Archive for Lionel Atwill

Mark of the Vampire (1935) Review

Posted in Mark of the Vampire with tags , , , , on October 10, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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MARK OF THE VAMPIRE

**** Out of 5

Tagline- You Will Not Dare Believe What Your Eyes See

Release Date- April 26th, 1935

Running Time- 60-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Guy Endore & Bernard Schubert

Director- Tod Browning

Starring- Lionel Barrymore, Lionel Atwill, Elizabeth Allan, Carroll Borland and Bela Lugosi as Count Mora

Released in 1935 and directed by Tod Browning, Mark of the Vampire is actually a remake of Tod Browning’s very own silent movie London After Midnight, which starred Lon Chaney Sr. and is now a lost film. Rick Schmidlin for TCM put together a reconstruction of London After Midnight using the original screenplay and new score with still photos, but that while interesting doesn’t quite cut it as we’re just seeing photos and Tod Browning’s direction and acting can’t translate using photos. I very much admire what Rick Schmidlin was doing and again it was interesting, but its impossible to rate the film seeing it that way. So the only other way to sort of see London After Midnight is to watch Mark of the Vampire and this film is also a bit of a remake of Browning’s very own 1931 classic Dracula as a few scenes mirror those of Dracula.

Tod Browning made a name for himself in the 20s with a slew of silent flicks, which starred Lon Chaney Sr. and his popularity grew in 1931 when he directed the classic Dracula with Bela Lugosi in the title role and Browning was a director with a lot of pull until Freaks. While now seen as a cult classic upon its release Freaks was panned by critics and fans alike and pretty and was seen as highly offensive and pretty much destroyed Tod Browning’s career. Freaks, was banned in several countries including the United States (in some places the ban hasn’t been lifted, but its no longer enforced). Mark of the Vampire was a way to resurrect his career and while a decent hit it didn’t really get Tod Browning back on track.

Don’t go into Mark of the Vampire as a horror film as its more of a murder mystery with a touch of horror. Tod Browning is re-teamed with Bela Lugosi and I personally think Mark of the Vampire is one of Browning and Lugosi’s best film. However the film isn’t perfect and its really difficult to get into much detail without spoiling the whole film.

The screenplay by Guy Endore & Bernard Schubert is well written overall and makes a quite interesting premise, in which vampires are suspected of a murder. Character wise none really have a whole lot of depth, but it doesn’t hurt the script. The problem however is the twist; some hate it and some love it and I’m somewhere in the middle of the two. Once we find out the twist it sort of rules everything pointless and doesn’t make any sense at all. On repeated viewings Mark of the Vampire makes even less sense as you begin to try and make sense out of certain plot points and you have to wonder why the characters made things overly complicated, but I suppose we wouldn’t have a film. Overall the script has a strong premise and is mostly well written, but the twist does sort of hinder it, though with that said it is a very creative twist.

As director Tod Browning crafts an excellent and at times eerie murder/mystery. With only a 61-minute running time the pacing is fairly strong with a couple of sluggish parts early on. The shots of Count Mora (Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Borland) wandering around is highly effective and eerie. I remember reading that Browning had some trouble directing the talking scenes in Dracula and I have no idea how true that is, but I could see it being true as the best scenes are those with no dialogue or very little dialogue. Here however he seems to handle the production better, but the scenes with no or little dialogue are still the most effective. Mark of the Vampire is an excellent film in the career of Tod Browning and while as a whole it might lack the eerie atmosphere of Dracula it still has enough eerie moments to go along with a solid mystery and is another top notch film from one of the great horror filmmakers.

Mark of the Vampire features a terrific cast with Lionel Barrymore delivering an excellent performance and the underrated Lionel Atwill like always is a pleasure to watch. Bela Lugosi is quite eerie despite have almost no dialogue. It’s films like this that truly showcase the talents of Lugosi. Carroll Borland however steals the show; like Lugosi she has almost no dialogue, but she’s quite chilling in her role. The scenes with Lugosi & Borland in the cemetery are quite effective and both of them are truly creepy.

Overall Mark of the Vampire is an excellent film and while the twist makes zero sense it’s still smart and creative and if you don’t think about it much it won’t take away from your enjoyment. Fans of Browning and Lugosi should very much enjoy this film. Again the twist doesn’t make much sense, but at the end of the day Mark of the Vampire is still a great film. While Tod Browning may not have the name value of filmmakers like John Carpenter or Dario Argento his contributions to the horror genre are just as important. Who knows where we would be without Dracula. It’s quite a shame Browning isn’t as remembered by horror fans as he’s one of the greats.

You’ll notice Count Mora has a wound on his temple and in the original script he had a sexual relationship with his daughter and when she was killed he committed suicide, but all of this was removed from the script.

