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mysterious-doctor

The Mysterious Doctor (1943, Benjamin Stoloff)

Apparently, the last time I saw The Mysterious Doctor (in 2001), I didn’t think much of it, rating it at one and a half. It’s a little low, since the film transcends propaganda, which many 1940s propaganda films did, but The Mysterious Doctor does it in interesting ways. Its mood isn’t the usual for a propaganda film. Instead of an espionage thriller or a war film, it’s a ghost story. The first time I saw the film, I compared it–as many do–to a Universal monster movie of the same era. It’s actually not. If it emulates any form, it’s a Val Lewton film. While the setting–a small English village–and the frequent fog might suggest the Universal films, The Mysterious Doctor spends a lot of time on bit characters, something the Universal films had long since stopped doing by 1942. There’s also something else… humor. The Mysterious Doctor has some gags and funny lines; there’s a definite emphasis on amusing the audience.

The film’s pace has a lot to do with its success. It runs under an hour and probably has a present action of three or four days yet, there are subplots and, until the awkwardly staged finale, some rather good performances. Warner used to use their “B” pictures to groom actors for the “A” films and, in Mysterious Doctor, it’s pretty obvious who they were grooming–Eleanor Parker. Though she doesn’t show up until ten or twelve minutes into the film (with a fifty-seven minute picture, that delay is considerable), once she does, she’s the film’s protagonist, with a rather forceful performance. She’s got some good scenes and she gives one particularly great speech, chastising the terrified men of the village. John Loder’s perfectly sturdy–until the end, when most things are falling apart anyway–and their two performances make up for the weaker ones… particularly Bruce Lester, who isn’t terrible, but he’s flimsy.

Technically speaking, Stoloff’s is decent, more impressive when he’s not doing the thriller aspects of the film. I can’t remember if the script’s predictable–I remembered one of the major twists a few minutes into the film and it seems pretty obvious, so it probably is an unsurprising experience, which is fine. It’s a nice package.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Benjamin Stoloff; written by Richard Weil; director of photography, Henry Sharp; edited by Clarence Koster; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Loder (Sir Henry Leland), Eleanor Parker (Letty Carstairs), Bruce Lester (Lt. Christopher ‘Kit’ Hilton), Lester Matthew (Dr. Frederick Holmes), Forrester Harvey (Hugh Penhryn) and Matt Willis (Bart Redmond).


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Matt Willis, Nina Foch, and Bela Lugosi star in THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, directed by Lew Landers for Columbia Pictures.

The Return of the Vampire (1944, Lew Landers)

The Universal monster movies notably ignored modern events–when World War II came around, the clocks turned back on all their European-set monster movies to some indistinguishable point. The Return of the Vampire, a Columbia cheapie, on the other hand, sets the events directly in contemporary settings, both after the First World War and during the Second. It’s set in London, so there are bombing raids, which change the physical settings the film has to tell its story in. This acknowledgment of reality makes Return of the Vampire interesting. While it’s obviously cheap, it’s a neat idea, so’s the one where there’s a twenty-three year gap, which is only successful because of Frieda Inescort, who gives a good performance in her aging make-up.

I watched Return of the Vampire for a couple reasons. First, I might have owned it years ago on an EP VHS tape–though this viewing didn’t bring about any memory of it–and second, because it’s got a werewolf and a vampire. For some reason, that combination, mixed with the low budget, seemed like it might amuse. Unfortunately, the werewolf–played by Matt Willis–fails to amuse much. Willis is terrible as the werewolf, though sincere as the human alter ego. And I suppose Bela Lugosi is better in this film than he is in Dracula, but he’s still terrible. He’s getting old here and when the girl falls for him, it’s visibly absurd.

The acting makes a lot of Return of the Vampire passable. Inescort’s got good scenes with both Gilbert Emery and Miles Mander and Nina Foch seems like she’s a better actor than her part. The direction’s actually half good, usually going bad after a really good shot, but it’s probably better direction than most of the Universal monster movies of the era. Adding to the acceptability is Lugosi’s relatively short screen time and the film’s seventy-minute running time. However, if it didn’t have a peculiar approach, I doubt it’d be tolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lew Landers; written by Griffin Jay and Randall Faye; directors of photography, L. William O’Connell and John Stumar; edited by Paul Borofsky; music by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; produced by Sam White; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Armand Tesla), Frieda Inescort (Lady Jane Ainsley), Nina Foch (Nicki Saunders), Miles Mander (Sir Frederick Fleet), Roland Varno (John Ainsley), Matt Willis (Andreas Obry) and Gilbert Emery (Dr. Walter Saunders).