29 May 2003 | Ron Oliver
Barrymore Stalks Lugosi
The MARK OF THE VAMPIRE lies heavily upon the terrified inhabitants of a lonely European manor house.
In 1935 director Tod Browning set about the remaking of his 1927 silent Lon Chaney shocker LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. The final result was rather an odd film for the MGM roster, but it benefited by being given the Studio's first class production values and casting. It is a tremendously entertaining film to watch even now, full of chills & suspense.
However, at a running time of barely one hour it has been obviously heavily edited. This does not help the already ludicrous plot, many of whose elements simply do not make the slightest sense. It is perhaps just as well to enjoy what the film does have to offer and not to harp about the incongruities of the storyline. The ending will come as a surprise to many viewers - some will be delighted at the turn of events, others will feel betrayed at the final fadeout.
The cast is excellent. Lionel Barrymore is at his most eccentrically watchable as the elderly vampire stalker. And who could play the Undead better than Bela Lugosi? Although he speaks not a word until the final seconds of the film he is pure menace throughout, stalking along cobwebed corridors, associating with giant bats and radiating pure evil. Lionel Atwill as a stern police inspector and gentle Jean Hersholt as a befuddled baron complete the quartet of leading actors.
Elizabeth Allan is lovely as the menaced young lady, while Carol Borland is properly mysterious as Lugosi's vampiress. Various members of the supporting cast are allowed moments to shine - Donald Meek as the frightened local doctor; Ivan Simpson as the manor's old butler and Leila Bennett as a rather hysterical maid. Movie mavens will spot an unbilled Christian Rub as a deaf peasant at the coroner's inquest.
The film's editing sadly left several very fine character actors on the cutting room floor, including Robert Greig, Eily Maylon, Zeffie Tilbury & Jessie Ralph (whose name still appears in the credits).
James Wong Howe's excellent cinematography should be mentioned, as should also the creepy special effects which add immensely to the atmosphere.