Tuesday, November 6, 2012
OVERLOOKED FILM: VAMPIRE OVER LONDON (1952)
Arthur Lucan (born Arthur Towle, 1885-1954) was a stage, music hall, and film actor with a fifty-five year career -- forty of them as Old Mother Riley, a popular character in England. Old Mother Riley was a charwoman, a laundress, a shopkeeper, or whatever profession would help spin the plot. Usually, some sort of mix-up or misunderstanding would be enough to start the plot -- in Vampire Over London it's a misdirected package.
Bela Lugosi plays a mad scientist known as The Vampire. His plan to rule the world includes a radar-controlled robot which has accidently been delivered to Old Mother Riley. The Vampire uses radar to get the robot back to his lair. The robot just happens to bring Old Mother Riley along. Slapstick and (sometimes) hilarity ensue.
Old Mother Riley evolved from characters Lucan created in his music hall acts. In 1913 he married fifteen-year-old Kitty McShane and his act soon incorporated Kitty and transformed into skits featuring Old Mother Riley "and her Daughter." Old Mother Riley shifted to films in 1936 with Stars on Parade. Sixteen more films followed. Popular? In 1941 Lucan (as his Old Mother Riley character) was voted the seond most popular film star in England.
Which begs the question: What is it with the English and their fondness for characters in drag?
Anyway, this was the last of the movies in the series. Lucan was planning on another film, Old Mother Riley's Trip to Mars, when he died. His relationship with Kitty had grown acrimonious to the point where their scenes in the penultimate Old Mother Riley movie had to be shot separately. Kitty was replaced for this final film.
And why was Lugosi in the film? According to a comment on IMDB, Lugosi needed the money to fly his wife and himself home following a unsuccssful London stage stint.
I remember catching a couple of Old Mother Riley films on television when I was a kid and not being impressed. But what the heck did I know? -- I was a kid. Vampire Over London may not be a great film, perhaps, but it has its entertaining moments.
(Also known as My Son the Vampire, Dracula's Desire, and Mother Riley Runs Wild; pre-release titles were Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, The Robot and the Vampire, and The Vampire and the Robot.)
For more Overlooked Films, go VOTE today, then stop by sweetfreedom, Todd Mason's always-interesting blog.