The following three movies are reviewed:
White Zombie (1932)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Glen or Glenda? (1953)
Director: Victor Halperin
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer and John Harron, among others.
"OH-WAH-WAH OH-WAH-WAH OH-WAH-WAH!"
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
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.
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: