Horror Film Review: Son of Dracula (dir by Robert Siodmak)


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Did you know that Count Dracula had a son?

Well, maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.  It all depends on how you interpret the 1943 film, Son of Dracula.  In Son of Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. plays a vampire named Count Alucard.  I get the feeling that it’s supposed to be a shocking moment when it’s pointed out that Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards but, since the movie is called Son of Dracula, I would think that most people would have already figured out the connection.

That said, when Alucard reveals that his true name is Dracula, he seems to be suggesting that he is the original Count Dracula.  And yet the name of the film is Son of Dracula.  At one point, two characters speculate that Alucard is a descendant of the original, just to be corrected by his bride.  “He is Dracula!” she announces.  Then again, she could just be bragging.  If you’re going to marry a Dracula, wouldn’t you rather marry the original than a descendant?

If he is the original Dracula, you do have to wonder why he’s still alive.  Since the film is a part of the Universal Dracula series, you have to wonder how he managed to survive being both staked by Van Helsing and having his body cremated by his daughter in Dracula’s Daughter.  You also can’t help but notice that Alucard doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to Bela Lugosi. nor does he have a European accent.  Instead, Alucard looks a lot like Lon Chaney, Jr.  Chaney does not make for the most convincing vampire.  As an actor, Chaney tended to project a certain “likable but dumb lug” quality that worked well for The Wolf Man and as Lenny in Of Mice and Men but it doesn’t quite work when he’s cast as a suave, Hungarian vampire.

Anyway, Son of Dracula finds Count Alucard in New Orleans at the turn of the century.  He has specifically moved to the Deep South so that he can be with Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), a young woman who is obsessed with the occult.  Katherine secretly marries Alucard.  When her former boyfriend, Frank (Robert Paige), finds out about the marriage he decides that the best way to handle way things would be to get drunk and shoot the count.  Unfortunately, since the Count is a vampire, the bullet passes through him and kills Katherine instead.

Or does it!?

Probably the most interesting thing about Son of Dracula is that it presents Alucard as being manipulated by a mortal.  Usually, Dracula is the one doing the manipulating but in Son of Dracula, it’s suggested that a clever mortal can manipulate the undead jut as easily.  GO KATHERINE!

Anyway, Son of Dracula is okay.  It has some steamy deep south atmosphere and it’s fun in a campy, Universal sort of way.  It has some historical significance because it was apparently the first film to actually feature a vampire transforming into a bat onscreen.  For the most part, though, it’s a film that will best be appreciated by Universal horror completists.

That said, I kind of like the fact that nobody in the film could figure out that Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards.  That was cute.

Cleaning Out The DVR #11: Going My Way (dir by Leo McCarey)


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Last night, continuing my effort to watch 38 movies in 10 days (and, for the record, I have 7 days left as of today), I watched the 1944 musical-comedy-drama Going My Way.

Going My Way tells the episodic story of Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), a priest from St. Louis who is assigned to take charge of a struggling parish in New York City.  O’Malley is meant to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), a stubbornly old-fashioned priest who is struggling to keep up with a changing world.  Though O’Malley is to take charge of the parish’s affairs, Fitzgibbon is to remain the pastor.  However, the compassionate O’Malley doesn’t tell Fitzgibbon about the arrangement and allows Fitzgibbon to believe that O’Malley is only meant to be his assistant.

It’s obvious from the start that Fitzgibbon and O’Malley have differing approaches.  Fitzgibbon is a traditionalist.  O’Malley, on the other hand, is a priest who sings.  He’s a priest who understands that the best way to prevent the local teens from forming a street gang is to convince them to start a choir instead.  When it appears that 18 year-old Carol (Jean Heather) is “living in sin,” it is the nonjudgmental O’Malley who convinces her to marry her boyfriend.

And, slowly but surely, Fitzgibbon and O’Malley start to appreciate each other.  O’Malley is even able to convince Fitzgibbon to play a round of golf with him, while Fitzgibbon tells O’Malley about his love for his mother in Ireland.

What’s interesting is that we learn very little about O’Malley’s past.  In many ways, he’s like a 1940s super hero or maybe a less violent and far more ethical version of one of Clint Eastwood’s western heroes.   He shows up suddenly, he fixes things, and then he moves on.  Instead of a cape or a poncho, he wears a collar.

(And, of course, he doesn’t kill anyone.  Actually, that’s probably a lousy analogy but I decided I’d give it a try anyway…)

At one point, O’Malley does run into an opera singer named  Genevieve Linden (Rise Stevens).  He and Genevieve (whose real name is Jenny) talk briefly about their past and it becomes obvious that they once had a romantic relationship.  We don’t learn the exact details but it does bring some unexpected melancholy to an otherwise cheerful film.  It reminds us of what O’Malley gave up to become a priest.

Fortunately, Genevieve is more than happy to help out with O’Malley’s choir, even arranging for them to meet with a record executive (William Frawley).  The executive doesn’t have much interest in religious music but then he hears Bing O’Malley sing Swinging On A Star.

It’s a bit strange to watch Going My Way today because it is a film that has not a hint of cynicism.  There’s no way that a contemporary, mainstream film would ever portray a priest as positively as Father O’Malley is portrayed in this film.  Indeed, it says something about the world that we live in that I instinctively cringed a little whenever O’Malley was working with the choir, largely because films like Doubt and Spotlight have encouraged me to view any film scene featuring a priest and an pre-teen boy with suspicion.  O’Malley is the ideal priest, the type of priest that those of us who were raised Catholic wish that we could have known when we were young and impressionable.  Bing Crosby does a pretty good job of playing him, too.  Watching Going My Way felt like stepping into a time machine and going to a simpler and more innocent time.

