Mother Riley Meets The
(Renown/Blue Chip) 74mins. BW.
Aka: THE VAMPIRE AND THE ROBOT; MY SON THE VAMPIRE; VAMPIRE OVER LONDON; MOTHER RILEY RUNS
RIOT; DRACULA'S DESIRE.
Credits: Dir: John Gilling; Prod: George Minter
& John Gilling; Sc: Val Valentine; Ph: Stan Pavey & Dudley Lovell; Ed: Len Trumm;
Art: Bernard Robinson; Mus: Linda Southworth.
Cast: Arthur Lucan, Bela Lugosi, Dora Bryan, Richard Wattis, Graham Moffatt, Philip
Leaver, Ian Wilson, Hattie Jacques, Dandy Nichols, Charles Lloyd Pack, Laurence Naismith,
Judith Furse, Maria Mercedes, Roderick Lovell, David Hurst, Arthur Brander, Cyril Smith,
Peter Bathurst, George Benson, David Hannaford, John Le Mesurier, Bill Shine.
by Stephen Harris
It had been nearly three years
since Bela had made his last movie. Shortage of money was by now the norm, and the once
proud figure of Dracula had begun to shrink alongside his bank balance and film
roles. However, with the help of British producer Richard Gordon in New York, Bela managed
to secure an English run of his stage Dracula opening in Brighton during
June of 1951.
"It takes me
about half an hour to warm up before the curtain rises. I never eat a meal before a
performance, I like to go on thirsting for blood! I really have to get myself in the mood.
I don't like to be spoken to for an hour before each show, and even for half an hour after
the show is finished I'm still Dracula!
When Dracula was first presented on Broadway there were members of all audiences that took
it literally. People screamed and fainted, the first aid staff were kept busy all the
time. I did not dare to bite my victim's necks for fear of a hysterical reaction from the
public. Nowadays the customers, even the children know it all. They have seen plenty of
horror films, but we still believe there is the demand for an old fashioned horror play,
and always will be, as long as it is properly presented".
Unfortunately, in 1951 it
seemed there wasn't. Despite some critical acclaim the show failed to pull the required
audiences, closed, and left Bela virtually stranded in England. The failure was reported
at the time as a lack of funds for proper promotion. This may well have been true, but
anything that Bela was associated with in those days had little or no financial backing.
The case may well have been that the public still anaemic after the real life bloodshed of
the Second World War found the septuagenarian vampire well past is
Concerned for Bela's plight in Britain, Richard Gordon at Gordon
Films in New York, asked producer George Minter to consider Bela Lugosi for the villain's role in his new movie. It was the latest
in a line of peculiarly British pictures starring stage actor Arthur Lucan who had
successfully adapted his music hall "drag" character, the Irish washer woman Old
Mother Riley into films as early as the Thirties. Usually partnered with his
"daughter", (real life wife and manager), Kitty McShane, this would turn out to
be the 14th. and final Mother Riley film. The series formula was tired and the character's
popularity waning, ironically reflecting the tired and rejected and helplessly typecast
Lugosi. Director John Gilling, was marking his time steadily learning the trade and
awaiting future successes that came with films at the Hammer Studios, the same fledgling
company that Bela had made The Mystery of the Marie
Celeste for in 1935. It was to the same Nettlefold Studios that Bela returned to again
in 1951, to make his third and final British film MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE.
Foreign envoy, Miss Julia Lauretti, (Maria
Mercedes), is kidnapped at an English dockside by the mysterious "men from
the ministry" who are actually agents of the fanatical scientist Von Hoosen,
(Bela Lugosi), who has developed a master plan for world domination by way of his own army
of giant robot slaves. The only hiccup in his plan is that he needs an unlimited supply of
uranium to power his mechanical monsters. As we soon discover, Miss Lauretti was on her
way to deliver to the British government a map of a recently discovered uranium mine!
"Who can possibly save our helpless envoy?"
Nichols, Hattie Jacques and our heroine Arthur Lucan as Old Mother Riley, that's who.
