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Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Study in Classic Horror- SON OF DRACULA (1943)

I understand that Lon Chaney Jr.’s acting abilities have been the subject of debate. Overall, I’m on his side. In his career at Universal he had quite a variety of parts. He’s quite good in Man Made Monster and Calling Dr. Death; he brings the right amount of sympathy to his signature role in The Wolf Man; but, in some films, such as The Black Castle, his roles are little more than glorified cameos.Then there’s Son of Dracula, in which I’m sorry to conclude that he was woefully miscast, but that may have not been his fault. By the time Son of Dracula was made, Chaney had already pretty much stepped into the shoes of all of Universal’s other monster stars, so to the producers, Dracula probably seemed a safe bet. Chaney does fine as leading-men, lovable simpletons, and lumbering behemoths, but Dracula is more a character actor’s role, and Chaney’s talents just didn’t seem up to the task.

Then, there’s the other debate: is he Dracula or not? Well, he certainly identifies himself as Count Dracula, despite travelling under the name of Alucard, so I guess the real question is: Is he the Dracula or merely a descendent cashing in on the family name. (Which would be ironic considering some of Chaney’s critics accused him of doing the same concerning his own father.) The latter would at least explain what was, for me, the movie’s greatest fault: the plot hinges on Dracula being a dupe in his own movie! A Dracula movie should be about his evil plot to obtain power or a new bride, not about a bored rich girl (Louise Allbritton) seducing him into making her immortal, so she can dump him and be with her own true love (Robert Paige) for eternity. Dracula is supposed to be the controller, not the controlled.

Like Dracula’s Daughter, (which I still think, with its faults, is a stronger film) there are weak attempts to import elements from the original film. Paige’s Frank Stanley is another Jonathan Harker, while J. Edward Bromberg’s Professor Lazlo is clearly meant to be our new Van Helsing.  The end result is rehash mixed with a misguided plot. 

Supporting features:

Porky Pig in The Sour Puss (1940)

The Our Gang short Mush and Milk (1933)

Next time:

Night Monster (1942) starring Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwell, Leif Erickson, Irene Harvey, and Ralph Morgan