Sunday, 6 March 2011

Review - Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1951)

It’s amazing what passed for “comedy” on these islands before the glory days of the 1960s. Cinema audiences looking for something to take their minds off the powdered egg and rampant tuberculosis had a thin choice - Arthur fucking Askey with his irritating bandy-legged shortarse schtick, or this tit gambolling across the screen dressed as an Irish washerwoman. Try as I might, I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of a world would consider a moaning, rubber-faced bloke with a blanket wrapped round his shoulders to be the height of sophisticated humour. They were grim times, alright.
“Old Mother Riley” was actually a music hall comedian by the name of Arthur Lucan, who made a series of terrible films designed to keep the working classes rolling in the aisles during the post war years. Old Mother Riley had a number of adventures, all of them involving “hilarious” misunderstandings in a similar vein to the Arthur Askey and Will Hay vehicles which were doing the rounds at the same time. The 40s and 50s were lean times for British cinema, with most of the output being consigned to the bin marked “best forgotten”. And Mother Riley Meets The Vampire would have gone the same way, if it wasn’t for the inclusion in its cast of a certain turnip headed old smack addict, whose star had faded to the point of obscurity even then. Yes, rather astonishingly the “vampire” in the title was none other than Bela Lugosi. We all know from Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood that towards the end of his career, cinema’s first Dracula had fallen on hard times, but it takes a cursory viewing of this tripe to realise just how hard those times were. Lugosi gives it all he’s got (which was never a lot), but he can’t hide the pain in his eyes as he hammers the last few nails in the coffin of his long-dead career.
In this film he’s Doctor Van Heussen, a mad scientist nicknamed “The Vampire” by the British press, who spends his time kidnapping young girls (30 before the film has started). And absolutely not connected with this plot strand at all, he also plans to take over the world with an army of robots. So far, he has built… one, which is being shipped over from Ireland.
Meanwhile, Old Mother Riley has just discovered that she has been named heiress in her Uncle Jeremiah’s will, and her inheritance is being shipped over from the Emerald Isle. And to the audience’s horror, we’ve just discovered that this film, which is already beginning to wear out its welcome, is a musical. Yes, even as you scramble for the mute button, everyone in Riley’s shop (including the very young Hattie Jacques and Dandi Nicholls) gives us a rendition of a terrible old singalong with the chorus “I lift up my finger and I say ‘tweet tweet, shush shush, now now, come come’…” (you get the picture).
Of course, thanks to some comedy interference by some sailors, the packages destined for Riley and Van Heussen get switched, and much hilarity ensues. Well, some hilarity. Well, okay, no hilarity ensues. “Vot’s the matter vith me?” splutters Lugosi, as he opens his box to find some old tat. “Haff I gone insane? Vere is my robot? My beautiful robot?”
Putting two and two together, the scientist finds out where the other package went and orders his creation to kidnap Riley. After what seems like hours of running about, the robot fails and ends up getting into a car driven by a drunk (ah, drink driving - a rich mine of laughs which seems to have been overlooked by comedy makers during recent years). Finding out that Riley has a rare blood group, Lugosi then decides to employ her as a housekeeper, Riley immediately discovering that he keeps his kidnapped girls mummified in the basement. The whole thing then deteriorates into an interminable big chase and fight, with Riley, who has run off the call the police, arriving late and missing everything before falling into the sea like a twat.
Some people will tell you that the post war years yielded some neglected and misunderstood gems. This is very true, but Mother Riley Meets The Vampire is not one of them. There is absolutely no reason for sane people to watch this film, apart from morbid curiosity to see Lugosi in the fag-end of his career.


Matthew Coniam said...

You and I view British culture from as opposite a perspective as it is surely possible for two lovers of the same thing to possess.

I followed your link to your review of The Ghost Train and was even more stunned.

I share your love of British horror movies, but just as assuredly I love the music hall tradition, and Askey, Lucan, Hay - geniuses all. Your aggressive contempt for them, and the pride you seem to take in it, horrifies me.
More than this, though, it is the satisfaction with the entertainments of the present implied by the blanket dismissal of those of the past, which is most perplexing.

I love all the stuff about actual British horror films on this site: there we are in accord.

Chris said...

Ah well, if we all liked the same things it would be a very dull world!
Don't assume that cos I HATED this film (with a passion) that I dislike everything from that era, and remember that everything on the site is written with a certain amount of tongue inserted in cheek...