Saturday pizza and bad movie night with Svengoolie. Yum
Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) is teased by her family and long-time beau, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), about her interest in the metaphysical and all things occult. During a trip abroad, she met Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.) and has invited him to visit her family home of Dark Oak Plantation in Louisiana.
When the day of his arrival comes, his baggage—including two extremely heavy, long boxes—appears on the train, but there is nary a sign of the Count. Katherine asks the servants to put the Count’s things in the guesthouse. She throws a successful reception for the Count, despite the no-show guest of honor. Katherine herself is dismayed. As Frank consoles her, she tells him that whatever she does, it’s all for him.
Later that evening, her father, the Colonel (George Irving), dies of a heart attack. Count Alucard arrives at the door. The servant informs him of the death in the family and that “the family is not receiving.”
The Count roars: “Announce me!”
Upon the reading of the will—not the one that’s been in lawyer’s office, but a more recent one—it’s learned rather than splitting everything, Katherine will inherit Dark Oaks, and her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers) will inherit everything else. Katherine won’t have to worry about paying the servants because they took off the night the Colonel died, and the Count arrived.
By the way, isn’t that Count hanging around a lot? He and Katherine call on the justice of the peace in the middle of the night. When a distraught Frank visits them, he demands that Katherine annul the marriage. The Count begins to choke him and hurls him into a corner. Frank pulls out a gun and shoots him repeatedly, while Katherine hides behind him. The Count is unfazed. Katherine falls to the ground, dead.
What does Count Alucard have to do with the Count Dracula the movie title? He kept the same rank, and spelled the name backward. Apparently, he’s deep undercover.
Lon Chaney Jr. plays a menacing vampire. When Frank or various town dignitaries come to check on Katherine’s welfare, he tells them he’s now master of Dark Oaks in tones that brook no argument. He’ll bully anyone, not just servants.
The special effects might strike the 2020 viewer as hokey, but for 1943, they were striking. A bat transforms into Alucard on screen. Alucard dissolves into mist and back again, once even interrupting a conversation the learned Hungarian Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg) is having describing the abilities and vulnerabilities of vampires. Whip out that pocket cross, Professor!
In many ways, this is an abbreviated retelling of the novel Dracula set in Louisiana of the 1940s without all those interminable letters and diaries. The eeriness of the bayou with its moss-draped trees adds a sinister atmosphere (even if it’s a sound stage) as effectively as any Transylvanian woodland.
Everyone is concerned for Katherine, or Kay as her friends call her. She seems to have come under undue influence of this… Count. Who is he? The Hungarian consulate knows nothing of him. He’s an imposter. But is Kay as innocent as she looks? Frank turns himself into the police for killing her. She’s later seen alive. The authorities then find her quite dead, in a coffin in a mausoleum. Frank’s goose appears to be cooked. Or maybe he’s nuts. He seems to talk to himself in two voices in his jail cell.
Two of the actors who played servants were a brother and sister of Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to win an Academy Award. (Gone with the Wind). Brother Sam was the lucky servant who opened the door to Count Alucard and sister Ettie was Sarah, a maid to Doctor Harry Brewster (Frank Craven). There just weren’t a lot of roles open to black actors in the 40s.
And hey, there was a war going on. The movie ends with a request to buy war bonds.
While there were some silly things in this movie, and some ooppsies (a hall mirror catches the vampire’s reflection!), this was an enjoyable telling of the tale.
Title: Son of Dracula (1943)
Curt Siodmak…(original story) (as Curtis Siodmak)
Cast (in credits order)
Robert Paige…Frank Stanley
Louise Allbritton…Katherine Caldwell
Evelyn Ankers…Claire Caldwell
Frank Craven…Doctor Harry Brewster
J. Edward Bromberg…Professor Lazlo
Released: November 5, 1943
Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes