Halloween Havoc!: SON OF DRACULA (Universal 1943)


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Director Robert Siodmak is remembered today for his dark excursions into the world of film noir: THE SUSPECT, THE KILLERS , CRY OF THE CITY, CRISS CROSS . His first entry in the genre is generally recognized as 1944’s PHANTOM LADY , but a case could be made for SON OF DRACULA, Siodmak’s only Universal Horror that combines elements of both genres into what could best be described as supernatural noir.

A train pulls into the station in a sleepy Louisiana town. Frank Stanley (Robert Paige) and Dr. Brewster (Frank Craven ) are there to meet Count Alucard, invited for a visit by Kay Caldwell (Louise Albritton), Frank’s fiancé, who has long been interested in the occult. Alucard isn’t aboard, but his trunks are, and Brewster notices Alucard spelled backwards reads as Dracula. The trunks are delivered to Kay’s family plantation, Dark Oaks. The scene shifts, and…

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Halloween Havoc!: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Universal 1943)


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Universal’s 1943 remake of the 1925 Lon Chaney Sr. classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is definitely an ‘A’ movie in every way. A lavish Technicolor production with an ‘A’ list cast (Claude Rains, Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster) and opulent sets (including the Opera House interiors built for the ’25 silent), it’s the only Universal Horror to win an Oscar – actually two, for Art Direction and Cinematography. Yet I didn’t really like it the first time I saw it. It’s only through repeated viewings I’ve softened my stance and learned to appreciate the film.

Claude Rains’s performance in particular has made me a convert. As Erique Claudin, he’s a sympathetic figure, and one can’t help but feel sorry for him. When he’s let go from the orchestra by the maestro, after twenty long years as a violinist, his arthritis causing his playing to become subpar, I felt pity for…

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Halloween Havoc!: INVISIBLE AGENT (Universal 1942)


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INVISIBLE AGENT could very well have been subtitled “The Invisible Man vs The Nazis”! This is the only Universal Horror that addresses the topic of the war in Europe (despite the fact most of them take place in Europe!), and though there aren’t many scares going on, Curt Siodmak’s sci-fi flavored screenplay, John P. Fulton’s fantastic special effects, and a cast featuring Peter Lorre in his only Universal Horror appearance make this one of the most enjoyable movies of the whole bunch!

Frank Griffin, grandson of the original Invisible Man, is living in London under the assumed name Frank Raymond and running a small printing shop. A gang of Axis creeps led by Gestapo spymaster Stauffer and Japanese Baron Ikito pay him a call, demanding his grandfather’s secret of invisibility, which of course they want to use for their own nefarious purposes. Frank manages to escape their clutches, and goes…

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Bump’N’Grind: LADY OF BURLESQUE (United Artists 1943)


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Famed striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee published a steamy mystery novel called “The G-String Murders” in 1941, all about backstage intrigue at a burlesque house. The book was a best seller, and so of course Hollywood came a-calling, and William Wellman was assigned the director’s job for LADY OF BURLESQUE, a somewhat sanitized version of Gypsy’s racy tome, though Wellman and screenwriter James Gunn got away with what they could in those heavy-handed Production Code days.

The film opens with the glittering lights of The Great White Way, then takes a turn onto 42nd Street, where benevolent burlesque impresario S.B. Foss (J. Edward Bromberg) has purchased the old Opera House to present his bump’n’grind shows. Barbara Stanwyck plays new headliner Dixie Daisy, and (as they said back then) va-va-voom…

La Stanwyck is some kinda hot in her skimpy Edith Head-designed costume! Dixie sings “Take It Off the E-String, Put It…

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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.

The Fabulous Forties #50: Lady of Burlesque (dir by William A. Wellman)


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Way back in April, I started on a series of reviews.  I announced that I would be watching and reviewing all 50 of the public domain films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.

At the time, I expected that it would take me maybe two weeks.  At the most, two and a half.  After all, I wondered, how long can I take?  Well, needless to say, it took me a little longer than two weeks.  In fact, it took me nearly 3 months.  (In my defense, May turned out to be a very busy month for me and I wasn’t able to review a single Fabulous Forties film.)  However, what’s important is that, after all this time, I am currently writing up the last of my Fabulous Forties reviews!

(And, right now, you’re reading it.)

On the whole, the Fabulous Forties has turned out to be pretty uneven box set.  It contains a few classics, like My Man Godfrey, His Girl Friday, and The Last Chance.  There are several good films, like The Black Book and Trapped.  And then there’s quite a few mediocre and forgettable films, like The Town Went Wild and Jungle Man.  (Dear God, Jungle Man…)  As I started on the final film in the set, I wasn’t sure what I was about to see…

Well, no worries!  The Fabulous Forties ends on a high note!  The 50th film is the wonderfully entertaining 1943 comedy-musical-mystery Lady of Burlesque!

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Lady of Burlesque (which was released in the UK under the title Striptease Lady) takes place in an old and somewhat decrepit New York burlesque house, the type of place where the audience is almost all male, the owners are somewhat sleazy, and the performers are a cross between cynical veterans and naive newcomers who are hoping for their first big break.

As quickly becomes apparent, the theater would fall apart if not for its main attraction, Dixie Daisy (Barbara Stanwyck).  Dixie serves as a mentor for the newcomers and a confidante for the veterans.  She knows how to keep the audience entertained, even when two dancers are loudly screaming at each other offstage.  She knows how to deal with the sleazy owners and how to placate the owners of the Chinese restaurant next door.  Dixie also knows better than to get romantically involved with any of male comics who perform at the theater but that doesn’t stop her from flirting with one of them, Biff Brannigan (Micahel O’Shea, playing his role with an almost poignant earnestness).  As I watched the film, I could tell that Barbara Stanwyck was neither a natural dancer nor singer but it didn’t matter because, whether Dixie was trying to keep peace backstage or performing onstage and singing a song called, “Take It Off The E-String, Play It On The G-String,” Stanwyck totally committed herself to the role.

Plus, her outfits were to die for!

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Seriously, as I watched Lady of Burlesque, I totally wanted to get a job dancing in an old timey burlesque house!  If only I had a time machine…

Of course, it should be understood that the acts in Lady of Burlesque are risqué but, by today’s standards, they’re also rather innocent.   The jokes may be full of double meaning but it’s all hidden in the subtext.  The costumes may be sexy but they also stay on.  (That probably had more to do with the production code than to do with the realities of 1940s burlesque.)

Anyway, Lady of Burlesque is technically a murder mystery but mostly, it’s just an excuse to show the performances happening onstage and a few comedic (and occasionally dramatic) vignettes of what it was like to be backstage in a burlesque house.  Two dancers are murdered but the show must go on.  Even as Dixie solves the murders and tries to keep everyone calm, the show must go on.  In fact, that’s one of the true joys of Lady of Burlesque.  Regardless of what madness might be going on backstage, the show never stops!  In fact, the film often seems undecided about whether or not the backstage murders are bad because of the loss of life or the fact that they threaten to interrupt the performances onstage.  Lady of Burlesque becomes a tribute to the work ethic of entertainers everywhere!

Lady of Burlesque was based on a novel by Gypsy Rose Lee.  The name of that novel was The G-String Murders.  Not surprisingly, that title was changed for the film version.

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Well, that concludes the Fabulous Forties!  In a few weeks, I’ll start in on my next Mill Creek box set, the Nifty Fifties!  Until then, enjoy Lady of Burlesque!