By 1950 the world had changed and so had Bela Lugosi. Now nearly seventy and unwanted by Hollywood picture producers, his dependence on narcotics could surely now do nothing to ease his pain...
The Missing Link Proudly Presents

Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1951)Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1951)

(Renown/Blue Chip) 74mins. BW. UK.
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 "stake-by-date."

Bela Lugosi and Arthur Lucan in Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1951)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?"
Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1951)Dandy 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 of films.
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!"
Lugosi in Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1951)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 bat.
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 match.
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.

Bela Lugosi arrives at Southampton, Britain in April 1951Producer 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.

Richard Gordon and Bela LugosiFrom 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

Official Bela Lugosi website Visit the official Bela Lugosi website.

Video available in the US. click here