Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Greatest Monster of Them All – review

Director: Robert Stevens

Release date: 1961

Contains spoilers

Not directed by Hitchcock himself – he actually only directed two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, remaining the host for the most part – this episode was penned by Robert Bloch and Stevens directed a total of 44 episodes in the series.

The episode is based in the world of cheap B movies and concerns the making of a vampire film, rather than an actual vampire.

Robert H Harris as Morty
However, at first, studio owner/producer Hal Ballew (Sam Jaffe) is looking to make a giant insect movie – as they are all the rage – and is looking up insects in a book to try and find one that hasn’t already been used. This is met with derision by his director Morty Lenton (Robert H Harris) who is quick to point out just how much Hal works on the cheap. That said his B movies make a large and swift profit.

Richard Hale as Ernst von Croft
His writer is Fred Logan (William Redfield), and we get the impression that he might have made it as someone – mention is made of a near Oscar win – but seems to have missed along the way and has a reputation of being a bit of a rummy. He hasn’t had an idea re the insect flick but suggests something else. A comeback flick for horror legend Ernst von Croft (Richard Hale), a reprisal of his great vampire roles of yore. Hal likes the angle.

I'll bite your neck
Ernst is more than happy to come out of retirement but is talking about integrity in film making. They try to explain that they do cheap low-budget films but he maintains you don’t need a large budget but honest artistry. He wants to do his own makeup – which they agree to. You can tell Morty isn’t sure, especially when Ernst demonstrates his bite technique with the director.

Meri Welles as Lara
On set and Ernst is in his element. Fred is a little unsure as to why Morty has asked for re-writes from action sequences to dialogue but he explains that he wants lots of Von Croft close-ups. When we see Ernst practice with Lara Lee (Meri Welles), the leading lady, we see the type of performance he wants to give – a classic vampire count.

Fred mortified as the audiance laughs
Fred is sent to see the film, which is playing across the continent, and told to take notes as any scene that gets a reaction they want to be replicated in the sequel. Ernst is also in the audience. All is working well until the vampire on screen speaks and they realise that his voice has been dubbed with a comedy voice; Fred is mortified and Ernst distraught.

revenge will be had
A very drunk Fred goes to see Ernst but the main is inconsolable – his comeback, as he puts it, has become his funeral and he is a laughingstock. He will have his revenge, however, after all he was the greatest monster of them all…

a scene on set
And thus we head to the conclusion of the piece, which was quite sad. Probably more so because, maybe unfairly, I couldn’t help but think about the end of Lugosi’s career, held in the tender hands of Ed Wood. There is a difference, of course, in that Ed actually believed in what he did and Hal and Morty are just Hollywood users, making the quickest buck they can - indeed they are the true vampires of the tale.

That said it is a good little episode, not exactly unpredictable in its story and direction, but good performances are given by the cast – Hale is particularly good as Von Croft. Worth catching. 7 out of 10.

At time of review the season can be found on sites such as iOffer and is available as a set in Australia. The imdb page is here.

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