This is the introductory entry in a new series covering movies that originally played in drive-in-cinema double bills across the country. One of the first drive-in theaters premiered in Camden, New Jersey in 1933. The venue’s popularity reached its zenith from the 1950s to the early 1980s. Still, the 1940s was also a robust decade for the drive-in, which specialized in low budget B-films, especially horror and science fiction. The setting was also unique in that drive-ins continued to screen films from the 30 and 40s all the way until the late 70s. For a more extended discussion, see the … Continue reading 1944 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CORPSE VANISHES AND VOODOO MAN
According to Bela Lugosi‘s official bio, before coming to America he had been a star on the Hungarian stage, appearing in major Shakespeare productions. However, several biographers have disputed Lugosi’s “star” ranking during that period. It seems most of his roles had actually been small ones. Regardless, Lugosi enlisted in the Hungarian army during the First World War, was wounded several times, and later had to flee Hungary during a tumultuous political climate which was unfriendly to his leftist leanings. After a stay in Germany, Lugosi arrived penniless in the States. Eventually, he made his way to the New York stage and began appearing in plays and silent films. In 1927, Lugosi was cast in the role of Dracula in Hamilton Dean’s famous stage play. With that, Lugosi became a major star of the stage, and stardom brought him numerous female fans, including Clara Bow, with whom he had a brief affair.
In 1929, director Tod Browning, shopping around for the lead of the film version of Dracula, cast Lugosi as a vampire-like inspector in The Thirteenth Chair (1929). Although Lugosi was not a great actor in the conventional sense, he did have an undeniably magnetic screen presence and brought an air of European mystery to the most rudimentary melodramas. Browning capitalized on this as few directors could and it worked, leading to Lugosi landing the career-making role of Bram Stoker’s Count in Browning’s 1931 film, Dracula. The 49 year old Lugosi was perfect for the part. His idiosyncratic mannerisms, unique mangling of the English language (which, despite rumor, he did not deliver phonetically), and otherworldly persona made for a compelling figure, a point made all the more obvious when compared to Carlos Villarias’ laughable performance in the Spanish language version of Dracula (shot at the same time on the same sets as Browning’s classic). Years later, Lugosi bitterly complained about the typecasting which resulted from the film, but realistically, Dracula was the best thing that happened to the actor. With his limited acting skills and heavy accent, Lugosi never could have been successful in the romantic matinee roles he desired.
Maya Deren’s At Land (1944) opens with a scene of fearsome waves crashing against a desolate shore. It could almost be described as Debussian, save for the unsettling dead and total silence that continues, unabated, throughout the film.
The exotic Deren appears, emerging from a sleep, like a mermaid spit ashore from the crashing waves.
Deren begins slowly climbing a massive, twisted, dead tree trunk; the figure of Deren/Eros embarking on her great existential journey.
The nymph (her face adorned with child-like innocence) slithers on her stomach across a dining room table, populated with faceless corporates. They do not take notice of her, preoccupied with idle chatter and many cigarettes. Her eyes focus on a solitary figure, playing chess at the table’s end. By the time she reaches that end (there are brief, repeated, struggled, exploratory diversions through a mass of shrubbery) she finds the player has just left and, as she gazes at the board, the rest of the room’s occupants are also leaving.
Telekinetically, she moves the chess pieces, until the pawn (one of eight) falls through a hole in the table. She attempts to retrieve it and finds herself back on the shore, then on a country road, walking and talking with a young man (represented by five different men).
She cannot keep up with the man and he leaves her behind as he disappears into a cabin, shutting the foreboding door behind him.
Determined not to be abandoned, she crawls under the log cabin but emerges in a contemporary, nearly abandoned home, laden with furniture, covered in white sheets.