One part propaganda piece for the U.S. Postal Service (complete with oft-repeated facts and slogans) one part showcase for the singing talents of Patricia Ellis (really, she isn't anything special here, certainly not worth the numerous times she breaks out into song over absolutely nothing), and one part third rate crime drama with no real substance to it and a disappointing climax.
Plot (0-5 points): See above. 1/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): Props, sets, and miniatures so cheap I'm left wondering if this wasn't originally intended as a serial adventure that somehow morphed into a feature film. 0/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): Nothing worthwhile here, and (as I mentioned earlier) Patricia Ellis doesn't earn her spotlight at all. Fortunately, no one utterly mangles their lines or anything. 1/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): Ah, the villain whose charm places him above suspicion. It's not exactly a role Bela has played previously, but it's so natural for his demeanor that it feels familiar. It's a unique twist to see Bela playing a foreigner who is seen as benevolent and unsuspecting because of his foreignness rather than menacing. Still, Bela isn't given anywhere near enough time on camera, and he doesn't even get any moments to act during the big climax. It's a wasted opportunity for Bela all around 6/10
Overall: Not a film I enjoyed at all or intend to revisit again. Bela was likable enough, but never really had the opportunity to shine here. 8/23
Last Edit: Feb 19, 2020 20:14:22 GMT -5 by shaxper
The first Bela serial that I actually enjoyed watching. Sure, it's totally derivative, featuring a criminal mastermind in Chinatown, a Milt Caniff-style Dragon Lady, and a gutsy girl reporter who gets herself into more trouble than she can handle, but the story develops well over its fifteen chapters and seldom feels tedious or repetitive.
Plot (0-5 points): Derivative, and it truly goes out of its way to disparage women who seek equality with men, often making the girl reporter who espouses her feminist ideals into the butt of the joke, as well as repeatedly showing that the femme fatale is in over her head trying to control a criminal organization when she's a girl. If you can get past the rampant misogyny though, the story builds well, the cliff-hangers are pretty good, and the whole thing kept me engaged more often than it didn't. 3.5/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): Whereas the early chapters portrayed the shadowy underground of the San Francisco Chinatown, complete with dark corridors, eerie lighting, and semi-interesting death traps, the budget apparently ran out partway through, resulting in the final chapters being filmed on the streets of Hollywood, complete with rooftop battles, gas station encounters, and the last two chapters occurring almost entirely in a house and a restaurant. The entire feel of the film changes for the worse, and yet the writing and acting keeps us engaged anyway. 3/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): Generally pretty strong. No real weaknesses in the cast, even with simplistic writing and uni-dimensional characters. Maurice Liu especially steals the spotlight as the loyal assistant (and the only actual Asian in the cast). He brings so much to the part, clearly deserving of bigger roles in better films, but likely relegated to a production like this one because of his race. 2.5/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): Not a particularly memorable role, but he turns in a strong performance, seldom over-acting, providing a few moments of impressive subtlety, and generally just being a fun criminally insane antagonist. He worked best in those early chapters, amidst the darkness and eerie under-lighting, but does well enough by Hollywood daylight too. Really weird, though, that the film expects us to accept that Bela is half-Chinese without providing any kind of special make-up. 7/10
Overall: I enjoyed this one a lot more than I expected to and will likely return to it again 16/23
Last Edit: Feb 20, 2020 22:07:08 GMT -5 by shaxper
Whereas Bela starred in between 4 and 6 film productions a year between 1929 and 1935, the roles suddenly dry up in 1936. Bela does three films in 1936, one in 1937, and none in 1938. It's at this point that he takes an ad out in the 1937 Players Directory, published by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, desperately imploring producers to see his range beyond playing villains. And, considering that Bela was already broke and working to pay off debts from his lavish lifestyle prior to this dry spell, as well as the fact that he seemed to be taking ANY roles offered to him prior to this point with few questions asked, we can be sure that this lack of work wasn't for lack of trying.
