Day 9: Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Cast: Bela Lugosi as Count Mora
Lionel Barrymore as Professor Zelin
Elizabeth Allen as Irena Borotyn
Lionel Atwill as Inspector Neumann
Based on the story “The Hypnotist” by Tod Browning
Screenplay by Guy Endore & Bernard Schubert
Directed by Tod Browning (Freaks)
Plot: When Sir Borotyn is found dead with two holes in his neck, the immediate thought goes to the killer being a vampire. The main suspect is Count Mora but Inspector Neumann refuses to believe in vampires. Professor Zelin, expert on the occult and all things vampiric, arrives to save the young Irena Borotyn, but all is not what it appears to be.
Personal Thoughts: MGM could make a great movie as could Tod Browning and together, they crafted a really fun film. It’s incredibly atmospheric with chilling visuals and haunting sound effects. I loved seeing Lionel Barrymore prior to his arthritis crippling him and Lionel Atwill turns in another great performance as an inspector. Lugosi is, essentially, playing Dracula and it works very well despite the fact he never speaks until the final scene. And Carroll Borland is just downright spooky as Luna. Unfortunately, the ending (and I won’t spoil it for those who still haven’t seen this movie) turns everything upside down. That aside, a very fun film and well worth checking it out.
- Remake of the lost Lon Chaney classic, London After Midnight (1927).
- The film was cut from its original running time of 75 minutes to just over an hour at 61 minutes. Tod Browning had no control over the cuts after his previous film, Freaks (1932), was a financial failure.
- An incest storyline between Count Mora and his daughter Luna was written out of the script due to the new standards of the Production Code. He ended his life by shooting himself in the head. Thus, the gunshot wound on his right temple that is never explained in the movie.
- Lugosi has more lines in the trailer than he does in the entire movie.
- The film’s ending is still highly debated amongst horror fans.
Day 8: The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)
Cast: Bela Lugosi as Mr. Fu Wong
Wallace Ford as Jay Barton
Arline Judge as Peg
Lotus Long as Moonflower
Suggested by the story “The Twelve Coins of Confucius” by Harry Stephen Keeler
Screenplay by Nina Howatt
Directed by William Nigh (Black Dragons, The Strange Case of Dr. Rx)
Plot: There are murders in Chinatown and news reporter Jay Barton is on the trail when he encounters the nefarious Mr. Wong. Wong is in search of the legendary twelve coins of Confucius in hopes of power and glory.
Personal Thoughts: Well, not every Lugosi film is a gem. Some are harder to make it through than others and this one was a little tough. First, let it be known that Lugosi plays an Asian character and that is clearly insensitive by today’s standards. However, in 1934, it was normal for Hollywood. Add in Lugosi’s accent and it makes even less sense. All the usual plot elements are present (news reporter, female lead shows no interest until her life is in jeopardy, things wrap up quickly after several false leads) but the story does plod along until the final act. It is fun seeing Lugosi prepare to torture Jay and Peg but it takes way too long to get there. Not Lugosi’s best and it should not be too high on your to watch list.
- Not part of the Boris Karloff Mr. Wong film series.
- This film is one of many that Lugosi did for Monogram Pictures and is in the public domain.
Day 7: Night of Terror (1933)
Cast: Bela Lugosi as Degar
Wallace Ford as Tom Hartley
Sally Blaine as Mary Rinehart
Edwin Maxwell as The Maniac
Written by William Jacobs & Beatrice Van
Story by Willard Mack
Directed by Ben Stoloff (Soup to Nuts, Destry Rides Again)
Plot: The crazed Maniac is on the loose and on a murder spree in the countryside. But is every body discovered really a victim of the Maniac? Add in an inheritance, a group of family and scientific colleagues and a secret formula, plus some more than mysterious servants, and you have a perfect old, dark house flick.
Personal Thoughts: All of the routine elements are present. You have the creepy house with hidden passages, a crazed killer lurking in the shadows, mystic servants, bumbling newsman, overbearing police detective, a goofy chauffeur and murder. Lugosi is great as servant Degar who always seems to be in the just the right place. As with most old, dark house films, you have more than one red herring and you are never quite sure what Degar is up to. The ending is unique, if not a little far-fetched. And apparently, nobody watched movies to know that a séance always ends in murder. This is one of Lugosi’s better performances but, sadly, is often overlooked due to its general unavailability. Do yourself a favor and track it down as its worth 65 minutes of your time on a dark and rainy night.
- One of 11 Columbia films licensed to Universal for the Son of Shock television package.
- Lugosi reportedly worked on his small role at night while filming International House (1933) during the day as he was already having financial issues.
- Despite Edwin Maxwell being credited as The Maniac, he doesn’t really appear in the role until the corny but amusing final scene.
- Watch clip 1 and clip 2 on YouTube
- Not available on commercial DVD
Day 6: The Whispering Shadow (1933)
Cast: Bela Lugosi as Professor Adam Strang
Malcolm McGregor as Jack Foster
Viva Tattersall as Vera Strang
Story by Barney Sarecky, George Morgan, Norman Hall, Colbert Clark & Wyndham Giddens
Directed by Colbert Clark (The Three Musketeers) & Albert Herman (The Cisco Kid)
Plot: The mysterious Whispering Shadow is a master criminal who has invented a device that kills by radio. His ultimate goal is to steal the Czar jewels. Just how many are part of the Shadow’s mob and who is the Shadow himself? Could it be Professor Strang, owner of the creepy wax museum? Jack Foster is on the never-ending trail that is full of false leads and murder.
