dcairns

Over at The Current, I’ve contributed the opening salvo to a series of pieces on the vampire — in what is known as august company, with Geoffrey O’Brien, Phoebe Chen, Angelica Jade Bastién, and Beatrice Loayza. I tackle Lugosi. Quite a challenge.

The pieces are here.

As a taster, here’s a passage I was sorry to cut, but to make the focus on Bela rather than Tod Browning, it had to be done:

“Browning’s best effects are all next-door to incompetence: he has a disconcerting way of undermining our comfortable certainty about how many characters are in a scene, using mirrors, occluding walls, and surprise angle changes, so that, when Dracula’s failure to appear in a mirror is first shown, the effect is familiar: every scene with a cut in it has had the same effect. When the very nervous Helen Chandler begins conversing telepathically with her undead suitor, the conversation has a disjointed quality we’ve already come to know well.”


Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 13, 2021 by dcairns

The penultimate episode of THE RETURN OF CHANDU is called The Upraised Knife and the final episode is called The Knife Descends which, given all that’s gone before, suggested to me an entire episode devoted to a knife being raised and one that’s all about it being lowered again.

Which isn’t what happened — the shows were slightly more eventful than that. The most surprising moment was when Princess Nadji was called upon to renounce her love for Chandu in exchange for him and his family/chums being freed — and she does. And so they just walk away. It feels really weird, like the makers decided not to have a climax at all, and just have everyone decide to live and let live (except the princess, who is to be merged, soul-wise, with the body of the late Lemurian cultist Ossana).

Then somehow or other the heroes get attacked by savages by the white witch with the white beard saves them, and now they go right back to the Ubasti temple to sort things out. As part of the ceremony, Nadki and Ossana have been dressed identically, so white beard man just waltzes in and swaps their prone forms around when nobody is looking. The ceremony starts and the wrong body — Ossana’s — is consigned to the sacrificial fire (the one Uncle Frank Chandu saw visions of previous episodes in. Are you getting all this?

A short while before, Uncle Chandu had a discussion with his discorporeal yogi about the possibility of invoking some kind of ultimate spell — one that dooms the speller if he acts selfishly. In order to circumvent this, Frankie C. renounces Nadja, then casts the spell and the roof falls in. The good guys escape, the bad guys don’t. The big stone statue of the cat-god Ubasti slowly topples forward, another Crushing Rock.

Then, having renounced their renunciation, Francis and Nadja can be together. I thought it was going to be like The End of the Affair, and they’d never be allowed to see each other again. But no: for perhaps the only time in screen history, unless you know of another case, Bela Lugosi gets the girl.

I believe THE RETURN OF CHANDU stands as an important example of how music can be used — slow music during fast scenes, to make them more slow and boring, and fast music during slow scenes, which has the counter-intuitive effect of making THEM more slow and boring. The fast music emphasises how slowly the action is progressing.

Of course, if things are in danger of getting too exciting even when the music has been larded on, you can always bring in Uncle Frank’s nephew and niece, who make everything tedious.