There are two prevalent theories for why Bela cannot get work at this point:
The most common one points to the "Horror Film Hiatus of 1936-1938" in which increasingly burdensome government restrictions, paired with the United Kingdom banning all horror films for a time, made it impossible for any actor associated primarily with the horror genre to find work. Even when horror films return, they are never again given the lavish attention and resources of the pre-code horror films now that the public has been encouraged to see them as lowbrow and immoral entertainment. Bela returns to acting only to become a star of the B film, but that's largely because 99% of the horror films made post 1938 were B films.
Of course, Bela had been starring in non-horror films all along, and those roles also seem to dry up at this point. Though many associated Bela with Dracula, he succeeded in seeking out non-horror work in the first four years that followed the release of Dracula, so this theory doesn't fully explain Bela's lack of work.
A second theory takes into consideration Bela's involvement in the creation of the Screen Actors Guild. Bela was a founding member and purportedly even solicited and signed fellow actors on the sets of some of his films. It stands to reason that a production company wary of union involvement might avoid hiring someone so public in his advocacy.
And while I acknowledge that both of these factors inevitably played a role in Bela's dry spell, I suspect that the largest cause was something else entirely. There are many conflicting accounts of how Bela became addicted to morphine and when that addiction began to spin out of control, but watching these films back to back in chronological order, something becomes quite apparent to me. Between 1920 and 1935, Bela barely seemed to age at all. Born in 1882, Bela was already 49 when he played Dracula, and yet he looks two decades younger. Up through 1935, he not only continues to look remarkably young, but he's also in phenomenal shape. Any film that has him wearing tight-cut clothing reveals a remarkably slender and yet muscular build that seems unthinkable for a man in his fifties.
And yet, by the end of 1935, things begin to change fast. Bela gains a noticeable amount of weight, both in the face and the body, seems to lose all muscle mass, and his facial features age extraordinarily.
(to be fair, he's disheveled in this scene, but he looks older and fatter in every other scene too)
I suspect it's the morphine.
And so, when a casting agent hears Bela Lugosi is in the hallway, they're imagining the dashing lady-killer from only five years earlier, and in walks an old man, truly looking 54 years in age. THAT is what I believed happened to Bela's career. And, perhaps, a man who previously worked so hard at his physical appearance might even find himself ashamed to seek out new roles, or maybe nervously fumbling through auditions and screen tests.
While I don't believe the suspension of American horror films caused Bela's dry-spell, I do believe their reemergence in 1939 is responsible for Bela's comeback. Once horror was back, people wanted Bela Lugosi in those films, and his aging physique would be less of a liability when playing a creepy supernatural villain than any other role in another genre.
Anyway, that's my theory. Regardless of what you believe about Bela's departure, when he returns to film, it's unquestionably as a B actor who will only ever appear in one A level non-horror film again after this point (Ninotchka in 1939).
Last Edit: Feb 22, 2020 12:36:34 GMT -5 by shaxper
A generic premise for an adventure serial proves surprisingly entertaining, especially with Bela truly turning it on for his only acting role in 1937.
