Tag Archives: Bela Lugosi

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).


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Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)

I never got Dracula. Even as a kid, I never watched it over and over, like I did the other Universal monster movies. When I went back and saw it in the late 1990s–after Ed Wood–Bela Lugosi’s performance horrified me. He makes funny faces and does Charles Atlas exercises for scary body language and woodenly says his lines. Apparently some blame Lugosi’s English-speaking skills on this performance (the lack thereof), but really, the line’s are just crap and hadn’t Lugosi been on stage in the play version? If so, he should have at least been responsible for inflection.

Regardless, while Lugosi is a major problem with Dracula, he’s hardly the one who breaks it. He might make silly faces, but the whole approach of the film is wrong. Dracula, more than any film I’ve seen, exists solely for the audience. These events aren’t happening to the characters in the film, rather they’re happening so the viewer can see them happen. Characters talk about each other when they’ve never met, nor is there any suggestion they’ve met, but the viewer has met both and so he or she is able to make some kind of connection. This example is indicative of Dracula’s narrative style and it isn’t–in itself–a bad thing. It just isn’t used to any effect. It’s pointless and a sign of some bad writing. The further signs of bad writing–when, for example, Van Helsing promises to deal with the vampiric Lucy–whose been feeding on small children–then does nothing… well, either a scene got cut or no one read the script before they started shooting. Further script problems include the comedy relief, which doesn’t really deserve to be mentioned. Some of the storytelling problems might stem from Dracula coming soon after the change to talkies, as it did have a silent version released at the time, and most of the film is actually silent. I wonder if the silent version, with intertitles, would be better.

The acting ranges from good to awful. Lugosi’s bad, so is leading man David Manners. Helen Chandler’s girl in distress isn’t always bad–when Chandler’s doing a scene with her friend, I almost thought I was wrong about Dracula, since the scene was so good and Chandler so likable (turned out I wasn’t)–but she does occasionally slip between her “British” accent and her native South Carolinian, which is distracting. Dwight Frye is good as Renfield. Only Edward Van Sloan–as Van Helsing–gives a really good performance, interpreting Van Helsing as a severe German, straight out of an Otto von Bismarck biopic. He even mimics some of Lugosi’s mannerisms, which almost sets up a juxtaposition, at least visually, but the story never catches on.

Even with all its defects, Dracula still manages to disappoint overall. The conclusion is hurried and nonsensical, not just leaving me wondering what’s going on in a broad sense, but also in an immediate one. Like, why Manners and Chandler are going up the huge staircase instead of leaving the creepy building? Perhaps it’s a metaphor for watching the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tod Browning; written by Hamilton Dean, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort, based on their play and the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Milton Carruth and Maurice Pivar; produced by Browning and Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Bela Lugosi (Count Dracula), Helen Chandler (Mina), David Manners (John Harker), Dwight Frye (Renfield), Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing), Herbert Bunston (Dr. Jack Seward), Frances Dade (Lucy Weston), Joan Standing (Briggs, a nurse) and Charles K. Gerrard (Martin).


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