Evaluation by Doug Gibson
Since we heard about this a yr or so in the past, we Bela Lugosi super-fans have been — at occasions impatiently — waiting for the discharge of “Bela Lugosi and the Monogram 9,” (BearManorMedia, 2019), a set of essays from teachers Gary D. Rhodes (who’s written more than a number of books on Lugosi) and Robert Guffey, on the collection of features Lugosi made for the poverty-row studio through the first half of the 1940s.
That’s a handful of a paragraph/sentence, so what to make of this assortment, starting from “Invisible Ghost” to “Return of the Ape Man”? Brief answer: I appreciated it quite a bit. Nevertheless, and that is essential for the informal Lugosi fan — these will not be production histories/film critiques of the films. The 10 essays, two are reserved for “Invisible Ghost,” are inventive criticism and analysis. A few of it’s deep; you might need to Google people such because the surrealist Andre Breton and the eccentric however gifted artist Stanislav Szukalski. Their philosophies relate with a few of these two-week productions, or so say the authors.
And I type of agree with them, with reservations. I really like all however one of many Monogram films, and let’s roll them out: “Invisible Ghost,” “Spooks Run Wild,” “Black Dragons,” “The Corpse Vanishes,” “Bowery at Midnight,” “The Ape Man,” “Ghosts on the Loose,” “Voodoo Man,” and “Return of The Ape Man.” The only four-flusher within the record is “Ghosts on the Loose,” and even that clinker I’ve seen extra the once.
Till I read “… The Monogram 9,”‘ my love for the films was solely predicated on Bela Lugosi’s dominance inside eight of the films. His charisma and thespian skills make the films particular. The purpose “Ghosts on the Loose” is a clunker is because it’s the only film of the collection during which Lugosi is just not the necessary or fascinating character; he’s virtually background materials.
I know I’m rambling so let’s get to the essays, and present some snippets, to hopefully whet your interest. The authors’ scholarly musings are well-researched. Both provide insight on “Invisible Ghost,” considered the best-directed movie. The director was Joseph H. Lewis, who went on to greater acclaim. Rhodes’ essay conveys his directorial expertise, noting the distinctive digital camera angles, from the fireside, actors virtually nose to nose throughout from a window. He also explains in detail how Lewis shot maybe the scariest scene in the movie, the place Lugosi’s character strangles a family maid in her bed.
Guffey’s essay focuses on the film’s surreal qualities, citing the aforementioned Breton. Lugosi’s character is each revered man and cold killer. Guffey appropriately notes the shortage of concern over an extended tally of dying and how characters, such because the police, virtually function props whereas the murders in the home occur. Dangerous goals look like actuality. Is the murder of the maid a unconscious act of violence by the killer toward his hidden, mentally sick spouse? What of the reappearance of the “doppelganger” brother of a doomed, early character? Is all of this just occurring in Lugosi’s character, Charles Kessler’s mind? Inventive criticism provides many questions that can spark even more answers, is probably the theme of this essay.
In the essay on “Spooks Run Wild,” Rhodes, after noting Lugosi’s numerous “sinister” roles in films, tabs “Spooks …” as perhaps Lugosi’s most developed “red herring” position, through which he appears to be the villain till the top. As the writer notes, Lugosi, enjoying a magician suspected of being a assassin, seems and acts so much like Dracula. It was his first movie with the comedy “East Side Kids” forged. Somnambulism, magic, fits of armor, and human monsters all issue into the film, adds Rhodes.
Within the essay on “Black Dragons,” by which Lugosi plays a betrayed Nazi physician who will get even with the Japanese agents, in America, who turned on him earlier, Guffey compares this bizarre, warfare propaganda movie with the time period “the Cinema of Hysteria.” Now for my part this can be a surreal film. It has a troublesome plot to comply with, loads of sexual banter and attraction between spies and pretty young women (as Guffey notes) and Lugosi, for the final time within the film, is checked out with interest by a starlet. Oddly, as Guffey notes, although the movie incorporates a robust nationalist, even racist message to be on constant watch towards the enemy, it contradicts itself by how displaying how easily Japanese brokers can plastic surgery their method into the very best levels of U.S. government. Racial profiling gained’t work, the movie seems to subtly say.
Rhodes’ essay on “The Corpse Vanishes” has some fascinating insights. The film’s hero is a persistent female reporter, a stock character in lots of ’30s and ’40s films. Additionally, although Lugosi’s Dr. Lorenz is not any vampire, Rhodes notes similarities to “Dracula.” Lorenz is from Japanese Europe, it appears. His wife is a countess. The villagers near his remote residence worry him. The reporter eager to see him can’t get a journey there. Additionally, the captured brides in the residence might characterize Dracula’s brides. Lorenz and his countess wife sleep in coffins. All these are famous by Rhodes, who also alludes to the importance of households in horror films, noting that Lugosi refers to his assistants and henchmen as a part of my “little family.” (My co-blogger Steve D. Stones and I regard “The Corpse Vanishes” as probably the most entertaining Monogram films and Rhodes’ insights I found invaluable.)