Plot (0-5 points): Evil scientist is smuggling a dangerous new weapon to a foreign government. Can the dashing hero, along with his gutsy newspaper reporting girlfriend and bumbling young newspaper photographer friend, stop him in time? It's as generic as they come and likely took no more than three minutes to conceive. The writing isn't all that clever, and the cliffhangers are incredibly well done, but they are written as basic as they come. 1/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): The complete opposite of Shadow of Chinatown, this one starts low budget and bad-looking, and then gradually gets better and better as the chapters progress. The first episode was almost unwatchable, with unconvincing miniatures, obvious ocean footage playing on a screen behind the boat sets, etc, but this thing truly becomes exciting only a few chapters in, with truly great action, interesting sets, some better practical and special effects, and even sparse moments of expressive lighting and camerawork by the final few chapters. 4/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): I really like Ralph Byrd, less for his line delivery and more for his facial expressions during the big action moments. And while Richard Alexander, the giant manservant to Bela, doesn't do much for me for the bulk of the story, he arguably turns in the most memorable acting of the entire serial by the close. 2/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): This might well be the first time since coming to America that Bela had so little to do in a single year, and that might explain why he pours so much of himself into such a generic villain role. While not an absolute favorite Bela role of mine, it's impossible to deny the amount of thought and artistry he pours into this one, giving such careful attention to gestures, mannerisms, expressions, and such, in order to make most of his scenes truly memorable (and he gets nearly as much camera time as the heroic lead). Rather than playing the mentally unstable megalomaniac of Shadow of Chinatown again (really, the two roles are written the same), he plays a far more cool, cold-blooded boss with manic undertones, and he truly owns it. My absolute favorite moment is when he is about to put a dog to death as a test for the new chemical weapon he has created, and he gives it a loving kiss on the head first. So very very cold-blooded. 9.5/10
Overall: This was my first time watching this one, and I really didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did (especially after that first awful chapter). But this is something I fully intend to re-watch again in the future. 16.5/23
Last Edit: Feb 22, 2020 10:26:52 GMT -5 by shaxper
In 1939, a run-down Hollywood theater facing bankruptcy decided to dredge up classic horror films including Dracula and Frankenstein and show them for a limited run. The showings were so unexpectedly successful that the run was extended, and Bela Lugosi even came out to promote the films in full Dracula garb. According to at least one source, he credited this move with saving his career. Universal took note of this unexpected demand for their classic horror films (as well as for Lugosi) and thus decided to return to making horror pictures, as well as make new use of Bela. Of course, while once celebrated by all, horror films were now frowned upon and seen as immoral, so the lavish Universal productions become less and less frequent, and the Poverty Row studios rise to take their place.
The Phantom Creeps (1939)
This 12 chapter serial (later edited into a feature length film) enjoys a cult following today for reasons I don't entirely understand. It's blatantly cheap, recycles nearly all of its plot elements from other cliche serials that came before, the acting is thoroughly lackluster, and the climactic final battle is nearly all stock footage. There's really very little to love about this one. But it's Bela Lugosi in a Universal film that borders on horror, and there's a creepy robot involved. I guess those elements were enough.
Plot (0-5 points): It's the same plot we've already seen in both The Postal Inspector and SOS Coastguard. A mad scientist who is believed dead has some outlandish scientific weapon that can pose a threat to all of humanity if the government doesn't get it before he sells it. There's a plucky girl reporter, a confident government agent in the role of the hero, and a begrudging sidekick to the villain that you just know will be his undoing by the close. Add to that a little theft from The Invisible Ray (heck, they steal a clip of Boris Karloff mining the alien meteorite), and you have a thoroughly unoriginal script that does nothing worthy of note. On top of this, the episodes are mostly pretty forgettable and repetitive, and the cliffhangers are insulting in how often the hero is clearly about to die, the villain says, "Well that's the end of him," and the hero ends up perfectly fine WITHOUT explanation. 1/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): On the one hand, this production is cheap as hell, with an airplane interior clearly made out of cardboard, bad screen backdrops for boat, car, and plane chases, and an insulting amount of recycled footage. On the other hand, there are some really fun secret passages, sliding doors, an atmospheric secret laboratory, some decent "invisibility" special effects for The Phantom, laser guns, and an inexplicably creepy looking robot. The initial scientific invention over-used in the first few chapters (a laughable looking mechanical spider that blows up when it comes in contact with a silver disc) is mercifully abandoned early on. Really, the atmosphere is what saves this otherwise disposable production. It's cheap, it's tacky, but it's fun. 4.5/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): Most are simply forgettable, but Edwin Stanley (playing Dr. Mallory) doesn't seem to have any idea how to act, and Dorothy Arnold (playing Jean Drew) under-delivers every line to the point that I half-wonder if she's sleepwalking. Truly, there's nothing good about this cast. 0.5/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): Whereas he knocked it out of the ballpark with Shadow of Chinatown and SOS Coastguard, effectively playing the same villain twice but in totally different ways, he plays the same villain a third time here and stumbles. In the first chapters, he hams up the delivery something awful. After that, he's adequate, but generally fails to bring much style to his delivery. He does a convincing mourning over the character's deceased wife, but that's about it. Truly, nothing all that memorable about his role here beyond the energy with which the now 57 year old Bela leaps from the secret cave entrance to his lab nearly every episode. 6/10
Overall: I won't lie. I really enjoyed the middle episodes of this serial, but it was almost entirely the atmosphere that kept me engaged and little else. Bela wasn't bad, but this was not his A level, likely because he was filming Son of Frankenstein at the same time. 12/23
Thanks shaxper, now I have more Lugosi movies to play on Youtube. Like i don't have enough to watch, now I am curiously intrigued by Shadow of Chinatown and SOS Coastguard. Pretty sure that you will provide more black and white goodies for me to pursue...