Personal Thoughts: To start with, let me say that my viewing of The Whispering Shadow was not of the chapter serial but of the condensed film version. It highlights only part of the serial and, therefore, it’s hard to judge the complete story when I only watched about 75 minutes of the story. That said, I did enjoy what I saw, especially the scenes in the creepy wax museum. As with most chapter serials, it suffers from a low budget. Condensing it down does eliminate a lot of the repetition that sometimes happens with story recaps and cliffhangers. Lugosi turns in a fun and sometimes uncharacteristic performance as the mad scientist, such as when he gets into running fist fights (very clearly a stuntman). This version is hard to find and good if you’re limited on time but I recommend going with the full serial to watch the story as it was originally intended.
- This is the first of Bela Lugosi’s eventual five serials, filmed in just 18 days.
- Lugosi received a salary of $10,000, the most he ever received for a film.
- The shadow effect was animated, a trick used by filmmakers in the 30s and 40s, such as the animated flying effects of Superman in those chapter serial adventures.
- The chapter serial version was followed by the condensed film version, common for the day as a way for the studios to make more money.
Day 5: Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Cast: Bela Lugosi as Sayer of the Law
Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau
Richard Arlen as Edward Parker
Leila Hyams as Ruth Thomas
Kathleen Burke as Lota, The Panther Woman
Based on The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Directed by Earle C. Kenton
Plot: Edward Parker is shipwrecked and rescued by a freighter delivering animals to an island inhabited by the reclusive Dr. Moreau. However, when Parker challenges the ship captain’s authority when caught beating an odd crewman, Parker is thrown overboard and left behind on the island. Dr. Moreau is conducting crazy experiments on turning animals into men. Enter Lota, The Panther Woman. It seems there is an attraction between Lota and Parker and Dr. Moreau wants to take his experiments to the next level.
Personal Thoughts: Tune into episode 423 of this week’s Dread Media podcast to hear my thoughts and random trivia on this classic film.
Day 4: The Death Kiss (1932)
Cast: Bela Lugosi as Joseph Steiner
David Manners as Franklyn Drew
Adrienne Ames as Marcia Lane
Edward Van Sloan as Tom Avery
Story by Madelon St. Dennis
Produced by E.W. Hammons
Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Plot: Murder is afoot at Tonart Studios as a man is murdered during the filming of the death scene in a move called The Death Kiss. Despites claims it was just an accident from the studio manager Joseph Steiner, the police discover that not everything is adding up. The murder appears to be planned. Will history repeat itself when the death scene goes before the cameras once again?
Personal Thoughts: This is a fairly routine murder mystery and not necessarily one of the better ones from the time period. The movie plods along with deception and red herrings, including Lugosi’s character of Joseph Steiner. Lugosi has a supporting role and really just gives us a paint-by-number performance without even a moment to shine through and do something original. The most fun is in seeing a large majority of the cast of Dracula (1931). Beyond that, I’d only recommend this for Lugosi purists and a viewing in the background while you are doing something else.
- Film is in the public domain.
- When the film was first released, it was only in black and white. Several weeks later, several tinted hand-colored scenes were included in the climax to add a little fun, including flashlights and gunfire.
- The fictional “Tonart Studios” in the film was actually Tiffany Studios, the company that produced the film.
Day 3: Chandu The Magician (1932)
Cast: Bela Lugosi as Roxor
Edmund Lowe as Frank Chandler aka Chandu
Irene Ware as Princess Nadji
Written by Barry Connors and Philip Klein
Directed by William Cameron Menzies and Marcel Varnel
Plot: After learning the secrets of eastern magic, Frank Chandler has assumed the identity of Chandu. With powers that include teleportation and illusions, Chandu is a crime-fighter with unique skills. Now Chandu is faced with his arch-rival Rokor with the lives of Chandu’s family hanging in the balance. Of course, you also have the love interest of our story, Princess Nadji, to add another element along with the ever present death ray. Can Chandu save his family and defeat Rokor in time?
Personal Thoughts: I love the old radio version of Chandu The Magician and I think this captures the feel of that show. There are certainly elements of Indiana Jones present with our mystic hero in the lead role. Lugosi turns in a great performance at the evil Roxor. In fact, it’s one of his more notorious roles as he is either selling a woman into slavery or ready to plunge a family to their death at various points in the film. Expansive sets and a great supporting cast also add to the overall fun. Unfortunately, its weakest part is that of Chandu himself. Edmund Lowe is a rather dull actor as he lacks the charisma for such a role. Nonetheless, Chandu The Magician deserves more attention than it gets, so I recommend it for a rainy Saturday afternoon.
- Based on the popular radio series, which had several runs in the 30s and 40s.
- Bela Lugosi went on to play the lead role of Chandu in the twelve-part serial The Return of Chandu (1934).