Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lugosi gives a better performance than this film deserves

Bowery at Midnight (1942)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Wanda McKay, John Archer, Tom Neal, Lew Kelly, Wheeler Oakman and Dave O'Brien
Director: Wallace Fox
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A deranged psychology professor (Lugosi) leads a double-life as a lecturer and a murderous criminal mastermind operating from the front of a Skid Row soup kitchen.

There are many crazy low-budget horror films and thrilles from the 1930s and 1940s that feel like someone took random pages from unfinished scripts for horror films, detective films and ill-conceived comedies, shuffled them together and then went about shooting a movie.

A few of these loose mixture of genres and tangled subplots worked, but "Bowery at Midnight" isn't one of them. The set-up won't make sense to anyone over the age of 8 (or sober)--why is the professor using a soup kitchen as a front for his criminal enterprise and why is it full of secret doors?--nor do most of the film's story elements fit together in any way at all.

Most jarring is the mad scientist and his zombies in the basement. The cemetary works, but that twist does not. It's like someone said, "How can we have Lugosi in a movie without some sort of supernatural monster?" but no one bothered to do any real script revisions to fully incorporate the left-overs from whatever unproduced script they scavenged pages from.

The only decent thing about the film is the cast. Every performance is decent, considering what they have to work with. Bela Lugosi in particular does a good job, once again rising above the garbage he's appearing in and showing that he had talent that shouldn't have been squandered on films like "Bowery at Midnight".

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