Gimme a home on the ol' prairie where I can sit in my rockin' chair reading my favorite old comic books of yesteryear!
Universal's triumphant return to monster films, Son of Frankenstein clearly benefits from a lavish budget, as well as a 90+ minute run-time. Universal was ready to go big or go home with this release, and it appeared to work, garnering unprecedented box office returns and ushering in a new Silver Age of horror. Bela manages to get a major role this time around, with a plot that rests heavily upon his character and offers him plenty of screen time, but it's also a uni-dimensional role that doesn't give Bela much room to demonstrate his range. Still, I'm impressed by the dialect and mannerisms he lends to Ygor. He is so different here: a vast departure from his familiar accent, appearance, and expressions as to be almost unrecognizable in the role.
Plot (0-5 points): Clearly, a tremendous amount of passion and thought went into this one. A son of Dr. Frankenstein, raised as a normal person in our world, is transported to the world of Universal Horror via inheritance, along with his utterly normal family, inviting us to sympathize with him in his quick descent into obsession that threatens to tear his family apart. Meanwhile, the character of Ygor and his subplot closely mirror aspects of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher, and (as Val Lewton would later prove) could ultimately have been a film unto itself. The film also asks the clever question: if the monster is so desperate for a friend, what if it finds a friend who has plans to misuse it? Ygor even uses music in a way reminiscent of the old blind man in Bride of Frankenstein, only this time for a sinister purpose. And, speaking of callbacks to prior films, I love how this film recalls the death of little Maria in having the monster befriend young Peter Frankenstein. This time, the relationship is more complex, extended, and ultimately darker.
However, I do have one major criticism with the plot -- it depicts the monster more as a plot device than a protagonist, and thus a film that otherwise so carefully reconsiders the premise fails to grasp the most important ingredient in the franchise: the monster himself. No wonder this was Karloff's last time in the role. 3.5/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): The pains this film went to in order to channel the German Expressionism that influenced that first round of Universal Horror films! Exaggerated lines and angles--never straight--always reflecting the madness of the Frankenstein family, along with thick shadows and open, empty spaces. Extraordinary money and effort went into the look of this film, and yet it's so visually uncomfortable, utterly lacking the visual beauty of those first two films. Additionally, the camera itself is always pragmatic and lacking in stylistic expression. An A for effort, but the final execution is why I don't come back to this film more often than I otherwise would. When Mel Brooks made Young Frankenstein three decades later, he essentially re-did this film and gave it the more traditional horror atmosphere it so richly deserved. Sure, it was a comedy. But, more than that, it was a fan's love-letter to a film that almost got it right. 2/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): Exceptionally strong cast. Basil Rathbone never disappoints, this may be Lionel Atwill's finest role, and Donnie Dunagen may be the finest child actor I've ever seen--utterly convincing in his innocence and authenticity. It's amazing to me those lines he delivered were actually on-script, as they are delivered with the sincerity of a rambling a young child. 3/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): He brings very little range to the role, but it's striking how un-Bela he is here, as well as how tremendously fun a one-note psycho villain he proves to be. LOVE that moment where he sneezes in the barrister's face. 7.5/10
Overall: A VERY strong film that falls just short of being a true horror classic. It isn't a high point for Bela, but he's certainly good enough here. 16/23
Post by beccabear67 on Mar 1, 2020 14:52:53 GMT -5
I saw some of SOS Coast Guard and yet remember very little about it other than it was not bad, I probably saw the last chapter(s). Shadow Of Chinatown would be good to find. I remember some kind of recurring shtick with Chinatowns in late silents and early talkies, even a Harold Lloyd full-lengther with sound. Sax Rohmer was a popular writer then, and Somerset Maugham had similar works on the stands. If you were really lucky Anna-May Wong would be involved, the worst are where they took some white person and taped their eyes... at least if Bela didn't go through that as a Mr. Moto or Charlie Chan... and he got to be in Plan 9, so if you're going to go out in a blaze of silliness...
Son Of Frankenstein has been on Svengoolie so I've seen that more than once...
Universal may have gotten the horror craze going again, but Fox was ready to jump on that bandwagon with a high quality production featuring Bela that would seamlessly blend horror and comedy. The only problem...they chose to recycle a script from a 14 year old stage play that feels like a dinosaur by 1939 standards.
Plot (0-5 points): The original stage play was marketed as a spoof of The Bat, and that's exactly what it is. A decade and a half earlier, I might have found it unique. But the Old Dark House murder mystery was so overdone by this point that adding (lousy) comic relief isn't enough to make this thing feel fresh again. And really, I didn't laugh once. Part of that is my not enjoying the Ritz Brothers in their roles at all, but I don't think there's anything that funny going on even if it was The Marx Brothers instead. 1/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): Surprisingly gorgeous! Brilliant lighting, some expressive camera work, an old dark house with numerous hidden passageways, and a booming lightning storm allowing for spooky faces at the window amidst the torrential downpour. Even the Gorilla (the escaped animal in the film; not the arch villain) looks convincing at times. 4.5/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): The Ritz Brothers just don't do it for me. This is the only role I've ever seen them in, and (to be totally fair), they were in a dispute with the producer, being forced to show up on set for filming after their father had just died, so I'm sure they weren't on their A game, but a few funny faces aside, it seems like their entire gag is getting angry. In 2020, that doesn't play very well, especially when they are yelling at women. In contrast, Lionel Atwill is on his A game once again, and Anita Louise's calm/restrained terror is memorable as well. Everyone else seems adequate, but not worthy of note. 1.5/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): Charming, benign, threatening, and utterly capable. Bela has played this role before. It's essentially written the same as the role he played in Night of Terror, but he plays it completely differently here. Somehow, the kinder he gets, and the bigger he smiles, the more he manages to come off as suspicious, and he tells us just with his posture that this servant is more capable and powerful than anyone else in this film. I just wish he'd been given a little bit more to do. 8.5/10
Overall: I have no love for the story, nor for the Ritz Brothers, but the visuals and Bela's presence still make this a film worth coming back to. 15.5
It seems to me that there are only three non-Universal films that regularly top Bela Lugosi film lists: White Zombie, The Devil Bat, and this film. As a result, it enjoys a bit of a cult status today.
Plot (0-5 points): Lifted from a 1924 novel, the script is overly concerned with the scam of killing people as a means of collecting on their life insurance. It's not that fascinating a scam, the cops on the trail of it aren't all that compelling, and the action/body count is disappointingly low. 2/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): The blind mission makes for a fun set, the lighting/shadows and camera work are all reminiscent of the first Universal horror films (though Bryan Langley is no Karl Freund), and the music at the end is quite effective too. 4/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): Greta Gynt may well be the most impressive actor I've yet see play opposite Bela. Her terror is far more spooky than anything else in this film. Additionally, Wilfred Walter plays a sufficiently scary, yet sympathetic poor-man's Frankenstein monster, and even the extras playing blind men at the mission are all pretty darn good. 3/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): He's so much fun this time around, playing such a kindly, generous old man with a hidden maniacal/murderous side, and he plays a secret dual role not revealed until the end that isn't easy to see coming. Unfortunately, Bela's inability to suppress his own Hungarian accent forces the director to use a voice-over for him in the second disguised role, and that makes the final reveal feel like quite a cheat. Knocks the fun of the film's climax down quite a few notches. 8/10
Overall: A truly fun film that comes so close to doing it all right, but both the police/mystery-heavy script and the voice dubbing keep this from ranking among my very favorite Bela films. 17/23
For once, Bela's typecast as a sinister foreigner lands him a role in an A-level production, though it's odd that he receives fourth billing and then only appears in one scene of the film.
