Friday, May 30, 2008
Mark of the Hampire
Ah, the children of the night…what music they make!
I watched a double feature on DVD last night: Mark Of The Vampire, starring Lionel Barrymore, Jean Hersholt and Bela Lugosi from 1935, and 1932's The Mask Of Fu Manchu with Boris Karloff, Myrna Loy and Jean Hersholt.
Of course I've seen Mark before, but I have to watch it every few years just to remind myself how outrageous the plot is. What seems like a near remake of Dracula turns out to have a twist in the plot that has to be seen to be believed. Well, actually I don't believe it. It is such a crazy twist that it just defies logic. Still, it's an atmospheric movie, made especially so with Lugosi teamed up with the gothic "it" girl, Carol Borland. Now there's a chick who could sink her fangs into me anytime. Tod Browning, he of Freaks fame, among many others, was responsible for Mark Of The Vampire. Here's the trailer:
Too bad the trailer doesn't show Lionel Barrymore chewing the scenery, curtain, proscenium, dressing rooms, you name it. That guy, along with his famous brother John, was a true ham. It was the early days of sound movies, and the overacting began on stage and continued into silent films, and then it took a while for actors to learn that in sound movies less was more. In the era that Mark was made more was more! And I thought Bela was a hammy actor. Well, he was, but he and Lionel could make a really big ham sandwich if they were put between two slices of bread.
Mask of Fu Manchu wasn't quite as good a movie, although it was notable for the (comparatively speaking) understated performance of Karloff as Fu Manchu, and for the appearance of a very young Myrna Loy as Fu Manchu's daughter. In those days you didn't have to be Chinese to play a Chinese, and to the white mind the Asian races were considered sneaky and dangerous. Dr. Fu Manchu was a super villain in the Yellow Peril mold; the chief archetype of all those similar villains that came later. I had a few laughs out of this movie, but less than I had from the acting and audacious plot surprises of Mark Of The Vampire.
Here's a kinky clip where Myrna gets off watching hero Charles Starrett (who was later the Western hero, The Durango Kid), get whipped by some black guys.
Fu Manchu was the villain in a whole series of books by Sax Rohmer (real name Arthur Sarsfield Ward).
He wrote other potboilers, but the Fu Manchu series is what made him famous. A Sax Rohmer website explains a lot about him and his work.