Archive for Madge Bellamy

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.

The Monday Intertitle: Oscar Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 3, 2014 by dcairns


If ever an inquiry invited the response “He’s behind you!” this would be it.

SOUL OF THE BEAST (1923), a tale of a girl and her elephant, is awful drivel really, but diverting, mostly thanks to Oscar, the titular beast. Madge Bellamy, archetypal ringletted waif, runs away from the circus, into the wilds of Canada, pursued by her nasty stepfather. Oscar comes with. They’re separated for much of the movie and she goes to work for some meanies in a tiny town. I suspect the only reason the film is set in Canada (but filmed in California) is because all the people apart from our heroine and her beau are so horrible. Maybe a misanthropic world view was easier to accept in Canuck form.


For much of the film, young Oscar, who is very cute, wanders the woods asking other animals for directions. Yes! From twenty minutes into the story, he is equipped with his own intertitles. I guess he bided his time for fear of making the whole thing unbelievable. The only sop to realism is that the humans never acknowledge anything he says. So we take it as a kind of internal monologue, like Snoopy’s. Translated from the original elephantese.

But other wildlife has no trouble interpreting Oscar’s bellows, as in a scene where he asks for news of his lady friend from a passing bear.


Quoth the bear, “No, I never heard of her.”

Like Nicole Kidman in THE HOURS, Oscar also sports a prosthetic schnozz for a scene where he has to give villain Noah Beery a punitive hosing-down. A fire hose has been artfully positioned in place of the pachyderm protagonist’s trunk, the camera filming over his shoulder to disguise the trick.

Madge and Oscar seem to have a great rapport. One worries about how he was trained, and what he was put through making this, but it’s a bit late to actually do anything about it.