Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bela-thon: pt 2

The second and last part of the Bela-thon, in honor of Bela Lugosi's birthday October 20th, perfect in the Halloween times!
The following three movies are reviewed:

White Zombie (1932)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Glen or Glenda? (1953)

White Zombie
Director: Victor Halperin
USA 1932
67 min
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer and John Harron, among others.


That's the first sound you hear in the film. It takes place in the West Indies, so of course the natives have their strange rituals with weird chanting when they bury someone. A carriage drives by natives, and the young couple inside seem intrigued. Their driver explains that the natives bury their dead by the road where people are always coming and going, to keep body snatchers away from the graves. They also drive past another group of strange looking people, that the driver says are living dead - zombies. And who might be the front figure among them if not Legendre - Bela Lugosi!

The young couple is Madeleine and Neil, played by the magically beautiful Madge Bellamy and John Harron, on their way to the mansion of a brief acquaintance by the name of Charles Beaumont (Frazer). Beaumont have for some reason convinced them to visit him before they get married. Soon it is understood that Beaumont is in love with Madeleine and plans to keep her for himself. He turns to Legendre for advise, and he teaches him how to turn her into a zombie. (Seriously, what's up with Legendre's facial hair growth?)

This is a hypnotizing little pre-code horror gem. The amazing cinematography reminds me of the silent era, which was not too far back in time in 1932. There is a great use of shadows, filming through objects and interesting camera angles. Music is absent in many scenes, and the scratchy sound recording gives a lot of atmosphere reminiscent of Dracula (1931). The absence of music makes other sounds more evident and scary, like the sound of the squeaking mill the zombies are working in. When there is music it has a surreal feeling, much reminding me of Luis Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou (1929). As I said before: it's a hypnotic and fascinating film.

Does the name Madge Bellamy ring any bell? She was that actress that shot her millionaire lover in 1943 when he was about to marry another woman, shrugging off the incident with the words:  "I only winged him, which is what I meant to do. Believe me, I'm a crack shot" That's a tough woman!

Dr. Bruner: Your driver believed he saw dead men... walking. 

Son of Frankenstein
Director: Rowland V. Lee
USA 1939
99 min
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lionel Atwill and Josephine Hutchinson, among others.

Basil Rathbone plays the title character (with the fabulous name of Baron Wolf von Frankenstein) who inherits his father's castle to continue his experiments. With him he brings his wife and son. It is however revealed that Wolf does not need to start his father's experiments all over - the Monster never died. Instead he lives in a crypt in the castle, being taken care of by Ygor (Lugosi). Ygor is a man that ones was hanged and pronounced dead, but somehow survived. He uses the Monster's devotion for him to seek revenge on the men behind his hanging.

I was surprised at how seriously great this film was. The Frankenstein castle looks marvelous, all twisted angles and Art Deco. It is fun to see the Great Rathbone in a horror movie, he does a great job. The way he gets more and more nervous and twitchy by the weight of his consience (he knows why people in the village are murdered, but revealing the truth would end his experiments) - well, Rathbone can do it, and he does it amazingly.

But I am supposed to concentrate on Lugosi in these film reviews. Once again he shows that he can play different kind of parts. As Ygor he is truly fascinating and inconvenient. The makeup work with his broken neck is amazing, I really feel sick when I see it.

Son of Frankenstein is a superb film that really lives up to it's prequels Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), even though one by this time is used to Karloff as the Monster and prefer to see him in more sophisticated roles.

Glen or Glenda? aka He or She aka I Changed My Sex! aka I Led 2 Lives
Director: Edward D. Wood Jr.
USA 1953
68 min
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Edward D. Wood Jr. (as Daniel Davis), Lyle Talbot, Timothy Farrell and Dolores Fuller, among others.

I think it's about time that I cover a film by the famous B-movie director Ed Wood! The director who wanted so much, but didn't really succeed. This is the only film that he directed but didn't produce - he actually had a little (notice the word "little") budget with this one!

He was originally supposed to make a film about the sex-change pioneer Christine Jorgensen (hot news back then), but instead turned the film into a pseudo-documentary on transvestitism and trans sexuality. With a lot of weird stuff in between.

Since Ed Wood was a transvestite himself (something that his girlfriend and co-actress Dolores Fuller did not know at the time) it was suitable for him to play the leading part of the story: Glen/Glenda. It is very evident that this subject was something that was close to his heart, and the large amount of soul he put into this film is perhaps its biggest strength.

Now, this is a bad movie. An awesome one, though. It is impossible to explain the story without revealing all the ridiculous stuff about it. Firstly, there seems to have been a problem deciding who is the narrator of the film. We are introduced to Bela Lugosi, who plays some God-like undefinable character. He talks about humans and their ridiculous way of living. He seems like the narrator.
Then we jump to a suicide scene, where a transvestite has taken his own life. Inspector Warren (Talbot) gets troubled by the suicide note and its message of a man not being accepted by society wearing women's clothing. He sees a psychologist, Dr. Alton (Farrell) who enlightens Inspector Warren about what goes on in the mind of a transvestite. He starts a second narration, telling the story of Glen/Glenda.
And then Glen/Glenda has a narration! So we have three different narrators. That's confusing.

