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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Bowery at Midnight" conjures up for me an expectation of the East Side
Kids, but the closest we come to that is the brief appearance of Leo
Gorcey's dad Bernard as a shopkeeper. That's OK though, because I got a
kick out of this tale featuring Bela Lugosi in a dual role - college
psychology Professor Brenner by day, and neighborhood soup kitchen
proprietor Karl Wagner by night. Lugosi's character uses the mission as
a hunting ground for criminals on the run from the law, who he lures
into his web to commit jewel robberies. Only trouble is, his escapades
leave the body of a dead accomplice at each heist. With good help hard
to find, this will surely come back to haunt him.
Back at the mission, Wagner utilizes a doctor who disposes of the bodies, however Doc (Lew Kelly) has one up on his boss; he's found a way to bring the victims back to life. That would make it kind of unnecessary to bury them, but the graves in the basement are clearly shown more than once, and at least one time with identifying names on the markers.
Bela Lugosi looks like he's having fun in this film, his early appearance is marked by an ear to ear smile, and is kind of disarming if you're used to most of his roles. He also displays the ability to turn his personality on a dime, showing a warm and caring side as he feeds homeless men at the mission, and coldly ordering their execution if they dare cross him. The Olympic body throw off the top of a building was a nice touch.
You can tell not much thought was put into these Poverty Row programmers. Consider the scene when the cops are closing in on Wagner's mission; as henchman Frankie Mills (Tom Neal) makes his way out of a side door in an alley, one of the cops shoots him as he comes out the door, with no warning and no questions asked. I mean, maybe the guy would have given himself up.
Hey, why was there a map of Australia in Wagner's private office?
Mention should be made of Wagner's assistant Judy, portrayed by Wanda McKay. She's really persistent to find out what's in the mission's inner sanctum, and entices old Doc to bring her down there. As loyal as she was, Wagner would have had her rubbed out too if not for Doc's intervention. As the cops close in, Doc lures Wagner through a trap door in the floor and into the waiting arms of a zombie horde - yikes!
"Bowery at Midnight" is a blast, with so many goofy plot points making it even more fun to watch. But with all the murder and mayhem, what would you think to be the creepiest scene? I'll put my money on the movie's finale, with Judy making wedding plans with her zombie boyfriend Richard Dennison (John Archer). After all, his was one of the clearly marked graves in Doc's basement cemetery!
Bela Lugosi is in fine form playing Karl Wagner, a sweet soul with a
soft touch who runs a nightly Bowery mission, spooning out bowls of
soup for needy tramps with nowhere to go. When he recognizes a new
customer as an escaped safe cracker called "Fingers" Dolan, Wagner
kindly escorts the convict to a hidden room and offers him a cigar.
During the leisurely smoke, the host confides that he's admired Dolan's
work for a long time, and springs a surprise on him: Bela's actually a
crime boss, using the mission as a front and looking for someone new to
join his racket. By day, Wagner leads a double-life as a professor
named Dr. Brenner. When he's not showering his unsuspecting wife with
gifts from his nightly escapades he teaches a class on psychology.
The potential is there for this to be as confusing as it sounds, but taken slowly it can be a hoot. An interesting ending, too, makes one suspect it was a possible influence for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Simply stated, BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT is one of the best of the poverty row pics made by Monogram studios with Bela Lugosi in the forties. Really more of a crime story with an occasional dash of horror as an added condiment, this is a tasty 62 minutes of absurd fun done on the cheap. **1/2 out of ****
Next to "Invisible Ghost" and "The Corpse Vanishes", this is probably
the best of the old Monogram series. ("The Devil Bat", my number one
favorite of the "Poverty Row" thrillers was not Monogram, but PRC).
Bela Lugosi plays a mad psychologist who moonlights in the dark of
night as a master criminal who uses a charity mission as a front. In
this film, Lugosi demonstrates not one, but three different
personalities. Moreover, the plot gets slightly convoluted compressed
into a quick 62 minute running time. Some scenes such as the basement
graveyard and the undead zombie attack during the film's climax are
very hair-raising indeed.
Bowery at Midnight is one of the many low budget chillers that Bela
Lugosi made during the 1940's and is one of the better ones I have
Bela has two roles in this movie, in the daytime he is a college lecturer and at night, he runs a Bowery where dropouts hang out. It's at the Bowery where killings start and he has an assistant who does these killings in the cellar where they revived as zombies. He uses an escaped murder to help him too.
Bowery at Midnight has some of the things you would expect in this type of movie: hidden doorways, secret rooms and a hunchback assistant.
Joining Bela in the cast is Wanda McKay (The Monster Maker) and John Archer (Destination Moon).
This movie is worth watching if you get the chance. Very creepy at times.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
Lugosi plays a kind psychology teacher at a local college. He also runs
a mission in the bowery where he gets criminals to pull off robberies
for him. There's also a silly incidental subplot about raising the
dead! This is pretty involved for an hour long movie. Being a Monogram
picture it has all their trademarks--tacky sets; mostly atrocious
acting; a plot that really doesn't make a whole lot of sense and one of
the most unexciting gunfights in screen history.
The acting veers from OK to just embarrassing. Wanda McKay easily gives out the worst performance. Lugosi, always a pro, gives this the best performance possible. And it is nice to see Tom Neal three years before he did the cult classic "Detour".
Not bad--not good but one of the better Monograms Lugosi did. LOVE the clearly marked graves in the basement! I give it a 5.
