Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Vampire Dracula turns 135 with the birthday of Bela Lugosi

It's been 135 years since Bela Lugosi was born in 1882. His biography is well know to many, including most readers of this blog. Suffice to say that he was a working actor until he died. Just prior to his death, he was promoting "The Black Sleep," a film he had a role in and shooting random footage with Ed Wood, some of which turned up in "Plan 9 From Outer Space. (To read the many obituaries published at his death, go to the Vampire Over London blog.) (I also published my review of Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain in the Standard-Examiner newspaper.)

At Plan9Crunch, we offer three links today to posts regarding Bela Lugosi, who has become the most famous, and iconic, figure from the Universal glory days of horror that began with "Dracula" in 1931. Lugosi did not require loads of makeup to play the vampire, his acting skills and personality defined the role.

So, let's celebrate Lugosi's Birthday. Read the posts below, and even better, spend time today watching one of our favorite actor's films. It's been a while since I have seen Bela as the Count in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." My son and I will enjoy it again.

Here are three links, with a short snippet from each blog:

1) --
'Bela Lugosi In Person' captures the stage, personal appearance career of screen 'Dracula'
"He was a star, and a gracious star, attentive to fans and charmingly tongue-in-cheek sinister with the media, particularly local media, which pursued him often during his long stage assignments. Lost in dusty old-media files and updated media websites are reviews of the many plays Lugosi entered, as star, or supporting role."

2) -- 
A Tribute to Bela "Dracula" Lugosi
"I have seen "Dracula" scores of times, and Lugosi is the key to the film. He is a tall, courtly, menacing figure who promises a fate worse than death. And that is the appeal of these early horror films compared to the sadistic gore-fests of today — a fate worse than death awaits the vampire's victims. That fate is conveyed to perfection in the scene where Lugosi's vampire murders actor Dwight Frye's cringing, pathetic, mad disciple Renfield. Dracula's exterior is charming. But his filthy interior attracts darkness, fog, storm, chill winds, rodents, flies, spiders, blood and undeath."

Voodoo Man, Monogram's last Bela Lugosi production
"... it may be the best-paced, least convoluted Monogram film Lugosi made. It's ably directed by William Beaudine and looks like a lean, mean film-in-a-week film. (It was helmed in October of 1943). The plot involves Dr. Richard Marlowe, who kidnaps young lovelies in an attempt to transform their conscious life into his "dead" comatose wife, Evelyn (Ellen Hall)."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bela Lugosi the best part of early talkie Night of Terror

Review by Doug Gibson

I finally got around to seeing "Night of Terror," an early non-Universal talkie that Bela Lugosi starred in a couple of years after "Dracula." It never appears on Turner Classic Movies and only scenes appear on YouTube. Finally, at, I found it here. (It can be found easily to buy as a DVD online).

So, I watched it last week and ... I was a bit disappointed. Lugosi does a fine job as a solemn, somewhat menacing servant wearing a turban. He does a mean stare, as you can see from the lobby card above. But the film has a mediocre script and a "climax" that is a bit ridiculous. It's a "old dark house" mystery, in the style of its peers "The Bat" and "The Cat and the Canary,' but not as good, and quite derivative.

Someone, whom the press calls the "The Maniac,' is killing off people, with eventual emphasis on killing members of the wealthy Rinehart family. Despite this threat, none of the Rinehart family members  appear eager to leave the house and the area to escape the threat. They are too concerned about the revealed will of family patriarch, Richard Rinehart, one of the early murder victims.

Some of the Rineharts crab that faithful servants Degar (Lugosi) and his wife, Sika (Mary Frey) are in line to inherit if the Rineharts die. That makes Degar a suspect to some. Pretty Mary Rinehart (Sally Blane), daughter of Richard, is engaged to boring Professor Arthur Hornsby (George Meeker) who wants to bury himself to prove that a formula he's working on can presumably keep people buried alive safe for long periods.

Really, however, Mary has the hots for romance-minded reporter Tom Hartley (Wallace Ford), whom she enjoys bantering with. Meanwhile, the maniac is still around, outside windows, killing, giggling. Eventually there is a seance in which Sika is killed by a knife that comes out from her chair and enters her back. Also, the professor is under the the ground testing his theory.

If this sounds convoluted it is. This film is almost as confusing as "Scared to Death." However, it's worth an hour of your time. Watching talented actors Blane and Ford spar romantically for an hour is good 1930s' cinema. And Lugosi does his usual good job, even in a "butler" role. He also handles all the rash accusations against him from scared Rineharts with dignity. (Below is an extended clip from film that shows Lugosi's talent.)

Columbia released this film, but it has a poverty row look to it. Maybe a Blu Ray release one day will change that. As mentioned, the "climax" scene, where the killer is unmasked and all explained, is poorly done. It strains credibility.

NOTES: Sally Blane, a middling movie star, was sister to actors Loretta Young, a major star, and Polly Ann Young, a poverty row starlet. Wallace Ford co-starred with Bela in "The Mysterious Mr. Wong" and "The Ape Man," also playing a reporter in both. The film is marred by racist comedy relief with a black chauffeur, Martin, who plays frightened very broadly. There is an epilogue where the maniac threatens movie-goers who give away the plot to the film. Watch it below:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The vampire as kitsch -- Carradine as Dracula fights Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid versus Dracula

Billy the Kid versus Dracula, directed by William Beaudine, Circle Films, 1961. Starring John Carradine as Count Dracula, Chuck Courtney as Billy the Kid, Melinda Plowman as Betty Bentley. Others in cast include Harry Carey, Jr., Roy Barcroft, and Olive Carey. 1966, Color, 73 minutes. Schlock-meter rating: 6 stars out of 10. 

