January 16, 2005

Ya know, it's possible to just *enjoy* a movie sometimes

It's probably just me. I have an obvious fondness for B-movies, so maybe it's easier for me to overlook the glaring flaws present in most of these cheesy goodies. And it annoys the hell out of me when some critic-wannabe overanalyzes a B-movie to the point of taking all the fun out of it.

You may remember the small debate Victor and I had over the movie Starship Troopers. He even went so far as to rename it Earth vs. Soup so as not to influence his critque by comparing it to the book (one of my all-time favorites).

Victor shredded the movie in his review (parts 1 and 2 - worth reading). I'm ok with that because Starship Troopers was not a B-movie. A major studio made the movie, using a top-flight director and talent with name recognition. They spent oodles of money on special effects. This movie was meant to be a blockbuster. Only problem is, they screwed up the story so bad that not only did they alienate Heinlein purists, but the end result wasn't even a very good flick. Each and every point Victor brought up was correct. I still liked the movie though.

So that's kind of the way I watch my movies, and it most certainly colors my perception when I review them. If you follow my recommendations, most of the time you won't see a great movie, sometimes it's not even a good movie. I try to be up front about that though. The key to enjoying these is to just *enjoy* them, and don't expect brilliance. But you'll also be surprised at how often you underestimate them too.

Ok, rant over. What kind of fired that up was watching a couple of old Bela Lugosi flicks, writing the reviews below, and then checking out what others have to say on the net (mostly IMDB). I usually do that, putting my own thoughts down before reading the other reviews. So anyways, on to the fun...

Imagine the kindly small town doctor. Everyone loves him, he's everybody's best friend. The shingle out in front of his office reads "Paul Carruthers, M.D." How much Rockwellian americana can you stand?

But when the doc opens his mouth to speak, what comes out is Dracula, "I vant you to take two of these und call me in ze morning."

Bela Lugosi is cast as the doctor in The Devil Bat, a little gem released in 1940. The plot is fun and has some inspired ideas, but don't think it's going to make a lot of sense.

By this stage of Legosi's career, he was pretty much stuck in B-movies, although it would be quite some time before he was reduced to appearances in Ed Wood films. In addition, the quality of the film bore no relation to the performance he gave. He was always 'on', no matter how lousy the script or supporting performances. Bela Lugosi's acting ranged from brilliant to over-the-top ham, and he appeared in few really 'good' movies, in large part because he never toned down his accent (he didn't try very hard either).

Back to the movie. Bela, er, Doc Carruthers isn't just a beloved doctor, he's an expert chemist who created a formula which made his bosses rich. He missed out on the big bucks because he sold the rights for cash. Being bitter, he develops another formula, this one designed to enrage giant bats to the point of attacking whoever is wearing it.

What giant bats, you say? Why, the giant bats that Doc is creating in his lab. He tricks selected victims into trying the new 'after shave' and then tsk-tsks over the body when found with their throat ripped out.

Lugosi is wonderful to watch, and you can even get past the ridiculous farce of the heavily-accented "Doc" (although I did chuckle through the first third of the movie every time he spoke). The newspaper photographer, One-Shot, is a hoot, in a 1940's kind of way.

Here's a lovely bit of surreal dialog between the Chief of Police and the newspaper reporter:

reporter: So what are you holding back?

chief: Oh no, I'm not trusting a reporter with details!

reporter: Chief, I promise to help solve this case.

chief: Ok then, we've got this one clue that we've kept secret...

This one is big fun.

Trivia: Dave O'Brien, who played the reporter, appeared in almost 200 B-movies, mostly westerns. His cinematic talents also included directing (43 movies), writing (31 movies), stunt work and songwriting! For all that, he's best remembered as one of the dope-smoking teen fiends in the classic cult-propaganda flick Reefer Madness.

The second Bela Lugosi flick is The Invisible Ghost. I'm going to put the synopsis from the box here:

In the effort to ease the pain of losing his wife, Kessler (Lugosi) submits to hypnosis therapy. But the hypnosis causes Kessler to have lapses of memory followed by a rash of murders - all which seem to be fulfilling the vendetta of his late wife.

There's more, but this is enough. The description above was written by someone who never saw the movie or badly confused it with something else. There's nothing in the flick about hypnosis, and as to the vendetta, well, the movie never mentions any vendetta (and his wife isn't very 'late' either, if you know what I mean). Even the title bears little relation to the actual movie.

Even so, this is another fun movie. Bela Lugosi again steals the show in every scene except when the butler Evans in onscreen. Evans was played by black actor Clarence Muse, and his character defied the stereotypes of the day, being intelligent and dignified, often moreso than the rest of the cast. He's a delight, especially when he makes wry comments during the goings on.

So yes, I recommend this movie too. After all, how often have you seen a movie where one of the lead actors gets executed in the electric chair before the film is half over? No clemency for him!

Trivia: Clarence Muse held a law degree from Pennsylvania's Dickerson University, and was one of the first inductees into the Black Filmmaker's Hall of Fame. In his long career, his film credits included roles in White Zombie, Huckleberry Finn, Showboat, Porgy and Bess, Car Wash and The Black Stallion.

Posted by Ted at January 16, 2005 08:07 AM
Category: Cult Flicks
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