Bowery at Midnight is a must see for fans of Bela Lugosi. His "lesser" films are is some ways more interesting than the ones he is best known for, since expectations are low and the Lugosi persona shines through inadequacies in the script etc. His acting is really put to the test here where he essentially has three roles: a kind soup kitchen manager, a professor of psychology and a sinister mass killer who can double cross anyone. All three roles are wonderfully done- a masterful job!!
A rather busy plot (for a 60-minute programmer, anyway) ensures that there's little padding other than the obligatory romantic interest between the highlights (my favorite being Lugosi's cold-blooded rooftop disposal) - not that the film reaches any particular heights, but it's certainly enjoyable and engaging while it's on. The dual nature of Lugosi's character and the 'mission' setting hark back to DARK EYES OF London (1939), and this one too can be chalked up among the star's better 40s efforts. There's even some smart dialogue to boot ("I wouldn't trust you with a bad case of dandruff" and Lugosi describing Fingers Dolan's use of criminal slang as "picturesque", etc) and the poster for THE CORPSE VANISHES (1942) on a theater marquee was a cool 'in-joke'.
A soup Kitchen serves as a front for various criminal activities run by Bela
As Bela's grade Z movies go this one is pretty good. The plot is complicated enough to keep you wondering what is going on. Of course things get a bit wonky towards the end as all of the people and plot points come crashing together.
Certainly not the worst that Bela turned out in his very up and down career. I don't know if I'd search this out, but late at night if it was on I certainly wouldn't turn it off, unless I needed sleep since it won't put you out.
6 out of 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Known as a Monogram quickie, the 'Jeckyll and Hyde' type premise, the
story and cast had the potential for a very rich and interesting film--
if it had been given a bigger budget and a more deeply elaborated
script. At barely more than 60 minutes we have an extremely fast paced
movie with many of our favorite "B" movie icons -- Bela Lugosi, Tom
Neal, Dave O'Brien, Wanda McKay, John Archer and Wheeler Oakman.
Bela, whose English delivery is now excellent and natural, with that great hint of a Hungarian accent, plays Frederick Brenner, a professor of criminology by day and Karl Wagner, the philanthropic director of "The Friendly Mission," a soup kitchen and dormitory in New York's Bowery by night. He has a third identity as the head of a criminal ring of thieves and bank robbers.
His modus operandi is to double cross and kill his henchmen (who frequently include Mission transients) after they have served his villainous purposes, and then to have a 'rum dumb' caretaker doctor bury them in the Mission's basement. Unbeknownst to him, the doctor has devised a way to revive the dead and keep them 'alive' as zombies, hidden below the basement in a cellar.
The movie shows us scenes of his triple life including blissful tender moments at home with his wife; teaching about paranoid schizophrenics in his college class; doling out soup to Bowery bum denizens; and coldly throwing one of his henchmen off a roof as he stages a jewelry store robbery. In such a rapidly paced film, the inner tensions of his schizophrenic nature are barely touched on, except in a brief moment where he moans in his sleep experiencing nightmares. Oh what this film could have been if given the full "A" treatment! Here we're not going to get anything like Peter Lorre's anguished plea for tolerance and understanding regarding his own compulsive nature that he cannot control as in the great German film 'M' (1931).
Wanda McKay, who plays Wagner's perky nurse assistant Judy Malvern, is betrothed to the rich playboy John Archer, who is, coincidentally, one of Professor Brenner's students, Richard Dennison. You can guess that Brenner/Wagner's double life is going to start to unravel. In this case, Dennison wanders into the Mission while doing research on how the indigent live, and meets Brenner as 'Wagner.'
Tom Neal, meanwhile, puts in another cynical, tortured (and vicious) performance as a hired killer, used by Brenner / Wagner to rub out his henchmen, and Dennison as well. As a result of Dennsion's disappearance, the police finally discover Brenner's dual nature and raid the Mission. Seeking his own revenge, the caretaker doctor leads Brenner down to the cellar to the awaiting zombies ("You can escape this way...") In the final scene, Dennison is magically returned to normalcy where he joins Judy in his bedroom to live happily ever after.
Wanda McKay is also in 'Voodoo Man' (1944) with Bela, and many other Poverty Row 'features' as well as the odd Universal serial 'Raiders of Ghost City' (1944). John Archer, besides starring in the great 'King of the Zombies' (1941) with Mantan Moreland, is in 'Destination Moon' (1950) and many 50s-60s TV shows including 'Perry Mason' and 'Bonanza'. Tom Neal plays the hero in the serial 'Jungle Girl' (1941), as well as in his classic noir film, 'Detour' (1945). Dave O'Brien, who had the most successful career, mostly as a cowboy star, plays the cop who tracks down Brenner. He's most famous as the 'hop-head' in 'Tell Your Children' (1936) which we all know and love as "Reefer Madness'. Wheeler Oakman, with over 280 film and TV credits as a villain, plays one of Brenner's henchmen. He was in countless serials and westerns, and played Tarnak in 'Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars' (1938).
Wow! All these great familiar faces in one fast paced, weird little movie that sadly, was too cheaply made. Oh, what it could have been! Therefore, sadly, I can only give it a four and half.
Bela Lugosi, both a wonderful actor and very fine gentleman, comes across perfectly in this role. Things like body language, eye contact, voice inflection, all of it done beautifully. The plot, containing as many little surprising twists and turns as the Bowery mission contains secret panels and hidden doors, is a neat story and it flows well. The other players fit their roles very well. The continuity is good. And then there are those other added attractions, like thinking you just saw Lou Costello playing a Bowery bum. Nope, you didn't, but you're close. Its his older brother, and almost twin, Pat Costello. Things like that make this movie great fun. Add a pretty nurse, a crazy doctor, and what do you have? A "B" movie that deserves at least a B+.
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