Friday, June 23, 1972: My Son the Vampire aka Mother Riley Meets the Vampire aka Vampire Over London (1952)

Synopsis: Scotland Yard is searching frantically for a man known as “The Vampire”, a scientist by the name of Van Housen (Bela Lugosi), who is descended from Transylvanian nobility and who is believed to drink the blood of young women in order to extend his lifespan.

Van Housen sleeps in a coffin and affects the dress and manner of a vampire, but what he really wants to do is to build an army of robots that will take over the world.  So far, he has built only one prototype, which he calls Mark 1.

Van Housen orders Mark 1 delivered to his laboratory (apparently through a conventional shipping company)  but by accident the crate containing it is mixed up with another crate meant for an Irish washerwoman known as Old Mother Riley (Arthur Lucan).  Soon Van Housen discovers the mix-up and orders Mark 1 to come to the lab and bring Riley along as well.  Seeing an opportunity for fresh blood, the scientist gives Riley a light housekeeping job, but insists on fattening her up with fresh steak and liver.

 In order to build his army, Van Housen needs large quantities of uranium, and in order to get that, he needs a map in the possession of Julia Loretti (Maria Mercedes), who has recently returned from an expedition to South America.  Even though he has Loretti in his laboratory and in a trance, Van Housen has been unable to discover where the map is hidden.

Discovering that not only Loretti but all the missing women are being held captive by Van Housen, Riley escapes from the mansion and runs to the nearest police station to report the crime.  However,  because a clumsy drunkard at the police station has accidentally doused her with gin, the hysterical Riley reeks of alcohol, and the police decide to arrest her for disorderly conduct….

Comments: This cinematic dumpster fire is so odd and so disjointed that I’ve come to believe that screenwriter Val Valentine was asked to make radical changes between drafts — assuming, of course, that there was more than one. Dr. Van Housen’s dream of taking over the world with a robot army is just so far afield from vampire lore that I have to assume that the original plan was for Lugosi (or someone) to play Van Housen as a straight-up mad scientist. The vampire stuff, which seems like an afterthought, was presumably just that (Dr. Van Housen is often referred to as “The Vampire”, but his vampirism seems to be an affectation — he sleeps in a coffin, and we hear him snoring inside it when his assistant comes in to wake him). The whole vampire bit certainly seems tacked on, and doesn’t mesh with anything we know about Van Housen. On the other hand, this movie is so slipshod that Valentine might well have written the whole thing in a couple of days, not knowing or caring how the individual pieces went together.

As I mentioned the last time this film aired, Lugosi seems to be having fun with the Van Housen role, and easily outshines titular star Lucan. 

This was the last in the Old Mother Riley series of films, and the only one without Kitty McShane, Lucan’s then-estranged wife and long-time stage partner (in the Old Mother Riley films she played daughter Kitty).

The lowbrow antics of Old Mother Riley were popular on stage and screen, and playing her was pretty much Lucan’s whole career (he would die in 1954, backstage while preparing to go on as Mother Riley yet again).  A big reason the movies were so profitable was that they were made for very little money; and that’s reflected in Lugosi’s paycheck for this picture. He got $5,000 for his efforts and was glad to get it, as spoofing his Dracula persona was about all that he would be offered at this point in his career, with the dubious exceptions of The Black Sleep and Ed Wood’s contributions to cinematic history, which offered far greater humiliations for far less money.

The film was released in England as Mother Riley Meets the Vampire and as Vampire Over London in the U.S. It was re-released in 1963 as My Son the Vampire,  a dubious tie-in to a (terrible) Alan Sherman novelty song, which played incongruously over the credits.

Here is Lugosi’s television interview upon returning from England in 1951. It’s touching, really, to see how grateful he is for the attention.


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