Plot (0-5 points): Incredibly clever with its humor, though seldom laugh-out-loud funny. I always appreciate Billy Wilder, and yet I haven't sought out enough of his films. This was my first time watching this one, and yet my daughter and I plan to return to it again (just ordered the Blu ray from Amazon). And while the anti-Soviet attitude in the film is unmistakable, I credit the script for giving some serious exploration to the Soviet perspective before ripping it apart. My only real complaint is how quickly the protagonist changes her perspective. The transformation should have been more gradual and earned. 4.5/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): Though much of the film hinges on the idea of Soviets enjoying the elegant Parisian lifestyle, the atmosphere doesn't dominate as much as it perhaps should. Still, the sets were convincing enough. I did appreciate the thick snow falling upon the protagonist's return to Russia, heavily featured outside the window in her scene with Bela. 4/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): I'll never understand why everyone was so enamored with Greta Garbo once upon a time. She overacts something awful and is awkward looking too. I loved her as the restrained, tightly controlled Soviet who expressed no emotion, but she jumped from that to overly expressing every emotion on a beat, and it did not work for me. A strong male co-lead might have saved the day, but Clark Gable was shooting Gone with the Wind, and James Stewart was filming Made for Each Other. This other guy they ended up using is certainly adequate, but doesn't really earn his place in such an otherwise impressive film. However, the three clownish Soviet stooges working under Garbo were priceless. 1.5/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): He plays a fine Soviet bureaucrat for all of three minutes. Surprisingly, he really does hold his own with Garbo and expresses a complex persona -- concerned, but detached and authoritative, concealing some degree of warmth just beneath the surface -- but really, this is not a film you see for Bela. Three minutes out of an hour and fifty minute film. 3/10 Overall: A truly special film worth seeing, but not for Bela. 13/23
I guess I'm vaguely aware of The Saint. I'd never think to list it among pulp heroes of the 1930s, nor among classic television of the 1960s, but it certainly sounded familiar enough to me when I became aware of this film for the purposes of this review thread. I certainly had no awareness that there had been a 1930's movie series, and if this film is any judge of the quality of the overall movie franchise, I can see why.
Oh, it's not terrible. In an era before comic books and masked heroes did it better, this was probably reasonably interesting vigilante fodder, but whereas properties like Doc Savage and The Shadow were fascinating enough to remain household names nearly a century later, The Saint seems more like a footnote in the history of crime-fighting fiction: a modern day Robin Hood stealing from the corrupt in order to benefit the good of all, adorned in a pressed suit and speaking with that uppity Mid-Atlantic accent that dominated 1930's Hollywood. No mask, no real trademark beyond drawing stick figures on cards he leaves lying around, and virtually everyone seems to know the guy's real identity. Frankly, I don't get the appeal from this particular outing.
But Bela's in this one, so here we go.
Plot (0-5 points): I can't say for sure whether the evil double who looks just like the hero routine was as done-to-death cliche in 1939 as it is today, but it certainly doesn't come off as particularly original here. There are a few clever moments, but generally this is a generic action film that doesn't seem like it was written to be anything special -- certainly not a film someone would be watching, let alone discussing, eight decades later. 1/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): A B film, through and through. Lots of cheap action effects, and absolutely no regard for good cinematography. It doesn't look terrible, but it certainly isn't going for quality either. Fortunately, the camera trickery they use to make two Saints appear on camera at the same time doesn't look horribly unconvincing/ 2/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): Truly, no bad acting, but most of these people feel wrong for their parts, especially George Sanders, who seems like he should be starring in leisurely parlor dramas, not action-packed vigilante films. 1/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): He's really good in this one, but he doesn't get a ton of screen time. We've never seen Bela play a second in command before. He's always either the mastermind or (occasionally) the lowly lackey. He does an excellent job of walking a fine line between clever/dangerous and respectful/submissive. He might well be the best actor in the film, in fact, and his random comic scene added mid-film is all the more hilarious because of how he plays it. Tremendous range for such a limited role. 6/10
Overall: Really not worth watching twice, but Bela did a fine job. 10/23
When Universal billed this as another team-up between Bela and Boris Karloff, they were outright lying. Neither character is the true star of the film, and yet Lugosi's role is far far less significant than Karloff's. While Karloff gets to play a morally conflicted surgeon and best friend, Bela is assigned the role of routine gangster, and he never even gets a scene together with Karloff. Allegedly, Bela was originally supposed to play Karloff's role, and Karloff was supposed to play the dual identity at the center of the film, but a last minute change was made for reasons that are still debated today. Still, Bela takes what he is given and makes it memorable.