While they are having a heated discussion with the rent man, a telegram arrives to inform
Mother Riley that her uncle Jeremiah has passed away, and in accordance with his will she
will shortly be receiving her share of his estate. She is so devastated to hear this news
that she joins in with the others to perform a song and dance to celebrate her
inheritance! This particular sequence is nicely done and unique to the Mother Riley series
That evening, in a suburban London mansion house, Von Hoosen's Renfield-like assistant,
(Ian Wilson), wakes his master from daytime slumber and for the first and only time on
film we actually see Bela rise and step out of his coffin. Despite his age this is
achieved with remarkable ease and poise dispelling the theory that to actually film such a
sequence would seem clumsy, (Remember all those cutaway shots in Browning's Dracula?). Bela looks surprisingly well, dressed in
his formal evening attire, compared with his appearance just a year later in Bela
Lugosi Meets the Brooklyn Gorilla. Asked why he is always wearing such clothing he
replies with ironic prophesy "I was buried in them!"
Von Hoosen opens a newly
delivered crate that he expects to contain the first of his robot army, but instead
he finds an assortment of bed-pans, bottles and other knick knacks. Consulting the address
label on the box he discovers that Mother Riley has received his crate in error. Under Von
Hoosen's influence, the robot in Mother Riley's shop comes to life, kidnaps her and brings
her to his house.
"Do you like bats?" Van Hoosen asks in typical Lugosi tones
that would bring a smile to any respecting Lugosi fan, "that happens to be my
brother!" he states while pointing at a framed oil painting of a vampire
Von Hoosen decides to keep Mother Riley as a supply of blood, referring to her as "my
little group three" while feeding her steak for breakfast, liver for
elevenses and beef for lunch, all to the amusement of his cackling assistant. However,
with the help of a housemaid, (Dora Bryan in her film debut), Mother Riley escapes, frees
Miss Lauretti and dismantles Von Hoosen's world dominating robot in a wrestling
Meanwhile Von Hoosen has discovered that the uranium map is actually still on board the
docked SS. Fernwood and sets off at once to obtain it, closely followed by Mother Riley.
The police who have already been alerted to Von Hoosen's plan, get their man in a dramatic
shoot-out, but Mother Riley ends up overboard and over-the-top again!
The movie is still largely
dismissed and disappoints most audiences, especially Americans who could not come to terms
with the overt British humour that revolved around rent collectors and food shortages. A
final print was released in America during 1963, introduced by an American comic named
Allan Sherman who also sang over the credits.
This film is not the only time that Bela had problems with robots. For twelve episodes in The Phantom Creeps (1939) serial Bela ranted about
the superior power of his robot and his plan for world domination, but the mechanical
marvel failed to do very much until ten minutes into the last chapter and then, only four
feet from the entrance to his house, the robot is blasted to smithereens.
Producer George Minter had the film in the can many
years before enterprising American distributor Jack H. Harris picked it up and tried to
market it as a CARRY ON... film calling it CARRY ON VAMPIRE.
He was of course prevented from doing so, and it was eventually released as MY SON
THE VAMPIRE and as VAMPIRE OVER LONDON in 1963, eight years
after Bela's death and eleven years after it was made.
A re-edited version with new Lugosi footage was originally planned for American release,
but KING ROBOT, as it would have been titled, never saw the light of day
because Lugosi, only a year later, no longer matched the existing footage.
From a British point-of-view, the film still contains an old world charm
that echoes the pre-war asexual world of the Thirties, even including a coincidental cameo
by British character actor and one time Will Hay stooge, Graham Moffatt. Despite many
reasons to ignore the film, it is nevertheless entertaining and served its purpose as far
as Bela was concerned by earning him $5000 that enabled him to buy his boat fare home.
A short news film exists of
Bela arriving back in America during 1951 and among the many questions asked, one
interviewer asked if there were any roles that Bela hankered to play. In his reply Bela
revealed that he "...would really like to play comedies".
Now back in the States the future offered him an array of parts with actors in
phoney gorilla suits, a transvestite film director, a giant rubber octopus and the
notoriety of appearing in "the world's worst movie", the sad
irony was that he would play, albeit unintentionally, the comedies he so longed to make.
See a detailed account of
Bela in Britain in the book Vampire Over London
Visit the official Bela Lugosi website.
Video available in the
US. click here