Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Random Double Feature: The Bad and the Bogie-ful

Welcome to another edition of Random Double Features! This time out we've got a doozy for you, half of which I'm going to have to apologize for. The top half of the bill is a picture from Warner Bros. in 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart called All Through the Night. The bottom half is a picture from the seventh concentric circle of hell via Italy in 1960 and inexplicably called Atom Age Vampire.

All Through the Night is the first picture Bogart made following his star-making turn in The Maltese Falcon. As was usual for Bogart during this period, he got the lead when other actors turned the roles down. The film was originally written for newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, who backed out. Then, as with most stories like this about Bogie, George Raft was approached. He too turned it down, another role in a long line that Bogart took on to success and acclaim.

Bogart stars as "Gloves" Donohue, a man about New York that is not so subtly implied to be a gangster. Okay, it's not even implied, he's basically Arnold Rothstein. In any case, Gloves has two major peculiarities; he eats cheesecake from a particular bakery three times a day, and he can't refuse his mother (Jane Darwell) anything. When the baker of his cheesecakes turns up dead, his mother convinces him and his mob to look into the murder. Their nosing around uncovers a ring of Nazi spies operating in New York, planning to commit a major act of sabotage that only Gloves and his crew can stop. Basically, imagine the cast of Guys and Dolls going up against the bad guys of Raiders of the Lost Ark and you'll get some idea of how wonderfully bonkers the whole thing is. These aren't hard-boiled mobsters, they're played for laughs in the Damon Runyon vein, and played by some absolute top notch comedic stars like William Demerest, Phil Silvers, Frank McHugh and a young Jackie Gleason. The Nazis are similarly well-cast, with Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre and Judith Anderson doing their villainous best.

When Bogie's classic films are brought up, All Through the Night rarely gets a mention even though it out-grossed The Maltese Falcon at the box office. This is probably due to its unusual tone. It's a spoof, yes, and a very funny one, but it's shot like a film noir and contains a very earnest plea for Americans to shake free of their isolationist policies and get involved in the War in Europe. It's also due to it coming between ...Falcon and Casablanca, but it's a great change of pace for Bogart, and it's a well-directed lark with more than a few genuine laughs, proving Bogie could do more than act tough.

Atom Age Vampire is a piece of crap. This could be for many reasons, such as, but not limited to, the bad English dubbing, the jarring and non-sensical editing (probably a result of removing scenes for the American version), and the fact that no Vampire appears in the film at any point. It's the story of a stripper who is disfigured in a car accident. Believing she will be rejected by the man she loves, she decides to undergo an experimental procedure offered by a reclusive scientist who claims he can repair her face with a special serum. Of course, things do not go well. While her face is repaired, the process needs more serum to be permanent, the Doctor is nuts  and falls for the girl but his use of an earlier serum to repair his own scars causes him to revert to a disfigured appearance and kill women around Rome. I guess. None of it is all that clear.

Atom Age Vampire is the kind of film its fun to get drunk to and make fun of with friends. It's the kind of film that should have been on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I can see it being made bearable in that setting, maybe even fun. I bought it for nine dollars as part of a cheapo DVD set of 50 Horror "Classics".  It's decidedly NOT bearable when watched stone cold sober, on your own. I do not recommend anyone doing so.

The only thing I can possible see connecting these two films is that they both clearly deal with the dangers of fascism. Because only a nation decimated by a totalitarian regime fifteen years earlier could possibly create Atom Age Vampire.

Next time, my friend Brenton has selected for us two flicks. Somehow we're doing our third Hitchcock film, and another from this set of Horror "Classics." Join us November 6th for what many consider to be Hitch's greatest film, Psycho, as the top half of the bill. Our bottom half is Doomed to Die, which could be a nightmare given that it stars English actor Boris Karloff as Asian detective Mr. Wong. Oy. See you soon!

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