Review of “The Return of the Vampire” (1943)

from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie entry. The pizza was good if the movie was lukewarm, but it was nice to see a suitably menacing Bela Lugosi with Svengoolie.

Plot:

The opening scenes show a wide-eyed young woman (uncredited Jeanne Bates) backing away from some threat. Next, the viewer sees a creepy, foggy cemetery. Two crows caw, but they sound more like seagulls. A sign lying on the ground alerts the viewer they’re entering Priory Cemetery.

An unseen narrator announces, “This is the case of Armand Tesla, vampire, as compiled from the personal notes of Dr. Walter Saunders, Kings College, Oxford. The following events took place on the outskirts of London toward the close of the year 1918.”

A man with a wolf’s head and hands (Matt Willis), carrying a bundle under one arm, walks toward a mausoleum while looking over his shoulder.

Inside the mausoleum, he says, “Master, it’s night again. Beautiful, dark silent night with the fog creeping in. It’s time for you to awaken. It’s time for you to go out.”

A hand wearing a ring appears from under an opening coffin lid. The viewer sees only the vampire’s shadow on the wall.

From seemingly out of nowhere, a voice with an Eastern European accent says, “Andreas, you will tell me what has transpired during the hours of light.”

The werewolf Andreas assures his master she is still alive and in Dr. Ainsley’s Sanitarium. As if they could ever figure out what’s wrong with her, heh-heh, heh-heh!

The vampire stalks off, his face obscured by the high collar of his cloak.

At the sanitarium, Dr. Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) is consulting with a Dr. Saunders (Gilbert Emery) on the puzzling patient, Miss Northcutt. Her blood shows no signs of anemia, yet she exhibits all the most severe symptoms of it.

Saunders has other ideas. He’s been reading an account regarding vampires, written by a Romanian mad scientist, Armand Tesla, who died in the eighteenth century.

The vampire, frustrated at not finding Miss Northcutt alone, attacks Dr. Saunders’ daughter Nikki, a child.

After convincing a skeptical Dr. Ainsley about the reality of vampires, the two search for the vampire’s grave. Footprints in Priory Cemetery leads to a coffin in the mausoleum. They drive a spike—not a wooden stake—through the inert bloodsucker. The wolfman is released from his curse.

Years pass, and another war breaks out. Nikki Saunders (Nina Foch) is all grown up and engaged to Dr. Saunders’ son, John (Roland Varno).

Dr. Saunders has been killed in a plane crash. His manuscript, describing how he and Dr. Ainsley drove a spike into the heart of a vampire, works its way to one Sir Frederick Fleet, chief commissioner for Scotland Yard (Miles Mander). He insists on exhuming the body of this man with the intent of charging Lady Ainsley with murder.

What bad timing. She’s got a wedding to plan, after all. The ex-wolfman now works as her assistant. To top it off, she’s expecting Dr. Hugo Bruckner, who has lately escaped from a Nazi concentration camp, to arrive courtesy of the underground. As they’re discussing things, the air raid sirens go off. “Jerry” comes to call.

The Priory Cemetery is bombed, disturbing the unmarked grave of the vampire. When Civil Defense workers (Billy Bevan and Harold De Becker, both uncredited) later come to set things right, they find a guy with a piece of metal sticking out of his chest. They can’t rebury him like that and pull the spike out.

It just goes to show—you can’t keep a vampire down.

This might have been gruesome or maudlin, but it is offered as comic relief. As unlikely as it sounds, it works, chiefly because of the two actors playing the Civil Defense members.

Thoughts:

The creepiness of the opening sequences is nice. The viewer doesn’t see Bela Lugosi’s face for a while, but his voice is unmistakable. This adds nicely to the suspense and to the eerie atmosphere.

The werewolf Renfield was hard to swallow. Wouldn’t he have to be out ripping up people on his own every once in a while? I doubt he’d be satisfied working through flies and spiders the way Renfield did.

The attack on the child Nikki is handled gently. The vampire enters her room while she’s sleeping. She sits up and screams, but the vampire never touches her or approaches her bed. The room fills with fog, an element that follows the vampire around in this film. She later has puncture wounds on her neck, but the viewer never sees him touch the child, nor, indeed, get near her. As an adult, she remembers nothing of the attack, nor knows nothing of her father’s reading in vampire lore.

The escaping Dr. Hugo Bruckner is never seen. He is killed, and the vampire assumes his identity during the Second World War. The vampire’s character is a little disappointing here; he seems permanently in a bad mood rather than cold and calculating. It’s hard to imagine him uttering such classic lines as, “I never drink… wine.”

The character of Jane Ainsley is convincing as a doctor, a mother, and ages nicely. Once persuaded vampires exist, she realizes the evil has to be dealt with and is willing to do so on her own. It follows in a wartime movie that she would be active in the British underground. She is unfazed by the possible charge of murder, knowing she’ll be exonerated, and even leads Sir Frederick to the spot where she and Dr. Saunders buried the vampire twenty-five years earlier. It is only a hole in the ground when they get there, letting Dr. Ainsley know something is amiss.

The movie is not a sequel to Lugosi’s 1931 Dracula. He’s playing another vampire in a film produced by another studio.

I liked a lot about this movie. I wish, though, the Renfield character hadn’t been a werewolf. There just doesn’t seem any reason for that. I wish, also, Lugosi’s character had been more suave and less crabby. I wonder if the non-Svengoolie version of this flick includes a pitch for war bonds.







Title: The Return of the Vampire (1943)

Directed by
Lew Landers

Writing Credits
Griffin Jay…(screenplay)
Kurt Neumann…(based upon an idea by)
Randall Faye…(additional dialogue)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Bela Lugosi…Armand Tesla / Dr. Hugo Bruckner
Frieda Inescort…Lady Jane Ainsley
Nina Foch…Nicki Saunders
Roland Varno…John Ainsley
Miles Mander…Sir Frederick Fleet

Released: November 11, 1943
Length: 1 hour, 9 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: