Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Return of the Vampire (1944)

This smart stylish film centers around a vampire, Armand Tesla (Dracula in every way but the name) who is brought back from the dead after his tomb is bombed during the London Blitz.  With the help of a talking werewolf Andreas (Matt Willis), Tesla assumes the name of a scientist who has recently escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and seeks revenge upon the family who had destroyed him 23 years earlier in 1918.

The film was directed by Lew Landers, who directed more than 100 films in a variety of genres, including westerns, comedy and horror films most notably The Raven (1935). The film starred Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch, Miles Mander, Roland Varno and Matt Willis. Griffin Jay and Randall Faye who wrote the screenplay presented it to Universal who turned it down claiming that their Dracula series needed no outside assistance. Jay, who is known for writing the Universal Mummy series of films The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy's Tomb (1942) and The Mummy's Ghost (1944), presented the script to Columbia.

Columbia bought the script and had originally planned for The Return of the Vampire (1944) to be a sequel to Universal’s Dracula (1931).  When Universal threatened to sue Columbia, the studio changed the names of the characters to avoid any connection with "Dracula". 

Undoubtedly Lugosi was upset when he learned that Universal planned to cast Lon Chaney in the lead role for Son of Dracula (1943). Lon Chaney was Universal’s new horror king and at that time the studio was  anxious to cast him in as many horror vehicles as they could, whether  or not he was suited for the role. Many film historians believe that Universal’s casting decision prompted Columbia to offer the lead for Return of the Vampire (1944) to Lugosi, a role he gladly accepted.

Return of the Vampire (1944) would be the last film that Lugosi would receive top billing from a major Hollywood studio.  This film was the first time since Dracula (1931) that the Lugosi appeared as a real vampire. While making the film Lugosi was also appearing on stage in the play Arsenic and Old Lace. He worked on the film during the day and then would appear on stage at night. Despite the grueling schedule Lugosi is reported to have enjoyed the production immensely.  

  Columbia also held back the release of the film for two months so it would not directly compete with Son of Dracula (1943). The film was finally released on January 1, 1944. It was well received and grossed close to half a million dollars on an investment of $75,000. Return of the Vampire (1944) is noted for being the first film to include a vampire and a werewolf as characters in the storyline. Although not as well-known as Son of Dracula (1943) there are many who consider Return of the Vampire (1944) far superior to Son of Dracula (1943).

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