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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

Over the course of the past few weeks of watching various horror films from the 1930's and 1940's, I have come to appreciate the films of Bela Lugosi.  I have also come to appreciate the fact that he's often the best part of the film.

Brides have been dying at the altar... only to have their bodies stolen shortly afterwards.  Patricia Hunter- the society columnist for a small newspaper believes that a rare orchid worn by the victims can lead her to the killer.  The orchids lead her to Dr. Lorenz and his beautiful, but spiteful wife.  Soon Hunter and the local physician, Dr. Foster find themselves nearing the dark and deadly secret of the Lorenz household...

This may not be one of Bela Lugosi's better films... but it's still enjoyable to watch simple because of him.

Luana Walters wasn't bad as the society columnist.  She was witty, confident with a bit of sass, and beautiful.  But all that was kinda ruined by her ultimately winding up as the sexist "damsel in distress".  I liked the character, and was unfortunately disappointed by her having to be rescued pretty much by a less developed character.

I felt that Dr. Foster, played by Tristim Coffin (love the last name), was rather dull.  I'm sure he was trying to be intellegent and professional... but he came of ass being bland.  I might've liked him more if he was developed a bit more.  As it was, I got the impression he was simply there to rescue the female lead at the end.

Of the three servants to Dr. Lorenz, I have to say the best of the lot was the dwarf actor Angelo Rossitto.  His character Toby was interesting, and a little more developed than the others- probably because he was portrayed as having somewhat more intellegence than the other two.  Minerva Urecal- who plays the mother, was really wooden, and emotionaless when saying her lines.  The only scene where she shows any real "life" is near the end in the climatic scenes.  One character that did tug at my heart a bit (and yet repulsed me at the same time) was Angel, played by Frank Moran.  He had few lines- mostly grunts, and was creepy... but you felt sorry for the brutish figure at the same time.  Good performance, but unforunately, it wasn't enough to elevate the character above a plot device.  Together, this group of characters actually made me curious about their history and back story.

As the rather spiteful, vain, and autocratic Countess Lorenz, Elizabeth Russell wasn't bad- not great, but not bad.  Based rather loosely on the historical figure of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (who was reputed to bathe in the blood of virgins to stay young), you could see her character as being the sort who would do evil things to get what she needed.  Her best scene in my opinion is when she appears in Patricia's room, compliments her "nice, soft skin".  Even as a man, I'd be un-nerved if that happened to me.

Ultimately, though- the show belongs to Bela Lugosi as Dr. Lorenz.  Graceful, charming, menacing.  These describe his acting in "The Corpse Vanishes".  While this movie certainly isn't his greatest film (it earned a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode in their first season), he still gives a great performance.

The camera work wasn't bad either- a couple of decent tracking shots, and some excellent framing shots too.  The plot was actually interesting as well, and offered an opportunity for more depth of character and story.  I was a little disappointed by the lack of depth and exploration of the character's, though.

While, I would definately recommend "The Corpse Vanishes" to fans of Bela Lugosi's films, due to some lackluster performances, lack of depth to the characters in general, and the ultimate "damsel in distress" treatment of the lead actress, I'm going to have to place this still enjoyable film in "The Bad".


  1. Back in the stoneage when this came out on video in America I had a copy shipped to England. It was the first of Bela's low-budget movies that I'd seen - previously I'd only seen the Universal movies. I must admit that I loved it and I've watched it far more times than is rational. It's been a while, but your review makes me want to see it again. I'd be interested in your review of Scared to Death. I watched it a couple of nights ago for the first time in a long while. I'm not sure if I kept falling asleep or slipping into a coma!

  2. If I can find "Scared to Death" on DVD somewhere, I'll be sure to pick it up and give it a watch. :)

  3. I'd be interested in reading that as well =)