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Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) Review

Posted in Ghost ot Frankenstein with tags , , , , on June 28, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN

*** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- New Thrills as the Monster Stalks Again

Release Date- March 13th, 1942

Running Time- 67-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Scott Darling

Director- Erle C. Kenton

Starring- Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Evelyn Ankers, Janet Ann Gallow with Bela Lugosi as Ygor and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Monster

Ghost of Frankenstein was released in 1942 and was the last time the Monster would have his own movie, after this he would appear in only crossover movies. Ghost of Frankenstein was the first movie in the series to have another actor to play the Frankenstein Monster who was of course played by the brilliant Boris Karloff in the first three. Lon Chaney Jr. now steps into the role of the Monster. By the time this film was released the Monster Movies were now B-Movies with the exception of the Wolf Man released the previous year. Ghost of Frankenstein is a flawed film and nowhere near as good as the first three in the series, but flaws and all Ghost of Frankenstein ends up being a lot of fun.

I just love the Frankenstein series (the solo movies) and while the first two are horror classics for a reason and I would even label Son of Frankenstein a classic as well and it’s a film that doesn’t get enough attention. Ghost of Frankenstein while sure a drop in quality is better than given credit for. This one doesn’t really offer anything new to the series and its more or less the same as the past 3 with the results not being as great and seeing how great the first 3 are its quite easy to dismiss Ghost of Frankenstein, which I fully understand why, but looking past all that Ghost of Frankenstein makes for an enjoyable B-Movie. Upon my first viewing I didn’t really care for it, but now I’ve really come to enjoy this and find it a lot of fun and with a running time a little over an hour it makes for a fast paced campy good time.

Ygor (Lugosi) brings the Monster to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (Hardwicke) to get the Monster a new brain, Dr. Frankenstein sees this as a way to restore the Frankenstein family name and plans to replace the Monsters with that of a normal brain, but unaware to Dr. Frankenstein, Ygor has plans for his brain to be put inside the Monster.

The screenplay by Scott Darling is actually pretty good overall; while not as creative as the previous parts and as I stated earlier this one doesn’t really offer anything new to the series it is well written and has a solid bunch of characters. Maybe not everything here works, but the good is good enough to make up for any shortcomings. The script does borrow heavily from the original, which is fine since the original had a terrific script. Darling delivers a fun B-Movie romp.

Erle C. Kenton directs his first of three Monster films. After Ghost of Frankenstein he would direct the crossover films House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula and this one in my opinion was by far the best of the 3. The 30s a lot of these films had an eerie atmosphere and while the 40s still featured that (Wolf Man comes to mind), but as a whole the films seemed to aim more for being fun than eerie atmosphere. The pacing of the film is strong and while the middle sections might slow down a bit, Kenton though always keeps the film fun and well paced for the most part. There are a couple of scenes with some decent suspense, but overall it does lack in that area, but what it lacks in suspense, Kenton makes up for with a really fun tone. This was the weakest of the solo Frankenstein films, but there is still fun to be had and makes for a fun late night viewing.

Despite popular belief the Monster isn’t a walking idiot or is he really a villain. Whenever people refer to him as that I have to laugh since they obviously never watched these movies even though they claim they did. The Monster was very sympathetic at least when played by Karloff and the only time he was really dangerous is when provoked or scared. The Monster had almost this childlike quality that Karloff brought to the role, but he was hardly an idiot. Karloff in the original brought so much personality to the role without a single line. Even though he speaks in Bride of Frankenstein, Karloff is still able to show a wide arrange of emotion even when he doesn’t speak. James Whale directed the first 2 films and as great as Karloff was in Son of Frankenstein at times he was mis-used, which had more to do with the change of director, but Karloff still brought a lot to the role. Lon Chaney doesn’t show as much emotion nor does he invoke the same sympathy, but I personally would rate Chaney as the 2nd best Frankenstein Monster though a distant 2nd. It’s easy to put down Chaney as nobody can compare to Karloff and this being the first time another actor played the role it makes Chaney an easy target, but looking past that Lon Chaney does a very good job, but like Karloff in Son of Frankenstein the Monster is a bit mis-used, but Chaney still brings a lot more to the role than given credit for. This Monster isn’t as sympathetic, however Chaney does provide some humanity like his scenes with the little girl Cloestine (Janet Ann Gallow). While these scenes don’t quite have the impact as scenes in past films with Karloff in the role, but Chaney does provide a little more than any other actor to play the Monster not named Boris Karloff.

Bela Lugosi returns as Ygor and again is excellent in the role. By this time in Lugosi’s career he was pretty much reduced to Poverty Row and when in a movie by a studio like Universal it was normally a cameo or a part that was either non-speaking or very little dialogue. Lugosi is a blast as Ygor and outside of Count Dracula I’d actually rate Ygor as his best character. The rest of the cast is very good with strong performances by Cedric Hardwicke and Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man) who was one of the scream queens of the 40s.

Overall Ghost of Frankenstein is a better movie than if often gets credited for. While this might be the weakest of the series (ignoring the crossover movies) it’s still a pretty good movie with solid characters and solid acting. While Lon Chaney isn’t anywhere near the level of Karloff as the Monster, Chaney still delivers an excellent take on the Monster and with a strong cast Ghost of Frankenstein is a fun B-Movie and while it may not reach the epic of heights of past Frankenstein films it does provide a fun time.

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