Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Son the Vampire – review

Directed by: Val Valentine

Release Date: 1952

Contains spoilers

This was the final film in the Old Mother Riley series starring Arthur Lucan as Mrs Riley (as the character was referred to in this, rather than use the 'Old Mother' moniker). It also starred Bela Lugosi as mad scientist Von Housen, also known as the vampire. Bizarrely neither actor is credited on the US release of the film.

In his book “The Vampire Cinema” David Pirie refers to this as a ‘travesty’ and I cannot disagree. I was never fond of Old Mother Riley, finding the series singularly unfunny and the appearance of a haggard looking Lugosi, trading on roles past, was nothing more than a little sad. That said Pirie also says that Von Housen only believes he is a vampire, to be honest there is precious little detail in the film to make that assumption, though we see little that could be said to be vampiric.

It begins with Julia Loretti (María Mercedes) getting off a ship. A car is waiting, though it is driven by bad guys who kidnap her and a random naval officer who is involved with her. The police suspect Von Housen, who is also suspected of kidnapping 30 women.

Meanwhile Mrs Riley is faced with a rent man as she owes 6 weeks rent on her shop (keen eyed viewers will spot Hattie Jaques as one of her customers). We get a bloomin’ awful vaudeville song and dance routine at this point. Riley receives a telegram stating that a relative in Ireland has died and her inheritance is being shipped over.

Von Housen is a mad scientist. We have heard the police state he is the decendent of someone alleged to be a vampire and he believes this – we’ll get to the vampiric elements later. He is making weapons including an indestructible robot army (so indestructible that Riley, towards the end of the film, manages to single-handedly destroy the only one built). To make more than the prototype he needs uranium, hence kidnapping Julia as she has a chart showing the location of uranium. He is having the prototype robot shipped from his secret laboratory in Ireland.

He uses the pseudonym Riley and the two crates get mixed up, this in turn leads to him kidnapping Mrs Riley who becomes embroiled in his machinations…

Vampiric moments are, as I say, sparse. Von Housen sleeps in a coffin during the day – though he is quite capable of going out during the day. He sleeps in evening wear, when asked why he says it is what he was buried in. Out of the coffin he changes into a black silk shirt and we know the evening wear was simply trading on Bela’s previous roles.

There is a picture of a bat that he says is his brother. The most vampiric moment is only revealed in vague hints. When he has Riley he states that she is the correct type (presumably blood type). He prepares her (for what is never mentioned) by having her eat rare steak and bloody liver. We can presume he is trying to improve her blood and the inference is that he intends to consume it – though that is pure speculation.

The acting is average but the real problem is the script, which is just unfunny and, quite frankly, stupid. Worse the film actually rips off Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein; there is a variant of the union joke from the earlier film and that is followed almost immediately by a secret door ‘gag’ that was in the other film also.

This is a travesty, but worse it is a poor legacy for an icon like Lugosi, though I supose that if you like music hall stuff you might get a little more out of it. For me, 1 out of 10 for the My Son the Vampire song that features over the opening credits.

The imdb page is here.

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