Monday, February 13, 2017

Bela Over London!


Bela Lugosi is a legendary figure in cinema. It's difficult to imagine anyone in the western world, perhaps the entire world who is not familiar with his version of the vampire, the marble-mouthed over-dressed gentleman who politely wants to drink your blood. Some years ago I got on a Lugosi binge and gathered up as much of his canon as I could grab for relatively reasonable or small money and I had a great time savoring some great, good and terrible performances for various directors and companies over the course of decades.


One that I missed at the time was a notorious film from England which goes by a host of title including My Son The Vampire, Vampire Over London, and Mother Riley Meets The Vampire. It's the last in a long long list of "Mother Riley" movies which star comedian Arthur Lucan in drag as the zany washerwoman "Mother Riley".


The movie was shown in the United States in the early 60's (well after the deaths of both its leads Lucan and Lugosi) under the title My Son The Vampire and took advantage of the momentary hubbub surrounding the comedian/ singer Allen Sherman. He recorded one of his typical bizarre songs which served as the theme music for the show.


The movie is rather terrible. It appears to borrow the plot from Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein and rumble off in all sorts of directions. When a robot (a better creation than any "Frankenstien Monster" or so says Lugosi's character) is misdirected in the mails to the home of Mother Riley, the evil mastermind Von Housen (Lugosi) and his bizarre gang of henchmen plot to steal it back and get Mother Riley along with it for their troubles. She at first is unaware of the nefarious nature of Von Housen's schemes but quickly realizes he is the notorious "Vampire" who has been kidnapping women in London for some time. Apparently the movie takes pains to suggest he is not an actual vampire and we don't see him do anything really vampire like save to sleep in a coffin and make unsubstantiated allusions to an unusually long life. After what seems like hours of not-very-funny mugging by Lucan as Mother Riley and some rather meager attempts by Lugosi to project a hint of menace the movie winds down with a showdown at the docks which is over in a whisk.


Bad movies offer up one of the great conundrums of life in that they are at once too short and too long. This movie is too short in that it doesn't take nearly enough time to establish the menace in a convincing or consistent manner and it's too long because the comedy plays really badly and often runs counter to the needs of the plot. It's the sign of a terrible movie when the characters are just as dumb or smart as they need to be in any given scene to keep the whole magilla tumbling along. That happens all through this turkey.


Lugosi returned from London and soon enough his career was in the peculiar hands of Ed Wood. The trip to London was apparently an attempt to get over one more time and reignite his career, but it didn't work and having now seen it I well understand why.

This one is for Lugosi purists for sure.

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4 comments:

  1. I'm an Allan Sherman super-fan but didn't know about this song.

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    1. Happy to be of service. This is a weird song indeed.

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  2. Allan Sherman's album "My Son the Nut" was a huge hit in the 60's and a friend of mine played it all the time. I preferred the darker social satire of Tom Lehrer, whose song "National Brotherhood Week" is, sadly, relevant today.

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    1. It's a name I'd heard, but not a talent I'd savored until now. Thanks to you and Youtube I'm a wiser man now. And that song as you say is too appropriate, and that's a pity and shame since we should be so much further along at this point.

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