Saturday, 3 September 2016

Vampire Over London

It literally hasn't stopped raining here for most of today, and so I have perforces remained at home for much of it. A rainy day turns my mind to the fact that when I was a child I had something called a 'rainy day' box, which was actually an old coal scuttle, in which lived toys which I didn't use at other times. I was allowed to put things in it when it wasn't aa rainy day, but not take things out of it. I find that I still actually do this with a small heap of books waiting to be read, in the back of the wardrobe.
Similarly old TV is a classic occupation of rainy days. I was going to comment that this post was not about TV at all, but I realise that actually it is. I started off looking on Amazon to see if any new-old TV shows are around which I haven't heard of, and ended up reading reviews of old films starring Arthur Askey, Will Hay, and Old Mother Riley. I realised that many of the Amazon reviewers had the same memories as me of what TV was like in the 1970s. I think it was probably much lower budget than it is now (although of course TV now finds endless excuses to recycle old TV programmes), but what was recycled in the 1970s was old films, and the reason this post is actually about TV is that while those old films were certainly not made for TV, it was on daytime TV that I first saw them, and remember them as a staple of TV programming when I was a child. I actually have many of the films I first met at that time, downoladed from archive.org and kept on my hard drive. Reading the reviews made me remember that I had saved this film because I used to love watching Old Mother Riley films, although never seen this one. I found myself lying in bed watching this film through, four times, before eventually I had to get up and brave the weather for some food.
I'm afraid that by and large this film gets absolutely slated on the internet. It has a very low rating on IMDB, and the word I find most applied to it is 'bizarre'. Well, so be it. If you are unaware of it, it marries Arthur Lucan (in drag) with Bela Lugosi (in evening dress). If this is a mixture you find unpatable, I don't think you will ever like this film! If, however, you like films such as What A Carve Up! and Carry On Screaming, I think you will like the strange mixture that is this film. Major criticism out of the way: this film's major failing will always be the way in which it marries two stars of disparate genres and thus tries to marry those genres together.
That said I would venture to say that this film is not that far divorced from some of the staples of the cult British television world. I was amazed to realise that it was made in 1952, since I would have put it much earlier, and thus the world which created it was the post-war world of both optimism and fear which is the background of much of the cult TV I like. Fear is personified in the fact that Lugosi's character is of course Foreign, in a generic sort of way. There is expressed a fear of communism when the beautiful young foreign visitor to these shores is snatched by a suspicious foreigner. Lugosi's character is furthermore described as a scientist, that figure of both confidence and fear in much TV up to the 1970s. When you consider that this film has a strong element of the eccentric scientist whose plan goes awry, you can immediately see how Avengers-esque this film is. Of course, when you allow for the fact that Lugosi's character otherwise fulfils most of the characterisation of the horror film vampire, this film goes well beyond any of the odder things The Avengers ever attempted!
Don't expect too much of the plot, since this film makes no effort to be either a straightforward horror or comedy film: it's been a long time since I saw any of Old Mother Riley's other films, but I remember them as much more straightforward comedies than this. In fact, the plot is really only a foil for the oddly-matched characters of Old Mother Riley and The Vampire. Again, I personally don't mind that. I feel that you can literally turn this film on anywhere and enjoy it as a sort of collection of tableaux, but hoping for a plot is to misunderstand it.
Approach it as a series of tableaux for the characters and Vampire Over London's endearing features come to the fore. I love the way Old Mother Riley keeps a crowbar in the piano (where else?). I love that The Vampire sleeps in a coffin, and the policeman (played by Richard Wattis who looks different without his glasses but still sounds only like himself) merely comments that that is a personal preference. I love that The Vampire wants Old Mother Riley to eat liver but she would rather have a bottle of stout. Of course The Vampire is building her up to be one of the beautiful girls who are knocked off, and the whole film hinges on the fact that Old Mother Riley can hardly be described as a beautiful young girl (and in fact Lucan was in his seventies when this film was made), and in fact is a bloke in a frock. It's dated, and both popular entertainment and drag acts have moved on since 1952, but if you suspend your disbelief this film is a joy. I particularly love the scene where Old Mother Riley sings 'I lift up my finger and I say tweet tweet' at her landlord.
My verdict on this film is that it is better than its low scoring in many reviews would suggest. It is of course an acquired taste, and if the main premise of it is distasteful to you, the film will also be distasteful. From a cult TV point of view, it is reminiscent both of the tastes of the immediate post-war generation, has some of the major concerns of later cult TV, and is also redolent of the sort of films repeated on 1970s British television.

2 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Greetings from Chicago IL USA!

Years ago I saw this picture, playing under the title My Son The Vampire, which title it bore when an American distributor picked it up circa 1964.

I was a teenager (19 or 20 or so) when a local station aired it on the Saturday night Monster Movie.
I'd read up on British comedians and movies, so I knew a little about Old Mother Riley.
I'd also seen a few Carry On movies, and had read about certain British comedy shows that would ultimately be made over for the US TV audience.
So it was that when Old Mother Riley did her "I Lift Up My Finger" number, I had read about - and was able to identify - OMR's "backup singers": Hattie Jacques (from the Carry Ons) and Dandy Nichols (the British original wjfe from Til Death Do Us Part, which became All In The Family Stateside).
I could be pretty obnoxious when I was younger ...
(... not that I'm any better now, in my 60s ...)

Cult TV Blog said...

Mike, thanks for commenting!
The only thing I don’t understand is your reference to obnoxiousness, since I can't see a single hint of it!