In the end, Going My Way is a slight but watchable film.  It doesn’t add up too much but, at the same time, it’s always likable.  Though the film may be about a priest, the emphasis is less on religion and more on kindness, charity, and community.  Going My Way was a huge success at the box office and even won the Oscar for best picture.

Personally, I would have given the Oscar to Double Indemnity but Going My Way is still a likable movie.

Speaking of likable, the Academy was so impressed with Barry Fitzgerald’s performance that they actually nominated it twice!  He got so many votes in both categories that Fitzgerald ended up nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Subsequently, the Academy changed the rules and decreed that a performance could only be nominated in one category.  As for Fitzgerald, he won the Oscar for best supporting actor.  He later broke the Oscar while practicing his golf swing.

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Barry and Oscar

(Don’t worry.  The Academy sent him a replacement.)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Human Comedy (dir by Clarence Brown)


The-human-comedy-1943Thanks to TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, I now have several movies on my DVR that I need to watch over the upcoming month.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining.  I’m always happy to have any reason to discover (or perhaps even rediscover) a movie.  And, being an Oscar junkie, I especially enjoy the opportunity to watch the movies that were nominated in the past and compare them to the movies that have been nominated more recently.

For instance, tonight, I watched The Human Comedy, a film from 1943.  Along with being a considerable box office success, The Human Comedy won on Oscar (for Best Story) and was nominated for four others: picture, director (Clarence Brown), actor (Mickey Rooney), and black-and-white cinematography.  The Human Comedy was quite a success in 1943 but I imagine that, if it were released today, it would probably be dismissed as being too sentimental.  Watching The Human Comedy today is something of a strange experience because it is a film without a hint of cynicism.  It deals with serious issues but it does so in such a positive and optimistic manner that, for those of us who are used to films like The Big Short and Spotlight, a bit of an attitude adjustment is necessary before watching.

And yet that doesn’t mean that The Human Comedy is a bad film.  In fact, I quite enjoyed it.  The Human Comedy is a time capsule, a chance to look into the past.  It also features a great central performance, one that was quite rightfully nominated for an Oscar.  As I watched Mickey Rooney in this film, I started to feel guilty for some of the comments I made when I reviewed Mickey in The Manipulator last October.

2Mickey Rooney in The Human Comedy

The Human Comedy opens with an overhead shot of the small town of Ithaca, California.  The face of Mr. McCauley (Ray Collins, who you’ll recognize immediately as Boss Jim Gettys from Citizen Kane) suddenly appears in the clouds.  Mr. McCauley explains that he’s dead and he’s been dead for quite some time.  But he loves Ithaca so much that his spirit still hangs around the town and keeps an eye on his family.  Somehow, the use of dead Mr. McCauley as the film’s narrator comes across as being both creepy and silly.

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But no sooner has Mr. McCauley stopped extolling the virtues of small town life than we see his youngest song, 7 year-old Ulysseus (Jack Jenkins), standing beside a railroad track and watching a train as it rumbles by.  Sitting on the cars are a combination of soldiers and hobos.  Ulysseus waves at some of the soldiers but none of them wave back.  Finally, one man waves back at Ulysseus and calls out, “Going home, I’m going home!”  It’s a beautifully shot scene, one that verges on the surreal.

That opening pretty much epitomizes the experience of watching The Human Comedy.  For every overly sentimental moment, there will be an effective one that will take you by surprise.  The end result may be uneven but it’s still undeniably effective.

The majority of the film deals with Homer McCauley (Mickey Rooney).  Homer may still be in high school but, with his older brother, Marcus (Van Johnson), serving overseas and his father dead, Homer is also the man of the house.  Homer not only serves as a role model for Ulysseus but he’s also protector for his sister, Bess (Donna Reed).   (At one point in the film, she gets hit on by three soldiers on leave.  One of them is played by none other than Robert Mitchum.)  In order to bring in extra money for the household, Homer gets a job delivering telegrams.

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In between scenes of Homer in Ithaca, we get oddly dream-like scenes of Marcus and his army buddies hanging out.  Marcus spends all of his time talking about how much he loves Ithaca and how he can’t wait for the war to be over so he can return home.  One of his fellow soldiers says, “I almost feel like Ithaca is my hometown, too.”  Marcus promises him that they’ll all visit Ithaca.  As soon as the war is over…

With World War II raging, Homer’s job largely consists of delivering death notices (and the occasional singing telegram, as well).  Telegraph operator Willie Grogan (Frank Morgan) deals with the burden of having to transcribe bad news by drinking.  Homer, meanwhile, tries to do his job with compassion and dignity but one day, he has to deliver a telegram to his own house…

The Human Comedy is an episodic film, full of vignettes of life in Ithaca and Homer growing up.  There’s quite a few subplots (along with a lot of speeches about how America is the best country in the world) but, for the most part, the film works best when it concentrates on Homer and Mickey Rooney’s surprisingly subdued lead performance.  By today’s standards, it may seem a bit predictable and overly sentimental but it’s also so achingly sincere that you can’t help but appreciate it.

The Human Comedy was nominated for best picture but it lost to a somewhat more cynical film about life during World War II, Casablanca.