I have a soft spot for this movie, which puts me at odds with just about every other film critic. Okay, I know that the plot is feeble, the acting poor, the special effects a joke. And it's a fraud to vampire lore, since Carradine spends a lot of his time out in broad daylight. (NOTE: Tonight, Oct. 8, 2017, as part of October Vampire Month, TCM airs this film at 8:45 p.m. MST.)

Nevertheless, it's a fun little film if not taken seriously and the offbeat plot (Hero Billy the Kid matching wits with Dracula) is unique enough to merit a few stars. The plot: Dracula (on vacation?) is in the Old West. He provokes Indians into killing everyone on a stagecoach, then assumes the identity of a rich Eastern banker whose niece (who Dracula has the hots for) is about to marry a reformed Billy the Kid. THAT IS a bizarre plot -- even Ed Wood may not have come up with something that unique. Virginia Christine, the future Folger Coffee lady, is great as the real vampire-hunter in the film, and Olive Carey is feisty and likable as an elderly lady doctor. There is one semi-chilling scene in the film, where a collection of stagecoach riders lie dead, murdered by Indians in a plot hatched by Dracula.

This is definitely not Carradine at his best; in fact he seems many times to just walk through his role (he considered it his worst film, but it's not), but the old vampire master has a few good scenes, and manages to be quite sinister at times. Billy The Kid versus Dracula was made with Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (not quite as good). Both were directed by Beaudine and played primarily Saturday kiddie matinees together. Watch a scene below.


I will add, upon repeat viewings, this film improves. At its heart, it's more western than horror, a fond nod to this hour-long oaters of the 1930s and 1940s from C movie studios. Carey, I believe, was in the classic film "The Grapes of Wrath," which included Carradine in its cast as well.

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Clint Eastwood Westerns – by James L. Neibaur

Review by Steve D. Stones

Although I was not alive in the 1960s when Sergio Leone's Italian westerns came to the United States, I'll never forget seeing A Fistful of Dollars (1964) for the first time in the early 1990s. I was completely mesmerized by the stylized qualities of the film, the more violent approach to depicting the old American West and the iconic poncho worn by Eastwood's character. Leone's view of the American West was far removed from anything I had seen in a John Ford or Howard Hawks western. This excited me and made me thirst for more of these films.

In his 2015 book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), (link is here) author James L. Neibaur sheds light on many details of Eastwood's acting and directing careers in western films. It is a pleasure to read not only because it goes into details about the Italian westerns Eastwood did with Leone, but the book also covers Eastwood's early TV career as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, as well as projects Eastwood accomplished between his western films, such as the iconic Dirty Harry films.

Neibaur points out the many similarities of Eastwood's “Man With No Name” in the Italian westerns to many of his later screen roles, such as Dirty Harry (1971), and even his early Don Siegel collaboration – Coogan's Bluff (1968), in which Eastwood plays a simple Arizona lawman in pursuit of a criminal tracked to New York City.

In Coogan's Bluff, Eastwood lays the foundation for many of the character traits found in his Dirty Harry Callahan character. He is a cynical outsider who works within the system, but hates all the rules and protocols of the system itself. In in sense, he is a cowboy of the past placed into the metropolis of our modern world.

As a fan of the Italian westerns, I often wondered why Eastwood's character in the three westerns he made with Leone were all named differently. I assumed all three characters were supposed to be the same man. Neibaur points out why the character had a different name for each film. Eastwood is a loner in the first film (A Fistful of Dollars), and duo in the second film (For A Few Dollars More) and part of a trio in the third film (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly). In A Fistful of Dollars, he is referred to as “Joe” by the town coffin maker. In A Few Dollars More, he is called “Manco.” He is known simply as “Blondie” in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

Neibaur points out that A Fistful of Dollars was produced by Jolly Films. This company had a falling out with director Leone and did not become involved with the sequel – For A Few Dollars More. Jolly Films sued, claiming rights to the “Joe” character in A Fistful of Dollars. It was decided in court that a unknown gunfighter, bounty killer character, such as “Joe,” cannot be copyrighted, so therefore he exists in the public domain. Giving Eastwood the “Manco” name in For A Few Dollars More may have been a way to try and not connect the two characters in any way.

Although the Italian westerns of Leone and Eastwood were a box office smash worldwide, their relationship was quite strained by the time The Good, The Bad & The Ugly wrapped up production in 1966, as Neibaur points out in the book. So strained, in fact, that when Eastwood was offered the Harmonica role (later given to Charles Bronson) in Once Upon A Time In The West (1969), Eastwood turned it down after a meeting with Leone that went poorly.

The book would not be complete without placing some focus on Eastwood's great accomplishments as an American director. As with his mentors Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, Eastwood became a master of his directing craft, and went on to direct some of the greatest westerns in cinema history, such as High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), which many consider his greatest directed western, Pale Rider (1985) and the crown of his western film achievements – Unforgiven (1992), in which he won a Best Director Oscar. The American Film Institute has listed Unforgiven as the fourth greatest western in cinema history, right after The Searchers (1956), High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953).

If you are a fan of Clint Eastwood westerns, I recommend James L. Neibaur's book – The Clint Eastwood Westerns. Happy reading.