Plot (0-5 points): I'm neither a big fan of gangster films nor of medical fantasy/science fiction. I suppose the concept of a gentle professor of English literature and a ruthless gangster occupying the same brain is a novel concept, but this is not the kind of story I ever would have sought out if it wasn't for Bela and Boris. And why is it called "Black Friday," anyway? I guess all this happened on Friday the 13th, but that isn't really integral to the plot. Seems like the title, cast, and publicity photos were already in place before this film even had a script. 2.5/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): Some very stylistic shots at the beginning and end, though the cinematography seems to "get out of the way" once the story gets moving, it's a polished looking picture by most standards but, judging it as a Universal release, it's nowhere near as moody and expressive as so many of their other films of the era. 2.5/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): The entire success of this film rests on Stanley Ridges' ability to become two entirely different characters, almost entirely through facial expressions and intonation, and boy does he succeed. Anna Nagel and Anne Gwynne both bring something extra to their roles as well. 3/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): It's hard not to be disappointed by the secondary role Bela receives after sharing top billing on the production, but he makes it work. At this point, Bela has played a gangster far more times than he has played a monster and a mad scientist combined, so it's a bit surprising to see him playing a lower profile thug who doesn't steal the show. I worried Bela was phoning it in a bit until we got to his final scene, and it then became clear what Bela was up to. This is a far less commanding thug; someone who puts on the facade of being intimidating but cowers and breaks easily. His final scene, pleading for his life from a closet and almost out-screaming Anna Nagel, is truly haunting stuff, and in no way resembles anything Bela has ever tried to do before. The fact that we don't even see his face -- it's all done with his voice -- is extraordinary. Still, it's one scene in an hour long film that otherwise isn't overly concerned with Bela and doesn't give him much space to impress. 7/10
Overall: Universal was well aware there was new demand for more horror films in the style of Dracula and Frankenstein. It therefore blows my mind to see Lugosi and Karloff receive top billing together in a Universal film in 1940 and then not even make it a horror film. Worse yet, Bela plays a secondary role. What a waste of an extraordinary cast and crew, in service of a story and genre that simply aren't the best fit here. 15/23
The question has already been asked once in this thread. Now that horror is back in demand as of 1939, now that we've got Karloff in costume as The Creature again, where are the Dracula roles for Bela?
His next film, The Devil Bat, is at least the second time he's been cast in a film with a title clearly intended to suggest he will be playing a vampire again, and yet he doesn't. At least part of the answer as to why he isn't getting more actual vampire roles is suggested by Mark of the Vampire, the only non-Universal film to have Bela play a Dracula-like role up to this point. That film essentially ruined itself trying to demonstrate for the sake of all the copyright lawyers watching that this was NOT a real vampire, and therefore was not intended to be Dracula. That fear of legal recourse might be what kept other studios from cashing in on the Dracula legacy when Bela was desperate for cash and willing to accept pretty much any role.
Okay, fair enough. Other film studios were afraid of a lawsuit from Universal. But then why wasn't Universal putting Bela back in the cloak?
My best guess is based upon two facts:
1. Filming Dracula's Daughter required Universal to purchase the rights to a subsequent Dracula story from the Stoker Estate, and yet the script really didn't follow that story at all.
