Thursday, June 3, 2010

November 29, 1969: Son Of Dracula (1943)

Synopsis: At the Caldwell plantation in Louisiana, a huge celebration has been prepared for the arrival of a Hungarian nobleman named Count Alucard. He has been invited by Kay, one of Colonel Caldwell's two daughters.

Kay, we are told, has been interested in the occult for some time. Now she is acting strangely and her fiance, Frank, can't fathom why. When the mysterious Count arrives, weird things start to happen. Col. Caldwell dies under mysterious circumstances. The will he drafted shortly before his death leaves all of the money to sister Claire, and only the plantation to Kay -- but strangely, Kay seems perfectly satisfied with this arrangement.

That night, Kay and Alucard roust the justice of the peace out of bed and insist on being married immediately.

Frank, believing that Kay has fallen into the orbit of a con man, confronts Alucard with a revolver, but when he fires the bullets pass through the Count, killing Kay, who was standing behind him. Confused an distraught, Frank goes to see Dr. Brewster, who tells him he will look into the matter. But when Brewster visits Black Oaks he finds Kay very much alive, albeit a little spooky.

By the time he returns home he finds that Frank has turned himself in to the sheriff. Brewster insists that the whole thing is a mistake; he saw Kay late the previous evening, after Frank came to him with the story of the murder. But when the Sheriff searches the estate he finds Kay's body and, sure enough, it's thoroughly dead.

Now under suspicion as an accessory to murder, Brewster consults with Professor Lazlo, an expert on the occult. With Lazlo's help Brewster begins to realize that Count Alucard is in fact Count Dracula, who has left his depleted homelands of Transylvania for fresh hunting grounds in America. Meanwhile, in his jail cell, Frank is visited by Kay, who tells him she doesn't love Alucard, but has only been using him. Now that she is one of the undead, she can turn Frank into a vampire as well, and the two of them can destroy Alucard and begin their own immortal reign of terror....

Comments: Here's a tip for you kids. If you're ever an evil, undead Transylvanian nobleman who inexplicably decides to take up residence in a crumbling plantation on the Louisiana bayou, and you're looking for an alias to use in order to throw nosy would-be vampire hunters off your trail, DON'T simply spell your name backwards. It's not that clever an idea, and even worse, it won't work.

In fact, from the opening scene in Son of Dracula, people are constantly saying things like, "Hmm, that's funny....Alucard....when you read it backwards it says....nah, it couldn't be!"

But the real reason people aren't going to suspect this guy of being Dracula is that he's being played by Lon Cheney, Jr.

Far be it from me to criticize the great Lon Cheney Sr.'s son as an actor -- he was, after all, perfectly serviceable in The Wolf Man and its various sequels. And he was quite convincing as the brutal (and temporarily immortal) thug in otherwise forgettable The Indestructible Man. But placing Cheney the Younger in this role cruelly exposes his professional limitations.

Oh, they give him one of those pencil-thin David Niven mustaches, and a cape, and all sorts of courtly dialogue. But he still has about as much polish and sophistication as a gorilla wearing a leisure suit.

To make matters worse, the cast is swimming upstream against a sub-par script. The plot becomes so convoluted that I had a hard time even figuring out who was supposed to be the main character. It becomes clear early on that it isn't Alucard; so isn't it Kay? Wouldn't a more appropriate title be Bride of the Son of Dracula?

Wait, it looks like the plot is beginning to center around Frank. Maybe we should go with Fiance of the Bride of the Son of Dracula.

But suddenly Dr. Brewster is taking center stage. That would make it Doctor to the Fiance of the Bride of the Son of Dracula. Except Lazlo checks in as the wise and all-knowing Van Helsing character in the third act, so maybe we end up with Friend of the Doctor To the Fiance of the Bride of the Son of Dracula.

Well, you get the idea. Alucard first gets double-crossed by his wife and then destroyed by a punk with a grudge against him. In many ways he's the weakest character in the story, not much like a vampire at all. He's really more like a second-rate mob boss who can turn into a bat and disappear into a puff of smoke.


Anonymous said...

Actually you're very funny!

kochillt said...

Chaney's Dracula was the only one prior to Christopher Lee to display superhuman strength, but with only 11 minutes screen time (as little as Lee was used to), the Count was already reduced to a supporting character in his own film. And isn't it strange that every Universal Dracula except Lugosi always ended up destroyed through sunlight?

Uncle Mike said...

Lee's Dracula was much more physically imposing than Lugosi's. Lugosi made him a courtly, well-mannered fellow. Chaney clearly had no idea which direction to go in with the role, and the script didn't help.

Hammer films seemed much more willing to create vampire lore out of thin air, so we ended up (at the end of Satanic Rites of Dracula) with Dracula tricked into wandering into a hawthorne bush, which, we were suddenly informed, will rip a vampire to shreds if given the opportunity.

kochillt said...

Interesting that you would mention THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, that was the one where poor Christopher Lee actually got cut trying to make his way through the hawthorne bush (the source of Christ's crown of thorns). I did enjoy the atheist aspect of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, which allowed the Count to actually remove the stake from his heart. Lee protested of course, but it certainly helped make his vampire more formidable. Incidentally, even Lee's Dracula was first destroyed by sunlight in HORROR OF DRACULA, still the greatest vampire movie ever made, in my opinion. SON OF DRACULA continues to be underrated, it certainly doesn't play out in predictable fashion. I should think it grows on repeated viewings.

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