Guffey’s essay on the multi-plotted “Bowery at Midnight” compares the movie as “slipstream” cinema. In a nutshell, meaning one actually can’t nail down the motion and plot with a single definition. That is sensible, as this chaotic however fun film might be tagged a criminal offense drama, a missing individuals drama, a multiple character drama, a deceiving husband film, or a horror movie. Multiple realities occupy individual and settings in the film. And the way do lifeless individuals flip into zombies and then reappear as regular people, asks Guffey. That does happen in the film, I assume. I assumed the physician simply healed them. However to be truthful to Guffey, how did all of them exist for therefore long in that cramped basement?
“Artifices, lies and false fronts” outline “The Ape Man,” Guffey says in that film’s essay. At heart, the film is a deliberate con job, like a magician providing the audience all of the secrets and techniques of how he’s pulling their legs on the theater display, he notes. “The Ape Man” is numerous nonsensical fun and that’s due partially to a goofy, extraneous character, Zippo, who serves as narrator to maneuver the action alongside. He serves as a type of God, deciding who lives and dies. Guffey writes that the movie is an instance of the thinker Bertolt Brecht’s Concept of Alienation. To sum up, it’s an effort to dislodge an viewers from the normal suspension of belief by disrupting the movement of the film and forcing stated audiences to slide out of the movie’s trance and develop into lively members of the artwork. I do know it sounds a bit goofy however one can argue that having a narrator work together with an audience accomplishes that.
Rhodes does his greatest with the boring film “Ghosts on the Loose,” which has the East Aspect Youngsters outwitting Nazi publishers (headed by Lugosi) dwelling in a pretend haunted home. Within the essay, he recounts historic situations of criminals trying to cover up crimes with tales of haunted homes. On a aspect word, a really humorous episode of The Andy Griffith Present has moonshiners scaring Deputy Barney Fife and others through the use of a “haunted house” that they rigged with spooky tips. So there’s an example of an effective brief comedy. Fife’s Don Knotts made one other pretend haunted house film, “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.”
For “Voodoo Man,” one among my favorite-half Monogram entries, in his essay Rhodes says that syncretic greatest describes the film, which means that a number of “discrete sources” are used to fuse a movie collectively. One specific fusion of a movie: a personality Lugosi, with the assistance of voodoo religion confederates, kidnaps and shops younger ladies stored in a zombiefied state to attempt to reanimate his zombie-like spouse. However the voodoo has no traditional Caribbean source. It seems to be a white man’s voodoo in a rural area close to Southern California. There also look like parts of Svengali (Trilby) within the movie as Lugosi’s character can hypnotize and summon ladies from distant.
Lastly, Guffey concludes the e-book with an essay on “Return of the Ape Man,” That is in all probability Lugosi’s strongest mad scientist efficiency in need of “The Raven.” He’s past obsessive about bringing a neanderthal man back to life and making an attempt to experiment with sharing his brain with trendy man. This has the standard disastrous results. Guffey attracts an interesting reference to the famed artist Stanislav Szukalski, who had this weird concept that mankind, after Noah’s flood, intermingled with a Yeti-like race, producing a polluted model of homo sapiens. He even wrote a guide about it, referred to as “Behold!!! The Protong,” notes Guffey. Szukalski was a fantastic expertise; sadly much of his work was destroyed throughout and after World Conflict II. He’s such an fascinating character that his outlandish theories spark renewed curiosity in the man, a true survivor of an adversity-filled life. Sarcastically, a month ago I watched an ideal Netflix documentary on Stanislav Szukalski, “Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Stanislav Szukalski.” I highly advocate it. Truthfully, I doubt the artist ever saw “Return of the Ape Man.” It’s potential, in fact. However I just assume it’s really cool to read an analysis of the Lugosi film that includes “Protong,” and so forth.
Let me add a observe right here, to be truthful to Guffey particularly. The authors usually are not claiming that there are deliberate connections to the arts, theories and genres mentioned as inventive connections to the Monogram 9 films. It’s acknowledged typically that the relationships are possible unintentional, extra merchandise of the directors’ training or previous experiences as they have been learning the film craft. Just like the creation of a cult movie, the insertion of a philosophy is almost all the time unintentional. To attempt to drive it into a movie by no means succeeds. It turns the film into something by-product, labored and clumsy.
The Monogram 9 have been for probably the most half exceptional achievements given budgets and time constraints. Their legacies have been fueled by an iconic, charismatic star and directors pressured to depend on their first instincts to create a finished movie inside a two-week interval. Monogram revenue margins have been tiny; no allowances got for wasted time and money. It’s a credit score to Rhodes and Guffey that these films have been rewarded with a bit of scholarship that took far longer to create than the films being discussed.
(This assessment was cross-posted from Plan9Crunch weblog).