Another ridiculous thing about Glen or Glenda? is the one thing Ed Wood is probably most known for - the frequent use of irrelevant stock footage. I read that 20% of the film is stock footage, which is quite impressive. There is also psychedelic elements with sado-masochistic women, The Devil etc. etc. Don't ask me to figure out what Ed Wood wanted to tell us with that.

What about Lugosi then? Well, he is marvelous no matter how ridiculous the script is. (It's obvious that Ed Wood worshiped him and let him go on with whatever he felt like saying.) I guess Lugosi is one of the few actors who actually can get away with mixing strange chemicals on a desk filled with random books and human skulls, and in the next scene shout:
"Beware! Bevare of the big green dragon who sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys... puppy dog tails, and big, fat snails! Beware... take care... Beware!"
There is some grace about his movements, something hypnotic about his eyes, something fascinating about his voice - it's Bela Lugosi, and he is the man.

I love this film. The actors are bad bad, and the whole thing just makes you amazed at how this film ever could have been made. But Ed Wood is such a pleasant character (he is probably the least bad of all the actors too, besides Lugosi of course), and his love for his work makes you unable not to love Glen or Glenda?.

Come on! How can you not love this:


Sebina C. said...

Fantastic selection of films and isn't Pre-Code horror just the best?. WHITE ZOMBIE is such a special gem of a film, I think.

I really love that you liked SON OF FRANKENSTEIN; as you, I was surprised at how good it is, when I saw it.
Reminds me of how much I miss watching a film with Basil Rathbone *sigh*

I have mixed feelings about GLEN OR GLENDA, though I love Bela Lugosi in any role (of what I've seen) - I think I'll watch it again sometime.

I recently saw a documentary about him, Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula (1997), which I really enjoyed - boy, was it good!

Lolita said...

Being unemployed has its good sides - like being able to watch three movies a day! Haha.

Pre-code horror films (and pre-code naughty films like Red-Headed Woman and Baby Face too!) are such an experience watching - how films could change overnight just because of that darn code!

Oh, you like Rathbone too? He's my hero, I adore him. I can watch a really bad movie and enjoy it if only he is in it :)

I loved Glen or Glenda, give it another try! The camp value is up in the sky, it's just lovely!

Thanks for the documentary tip - I need to look it up!

Sebina C. said...

I can imagine - boy, if I only could...

I love Pre-Code in all its forms - my favourite film period without any doubt. BABY FACE and RED-HEADED WOMAN are such great examples ;)

You bet I do - he's fantastic. I feel completely the same as you do :=D

You know, It's funny because I love campy stuff, but I was (probably) not ready for it back when I watched it, I believe.

I hope you'll enjoy it :)

Lolita said...

The TCM Forbidden Hollywood collections are gold for pre-code lovers!

Oh, you just need to be in the right mood! Give it another try, and let me know ;)

Mykal said...

Lolita: What a great, great post! White Zombie still gives me the heebie jeebies every time I see it. That grinding sound the giant wheel makes as the Zombies, turn, turn, turn forever. Aaaahh!

Love your insights into Son of Frankenstein - a film that often falls by the wayside in the great Frankenstein franchise. And Rathbone was so great in that film.

Since your a fan of his, did you ever read what David Thomson said about him? It captured him perfectly! And I quote: "Even unarmed, Rathbone was sharp and dangerous, a cruel dandy. The inverted arrow face, the razor nose, and a mustache that was really two fine shears stuck to his lips. Ladies looked fearfully at him, knowing that one embrace could cut them to ribbons."

May I assume you just experienced a not-unpleasureable shiver? -- Mykal

Christopher said...

White Zombie is great..lately monsieur..I've taken a fancy to YOU!..some crazy dialog!..I think the old crackly print quality works in its favor..makes it more dreamlike..ooga chacka ooga chacka!
Igor in Son Of Frank is one of Lugosi's best roles!!!"cough cough"..forgive me..bone get stuck in Igor's neck.."
mmMMMmmm..puppy dog tails.and big FAT SNAILS!

Lolita said...

Thank you so much! Compliments like that keeps me going! ;)

Oh, you should have heard the noise I made when I read that description... Wow! That was a really sharp observation of him, thank you for letting me know!

You know that you leave some crazy comments sometimes? Haha! Love it. Yes, when Igor talked about his neck it made me want to vomit! Eww!

What do you suppose Ed Wood smoked when he wrote those lines...?

Amanda said...

I adore White Zombie. It is one of the first vintage horror films I ever saw. I haven't seen the other two, but definitely plan to.

By the way, I love your quote on the right about Basil Rathbone. Genius!

Lolita said...

Glen or Glenda might not be enjoyed by everyone, but if you like weird, campy stuff it's a film you will love! Son of Frankenstein is amazing, I really recommend that one!
Thanks! Mykal gave me that quote, I had to put it up in the sidebar!

Christopher said...

I haven't seen Glen or Glenda in ages and can't remember,is that bondage/stiptease stuff, in the movie?..I used to have a super 8mm film in the 70s of all those scenes in one 10 min. Reel..called I changed My Sex..But I can't see how all those little "acts" would fit into the main feature..

Lolita said...

Haha! Do you think I publish random sex pics? ;) Yes, they are actually in the movie, in a weird dream like sequence. I read that they were put in there to add some "spice" to the film, hehe. It doesn't get more subtle than that!
Oh, and most things does not fit into the movie - that's the Ed Wood way!