2. F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) was sued by the estate over their unauthorized use of a character and story that closely resembled the Dracula novel, and that lawsuit resulted in all known copies of the film being destroyed by the German government (luckily, a few survived!).
So the Stoker family was litigious, and they did not sell Universal the carte blanc rights to make Dracula films. Each new installment had to be authorized and paid for. So my guess is either the Stoker Estate did not want another film featuring the character who was killed at the end of the first novel, or they did not like Lugosi as Dracula (who, to be clear, really doesn't match the character in the novel at all).
Curiously, by the time of the Monster Mash films, little to no consideration seems to be given to the authenticity of Dracula's involvement in the story, so something definitely changed later down the road. As to why Bela wasn't chosen to play Dracula in those films, maybe he was just too old for the part by that point? According to Robert Wise, Lugosi's health issues were a constant disruption on the set of The Body Snatchers (1945), so perhaps Universal had already seen signs of this during the filming of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943). Dracula was supposed to be seductive and good looking, and Bela no longer fit that look by this point in his career:
And thus begins what I consider to be Bela's true Golden Age. Though his career is objectively in decline at this point, look at it from the perspective of a Lugosi fan: it's been five years since he had a starring role in a feature film. Now, working almost entirely with Poverty Row studios that knew they were lucky to get him, Bela receives starring role after starring role, often in films written for and around him. And, being the professional that he is, Bela gives each of these roles his absolute best, regardless of the size of the paycheck. Bela still has a few secondary roles with Universal coming, but he shines brightest on Poverty Row.
The Devil Bat (1940)
Plot (0-5 points): Somehow both ridiculous and generic at the same time, we have the cliche news reporter as our hero who inevitably wins the girl by the end, a clownish assistant photographer, a shouting chief ready to fire him at any given moment, and Bela Lugosi as the enigmatic villain whose murders they are all trying to solve. And yet...he does it with shaving lotion and scientifically augmented giant bats. A pretty terrible concept all around, and it always amazes me how unaffected the leads seem to be by all the deaths occurring in their own family as the film progresses. It's silly fun, but definitely not quality. 2/5
Atmosphere (0-5 points): Laughably cheap, and yet director Jean Yarbrough makes it work. Somehow, the giant fake bat, inter-spliced with close up images of a real bat, works more convincingly than it should, everyone who interacts with the bat manages to make it look like it's alive (especially Bela, prodding it in the beginning), and the acting, camera work, and lighting all make the super cheap laboratory set look surprisingly convincing. It really does look like Bela is going upstairs when he checks on his mutant bat, and (as chadwilliam pointed out), it's very easy to miss the fact that there is no control mechanism on the wall, operating the secret door. The filming and acting both do an excellent job of convincing us that Lugosi is operating some complex switch or lever that the studio apparently couldn't afford to build. Really, the atmosphere on this one is far more fun than it should have been considering the blatantly low budget of the film. 3/5
Other Actors (0-3 points): Surprisingly high quality for poverty row. Dave O'Brien and Donald Kerr play the first cliche newspaper reporting duo that I actually enjoy watching. They're fun and likeable. Hal Price plays a lovably grumpy editor too, and Suzanne Kaaren commands the screen with elegance and grace. As far as I'm concerned, this is as good as Poverty Row acting gets. 2.5/3
The Lugosi Factor (0-10 points): Lugosi always shines brightest when he gets to play a character who is charming on the surface. He has such an unmistakable warmth that exudes from him, and when he subtly switches gears from that kindly demeanor to savage madness, it's a sincere joy to watch. He adds such complexity to such a simple character, to the point that you know Lugosi clearly understands why his character is RIGHT in murdering all these people who consider him practically family, even if the script fails to ever help us understand it. I give this a nine only because the script doesn't give Bela enough to do with this role --I would have loved to see those paranoid internal monologues we got at the beginning return by the close, for example -- but man does Bela make work what he is given. 9/10
Overall: Proof of my conviction that this was Bela's true Golden Age -- Bela's first low budget Poverty Row production of this era came within 0.5 points of tying with Dracula. 16.5