Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Vampire Over London (AKA My Son the Vampire) (1952)

This trailer has absolutely nothing to do with the movie I just watched.

And here's the theme song that represents the nadir of Allan Sherman's career. It-- as well*--has nothing to do with the movie.

My Son the Vampire (and you can follow that link and actually watch it), is listed as a horror film for reasons that escape me. It tries its best to be a comedy, as it comes from a long list of Old Mother Riley films.

So! The plot. sigh... Bela Lugosi plays "The Vampire", who isn't even a real vampire but a mad scientist. His grand scheme is radio-controlled robots that look a lot like bad Halloween costumes. We meet him via a photo at New Scotland Yard, which by now has lost all credibility.

The damsel in distress is played by Maria Mercedes. Tell me that name isn't dancing in Vegas right now. We see her get off a boat and shoved into a car. We won't see her again for some time, so who cares?

But the star of the show is Old Mother Riley, a stereotype played by a man in drag (Arthur Lucan). About fifteen minutes into watching this, I realized I was watching a proto-Jim Carey. Riley is being hassled by the rent-collector and the audio switches to a phonograph played on set while everyone lip-synchs to "Tweet tweet, now now, shush shush, come come."

She gets a telegram. The rent-man demands she open it and she says she can't because it isn't sealed. (That's actually a pretty funny exchange.) It's good news! Her uncle has died and left her everything. This is very important.

Back to Bela's place and the scullery-maid is making goo-goo eyes at a local cop. Bela’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine. Cop's on the pavement, thinking about the government. The man in the trench coat....ahem.

Bela's talking about his super-duper robot and how it's being shipped from their secret lab. It's going to be really cool when it shows up, and the FedEx site says it's "in transit", so it should arrive any minute now. He even took the day off from work so he'd be home when they knock (they never do).

Actually, the FedEx guy (scratch that; it's brown van. He's UPS.) has decided to make some extra cash by transporting gambling sailors. They tear off the shipping labels to use as scorecards and get them messed up after the van hits a pothole.

This is how the two crates get switched. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL POST OFFICE.

As a result of these shenanigans, Bela gets Riley's inheritance and she gets his robot. Remember, comedy is about confusion.

Bela discovers a letter in the crate of crap and figures out his robot has been delivered to the wrong address. Luckily, the robot is active and radio controlled, so he calls it home. He also decides the robot needs to haul in Ms. Riley as well, because she's seen it. Nothing is said of the other people who were there, but Bela didn't know about them.

The robot shoves Ms. Riley in a sack and waves down a passing drunk-driver who gives him a lift. The robot and the drunk somehow switch places and the robot drops the drunk off at his posh flat. Stolen car = minor plot point.

Bela decides that Ms. Riley is the right blood-type and she is force-fed liver and steak. The scullery-maid says it's all very odd and some Ronnie Barker wannabe giggles. This is really the low-point of the film.

"Mummies" are delivered to Bela's house, and we figure that these are the dried-up bodies of several missing girls. One of the mummies is the Maria Mercedes (I'm telling you, that name has rhinestones all over it) and Ms. Riley is shocked into jumping through a window, stealing a bicycle, and going to the police.

Guess who she runs into? It's the drunk, reporting his car stolen and he does a spit-take all over her. Because of this, she stinks of gin when she tries to report the kidnapped girl. The cops try to arrest her for being drunk and disorderly and she manages to give them the slip, running back to Bela's house to rescue the girl.

Oh yeah, Maria has a boyfriend who is hit on the head no less than five times during this film. Each time he's hit on the head, he loses consciousness. I know it's a movie, but in real life, if that had happened to anyone, he'd be playing with dolls to get his motor skills back.

There is much running around in secret chambers and throwing of vases. Bela and his baddies escape in a car to go to the ship that Maria had disembarked at the start of the film because the SECRET PLANS are in the purser's safe.

Ms. Riley has a fight with the robot and wins through the clever application of a screwdriver. She saves the girl. Mr. Head-trauma shows and and the young lovers kiss. We will never see them again.

Ms. Riley steals a cop-car and chases after the bad-guys. She wrecks the car and steals another bicycle, then crashes into a guy on a motorcycle and steals that from him. He's so rattled from the accident, he gets on the bike and pedals away.

Meanwhile, cops show up at the ship and shoot everyone. Ms. Riley does an Evel Knievel up the boat-ramp and the jump is so mind-blowing, she turns into a dummy that is thrown into the ocean.


NOW, having said all that, it will--in no way--ruin the film for you. This is not about story but style.

The Old Mother Riley films were an extension of music hall entertainment, which is not a very strong tradition here, State-side. There are some very corny sight-gags that might remind you of old Warner Brothers cartoons, but there is, actually, some very funny writing.

I found the slide-whistle effect a little tiresome and the wooden-block sound each time someone is hit on the head (which is many) seems childish. Yes, we can see that someone got hit on the head. Do you have to make that sound?

It reminds me a lot of watching old Three Stooges films or Laurel and Hardy. The broad movements of the style really play to the back row. I could see enjoying these as a kid and getting wistful remembering them.

According to imdb.com, this was the only film in the "Old Mother Riley" series in which Arthur Lucan's longtime partner and wife, Kitty McShane, did not appear as Mrs Riley's daughter. Lucan and McShane had a very bitter separation in 1951.

So there's that.

I watched this so you don't have to.

*Yes, I know the grammar on that is weird. Thank you.


Unknown said...

Maria Mercedes. Didn't you go to to High School with her?

Dr. Mila said...

We need to see about isolating "Tweet tweet, hush hush, now now, come come" so the kids can sing it. I've recorded it and I'll see if I can clean it up.