Dead Men Walk, 1943
I was expecting more from this one.
George Zucco apparently has a reputation as a bit of a ham, and this is a Poverty Row cheapie, and Zucco is playing twins, one good and one evil.
The sleeve copy, admittedly, was overdone:
The marvelously theatrical George Zucco plays a dual role as the dysfunctional Clayton twins who also happen to be doctors. Predictably one Twin is good, and the other evil. Lloyd Clayton murders his brother Elwyn, who happens to be well versed in the dark arts. Returning from the grave to exact his vengeance, Lloyd viciously slays Elwyn’s colleagues, leaving a mounting trail of evidence that points to the surviving sibling. Lloyd is aided in his evil acts by a hunch-backed assistant played by Dwight Frye.
Even though it is overwrought, that description gave me hope. Alas, while the story it tells is the story, it gives some wrong impressions. For instance, the confusion between Lloyd and Elwyn is the copywriter’s, not the movie’s. Also, the murder takes place before the movie begins — we start with Elwyn’s funeral and interment.
And if Elwyn was ever a doctor, that fact escaped me in the dialogue.
What it is, which is not immediately apparent, is a fairly shabby vampire movie. Elwyn became a vampire through devil worship, and the rules of vampire movies come up late, and only partially.
Anyway, Elwyn gets interred, then almost immediately arises from the dead, with the help of his servant (Dwight Frye, last seen yesterday, also of the first two Universal Frankenstein pictures).
Elwyn decides not only to revenge himself on his brother (whom he has always hated, as we learn in exposition more than once), but to enthrall his brother’s niece into eternal slavery (presumably through making her a vampire, though it’s not made entirely clear).
Now, I think that she is supposed to be Elwyn’s daughter. But I don’t know for certain, because they never say. The only two relationships they ever make clear for her are that she is Lloyd’s niece, and that the Boring Guy is her fianceé. But there is no other relation that Lloyd has, so if she’s his niece, she pretty much has to be Elwyn’s daughter.
So he wants to eternally enslave his pretty young daughter. Ewwwww.
Anyway, he visits her nightly, and she gets weaker and weaker as the days go on. Dr. Lloyd determines that she’s losing blood, but cannot explain how — except that he has seen Elwyn, spoken to him, and been told Elwyn’s plan. However, being a man of science, he believes he is hallucinating.
If you’re expecting some explanation of why Elwyn can’t just bite her neck once and have her in his power, don’t hold your breath. The movie just assumes it, for no reason other than author’s convenience.
Anyway, the girl’s fianceé comes to believe Elwyn really is alive, and convinces Lloyd that he’s not hallucinating. They begin looking for Elwyn’s resting place (somehow knowing that he cannot move during the day — I think Elwyn told them (genius), but I don’t remember clearly). A Margaret Hamilton-type woman tries to help by giving the girl a cross to wear on a necklace ((This is the movie’s second and last nod to actual vampire lore. The first was the fact that Elwyn cannot operate during daylight. )), which prevents Elwyn from even touching her. He tries to get his servant to remove it, which leads the others back to his daytime hiding place.
The climax is rather neat, I admit — a confrontation between the twins in the middle of a burning house, while Dwight Frye is trapped beneath a fallen piece of furniture. The confrontation is viewed through a window by the fianceé and a number of minor characters.
But apart from that, and the fact that Zucco hardly overacts, and does a pretty darned good job with the dual role, there is little to recommend this one. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t really like it either. It filled the time, and nothing more.