Wednesday, December 11, 2013

#1,213. Zombies on Broadway (1945)

Directed By: Gordon Douglas

Starring: Wally Brown, Alan Carney, Bela Lugosi

Tag line: "They're STALKING WALKING DEAD MEN... and it's a SCREAM!"

Trivia: This movie turned a profit for RKO, which encouraged the studio to re-unite Brown, Carney, Anne Jeffreys and Bela Lugosi one year later for Genius at Work

Press agents Jerry and Mike (Wally Brown and Alan Carney) have been hired by gangster-turned businessman Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard) to help promote his new nightclub, The Zombie Hut. In fact, the two have come up with a pretty cool campaign, promising a real-life zombie will appear at the club’s grand opening. The only catch, of course, is that now they have to dig one up! On the recommendation of Professor Hopkins (Ian Wolfe), the curator of the local museum, the two set out for the island of San Sebastian, where Dr. Paul Renault (Bela Lugosi) has been trying to create his own race of zombies. Teaming up with a pretty singer named Jean (Anne Jeffreys), they make their way to Renault’s island lair, only to become unwilling participants in the good doctor’s latest round of experiments.

Zombies on Broadway will be of minor interest to fans of classic horror; aside from Lugosi’s turn as a mad scientist, the movie features Darby Jones in a supporting role as the zombie, Kalaga, a part similar to the one he played in Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie. Primarily, though, Zombies on Broadway is a showcase for Brown and Carney, who fancied themselves a comedy duo. The first half sees the two of them bumbling around both New York and San Sebastian, putting on one ho-hum comic routine after another (in one scene, Carney dons black face to fit in at a native ritual. Yeah, it’s that level of comedy we’re talking about here). The movie picks up a little when the action shifts to Renault’s mansion, at which point the mood becomes much darker. Yet, even here, Brown’s and Carney’s lackluster attempt at humor sometimes spoils things.

I’m an unapologetic Bela Lugosi fan, and it was his name in the credits that drew me to this film in the first place. Hell, I figured if I could sit through Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster, both of which also featured Lugosi, how bad could Zombies on Broadway be? And to be fair, this is a much better movie than those two, but that’s not to say it’s one of Bela’s stronger outings. On the contrary, Zombies on Broadway suffers because Lugosi is hardly in it at all (Darby Jones gets twice the screen time he does).

As I said, Zombies on Broadway isn’t a terrible film; just a so-so one, with some decent atmosphere and a few good scenes saving it from being a total waste of time. Still, I’d only recommend it for Lugosi or zombie completists. All others will want to steer clear.

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