10/8/09

B.L.O.G. Presents Fay Wray in The Vampire Bat (1933)



When you think about Fay Wray, one film comes instantly to mind. If I said it was released in 1933, then you’d be sure you knew what it was. If I said the title is the name of an animal, you’d be pissed off for giving you so many clues for a film everyone knows. Think about that film. Hold it in your mind. Today’s film is not that film. It seems that 1933 was a big year for Ms. Wray. She starred in Michael Curtiz’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, some film with an ape or something, and in a cheap-o production from Majestic pictures called The Vampire Bat.

The tiny German village of Kleinshloss begins to experience a rash of unexplained deaths where the bodies are drained of blood. Almost at once, word of a vampire begins to go around. For Inspector Karl Brett Schneider (Melvyn Douglas) it soon becomes as good an explanation as anything. He’s even more convinced after his girlfriend Ruth’s (Fay Wray) boss, Dr. Otto von Niemann (Lionel Atwill), shows him some books on vampires. The townsfolk begin to suspect Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye), the town idiot who harbors a love for bats, is committing the murders. They hound Glieb until he leaps to his death, but the murders continue and Karl is back where he started.

If you’re in the mood for an elegantly silly piece of monochrome nonsense, then this film is all you should be watching. Clocking in at 67 minutes (at least my version, there are a few different cuts), it’s the perfect kind of movie to pop on before a main feature. It’s pretty much guaranteed to give you a chuckle. From the start, you’ll be fascinated how this German village is filled to the brim with American sounding Germans. From the style of dress to the speech patterns, the only thing “German” about The Vampire Bat is the mention of a Burgermeister and some fake stone plastered on the buildings. You’ve got your token British accents too, Lionel Atwill I’m looking at you, but for the most part, the cast sound a bit like they’re from Macon, Ga., hometown of Melvyn Douglas, and not Kleinschloss, DE.

One other thing this flick has going for it is all the familiar faces you’ll see. Of course, we’re talking about The Vampire Bat today because of Fay Wray. King Kong’s crush is a brunette in this picture, but between her nurse outfit and the fact that she doesn’t spend most of the movie screaming, she’s very cute. She even has some very interesting lines. My favorite of which was “You’re a delightful prevaricator, but you’re not very good at it.” It’s not the line so much as enjoying the thought of a time when the audience for a low budget horror film would know the work prevaricator. Plus, her delivery is great. I could only wish that someday a woman would breathily hit me with a sick burn and the need for a dictionary.

Dwight Frye, Dracula’s Renfield, stars as a slight variation of pretty much every character he played. He bugged out his eyes and smiled manically, but unlike the devious crazies that he’d played famously, Hermann Glieb is something quite different. Hermann is portrayed as being mentally challenged (which might have won him an Oscar these days), and Frye manages to strike a balance between acting like a kid and a creep. He’s always a strong performer, and I almost would have said his was the performance that made the film.

That would do quite a disservice to the best character in the film, Ruth’s hypochondriac Aunt Gussie played by Maude Eburne. Every time Ms. Eburne stepped on screen, it was pure comedy gold. Her crazy inquires and batty dialog liven up even the most stodgy scene of exposition. She fast became the part of the film I was most looking forward to, and the scenes that she shares with Dwight Frye really elevate the film in general.

The Vampire Bat really hits the mark because it mixes intentional comedy with a good bit of the un-intentional kind. Director Frank Strayer‘s career would eventually hit its peak with a series of Blondie movies based on the popular comic strip, and I can defiantly see how he was well suited for that kind of material. I wouldn’t claim The Vampire Bat was a forgotten classic, but this little gem provides some familiar faces, a few scenes of mild horror, and a mess of laughs. The great thing about it is that its in the public domain so this is one that can be readily picked up on a cheap DVD or you can check out the version I have linked below from archive.org.

Bugg Rating

3 comments:

  1. Great review. I have always had an affections for Fay Wray movies!

    JM

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  2. Fay Wray was gorgeous. I want to sat I like the new layout here. The varied colors for the post fonts before was a little distracting. The solid white text is easier on the eyes. Saw the post on the Blob as well and need to check that out.

    Bill @ The Uranium Cafe

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  3. Thanks for the comments guys. glad there are other fay wray fans out there. I always thought she was quite pretty, but i never had a chance to check out other films. glad I finally got that chance.

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