8/23/08

Bela Lugosi in Living Color!



Greetings, moonies. The Bug is back and I'm bringing Bela with me, in color no less. Sorry to get any one's hopes up if you thought that Bela might have appeared as Fire Marshal Bill or on Men on Film. Sadly those tapes are lost to the ages, but one color appearance of his survived to present day, Bela only starred in one color film, but actually appeared in two. The other film Viennese Nights (1930) still survives, but the color prints do not. So if you want to see Bela outside of his usual black and white that leaves you only one choice.



Scared to Death (1947) starring Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, Nat Pendleton, and Molly Lamont. Directed by Christy Cabanne.


The story opens with a girl on a slab in a morgue and she's telling us a story. The story of her death. Seems our dead narrator, Laura (Molly Lamont), is unhappily married to Ward Van Ee and lives in a big house with him and his father the half ass scientist/psychologist Dr. Joseph Van Ee (George Zucco who also appeared in House of Frankenstein and The Mummy's Tomb among others). Well as unhappy in her marriage she won't grant Ward a divorce. Possibly because she already suffers from some sort of paranoia about something. I'd really love to be more specific, but that's about how specific the movie is.


Soon after the opening sequence and some more narration from our rigor mortised rhetorician, the Doctor is visited by Mrs. Warren who is out to blackmail the Doc over....something. Sigh, this movie is quite frustrating that way. After she is rebuffed and leaves, Professor Leonide (Bela) and his dwarven companion Indio show up to add more confusion to the mix. The Professor was once a inmate at an asylum that one was in this very house and he bully's the Doc into letting him stay. Seems the Professor has been on the road with a hypnotist act all over the world. Ward shows him a picture of a dancing duo he suspects Laura was once part of along with a man in a Green Mask. The Prof seems to have no knowledge of the duo....or does he!


It goes on and on like this for a while with red herring after red herring, and its only broken up by the slapstick comedy brought to you by the house cop Bill 'Bull' Raymond (Nat Pendleton, former Olympic wrestler and member of the cast of the Abbott and Costello classic Buck Privates) and the maid Lilly Beth (Gladys Blake). Both his bumbling attempts at keeping law and order (while wishing for a murder so he can make big at the precinct) and flirting with the maid are the highlights of this film.


As if the plot were not muddled enough, a reporter Terry Lee and his gal pal show up to investigate the goings on in the house. Why? Excellent question, but one the movies never bothers to answer. Then things really get going (well as much as ever goes on here) and Laura receives a mock up of her head in a box, the maid is found dead (late revealed to be in a hypnotic trance) with presumably a green mask on that looks quite blue, and Indigo the dwarf sneaks around for absolutely no reason.


The film rambles on and on with Bela trying his best to do what he can in his precious few moments on screen. Meanwhile the rest of the cast seem just as confused as we are. Eventually we are treated with an appearance by the Green Masked man who was Laura's old dancing partner. Seems she ratted him out to the Nazi's and he's been on her trail ever since to exact his revenge which he does in the penultimate scene when he finally scares Laura to death. He is then caught dressed up like Mrs. Warren who suddenly has a much more manly appearance.


Well, what to say about this one. Its not a complete turkey. It has it moments and some classic lines come out of Bela's mouth:


Lili Beth: I'm sorry, sir, but I really must announce you.


Leonide: My dear girl, if I allowed myself to be announced, I doubt I would be received anywhere!


and one of my favorites as he ominously intones:


Leonide: Who can ever be sure what is behind a mask?


Who indeed Bela, who indeed. Overall this is not a movie I can tell people they should run out and watch, but I was entertained by it. The plot, such as it is, will keep you on your toes following who is suspected of what at any given time, and the parts where Dead Laura talks to us while being punctuated by a moody theremin are quite odd. So watch at your own risk, but if you want to see Bela and his full color glory, check it out.

The Lightning Bug Rating

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