The Corpse Vanishes
the corpse vanishes | wallace fox | harvey gates | bela lugosi | luana walters | tristam coffin | sam robins | gerald schnitzer | sci-fi | mad scientist | old dark house | united states | elizabeth russell | minerva urecal | angelo rossitto | joan barclay | kenneth harlan
Film: The Corpse Vanishes
Director: Wallace Fox
Writer: Harvey Gates
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters and Tristam Coffin
This is a movie that I felt like I heard the title but didn’t know what it was about. Coming in, I saw this another one starring Bela Lugosi that I hadn’t seen so I was excited to knock it off the list. This was decided on due to it being from 1942 as I make my Trek through the Twos. Upon looking through some other lists saved on my phone, this was covered on a podcast at one point. I feel like it was briefly and most likely as part of Horror in the House of Sammons as they went through their Colossal Collection.
Synopsis: a scientist, aided by an elderly woman and her two sons, kills virginal brides, steals their bodies and extracts gland fluid to keep his ancient wife alive and young.
Now I’ll be honest, coming in I didn’t read the synopsis. We jump right in with a young woman getting married. She faints and a doctor declares her dead. As the body is taken out, we see Dr. George Lorenz (Lugosi) in a car. The body is put in his and taken. We learn that this isn’t the first time it has happened. This is relayed through newspaper headlines. There is also a tramp that was paid a few dollars to be the scapegoat.
The film then shifts to Alice Wentworth (Joan Barclay) with her mother, Mrs. Wentworth (Gladys Faye). They seek out the district attorney, played by Eddie Kane. Alice is marrying Dwight and her mother wants to ensure she is protected. To put her fears at ease, the DA confirms that there will be police officers surrounding the church to keep her safe.
Catching wind of this is Keenan (Kenneth Harlan) who is the editor at the newspaper. He assigns Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) and a photographer to cover the event. They are hoping that the killer strikes again or maybe they will be captured so he secures invites for this duo.
It is at this wedding we see a flower is brought to Alice. It is an orchid with an odd smell. At the altar, she passes out just like the others. Pat ends up with the flower and notices that it isn’t a normal orchid. It makes her faint and she has found the first clue. She takes it to a botanist who puts her on the trail of Dr. Lorenz. She takes a train to seek him out.
After Alice is knocked out, we see a diversion is done and Dr. Lorenz ends up with her body. He takes it to his estate. It is there that he works with Fagah (Minerva Urecal) and her two sons. One is Toby (Angelo Rossitto) who is a dwarf and the other is Angel (Frank Moran). The latter is strong and there is something off about him. Dr. Lorenz straps Alice down and takes something from her neck. He uses this on his wife, Countess Lorenz (Elizabeth Russell). She is old and not well. That is until she is given the injection by her husband. It appears that all the missing brides are here.
Pat’s train arrives and she tries to find a ride to Dr. Lorenz’ place. She asks a taxi and he refuses to take her. She moves to asking Angel and Toby, but they refuse. She hitches a ride with them. They discover she is there and kick her off. It is along the road that she meets Dr. Foster (Tristram Coffin). He agrees to take her as this doctor works along with Dr. Lorenz. There the countess doesn’t want this woman to stay. Dr. Lorenz sees an opportunity though. That night is restless for Pat as she looks for the truth. Dr. Lorenz is limited in his time to silence this newspaper reporter as well as to keep his wife in the state she is in.
That is where I’ll leave my recap for the movie as well as introducing the characters. Where I want to start is that this is an interesting concept. We are combining a couple different subgenres together here. At the heart of this, we get a mad scientist movie. Dr. Lorenz wants to keep his wife young. What is interesting there is that she seems to be quite a bit older. This movie has a low runtime. I think that hurts because I want to know more about their dynamic. I could see him falling for her. Her being rich and him being a mad scientist, he could work without the worry of money. This could explain wanting to keep her young. That and her being vain. A bit of backstory there would deepen this for me.
With that out of the way, I like that we have this evil mad scientist. Lugosi does a good job in the role. I think that he plays a better villain than a hero. Part of this is his accent, I won’t lie. This doesn’t go into what they’re doing or what they’re taking from these young women. I don’t necessarily need that. This is early into cinema and being one of the first to explore this, which allows them to not need to go in depth. I am still curious though. This idea of taking youth and using it is explored with things like vampires. I wouldn’t be shocked to see that this is borrowing the idea from Elizabeth Bathory. Makes me wonder if this is another early take on that, just being a bit more subdued. It would also seem that this flower has never been left behind until what happens to Alice. That works for me as well. Before moving from this, I should say that Lugosi is good here and I like this character.
Where I’ll go next is that I like our hero being Pat. She is a newspaper woman. I think that Walters’ portrayal works here. I’m shocked to see this early into cinema having a strong woman like we do. It does shift over to Dr. Foster needing to save her. I can still work with this though. It plays into what is happening with the movie. Pat is still doing the investigation. She is struggling to find someone to believe her. The only issue I have with her is that she falls in love with Dr. Foster and it feels too fast to me. It was a different time and I understand why.
The last bit I’ll go into will also deal with the setting. When Pat and Dr. Foster go to Dr. Lorenz’ estate, we get a bit of the ‘old dark house’. I love this idea. There are secret passages and tunnels. I knew they were doing this the moment that Pat is shown to a room. It is also storming that first night, forcing these two characters to stay there. It is plot convenience, but I get it. I’m just a fan of ‘old dark house’ movies and what comes with it.
I’ve fleshed out everything I can for the story as well as some of the other parts. I’m going to lump the rest here with the filmmaking. I’d say that the rest of the acting was good. Coffin was fine as the sidekick to Pat. Russell is solid as Countess Lorenz. We don’t get a lot of her, but I like that she is more of a villain than her husband. She seems bloodthirsty at times and wants Dr. Lorenz to do more. That was something I wasn’t expecting to be honest. I thought that Urecal, Rossitto, Moran and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed. I would also say the cinematography was fine here. It didn’t stand out but fit the era. The soundtrack was much of the same. It didn’t stand out, but it also didn’t do anything hinder the movie.
In conclusion, I thought that this was an interesting enough movie. We have a solid cast led by Lugosi. I’d even put Walters up there with him as well. There is a blend that I like of a newspaper reporter trying to solve these crimes with a mad scientist and even a bit of the ‘old dark house’. I like having a strong female hero this early in cinema with Pat, even though it does get away from that late. This was well made. I had no issues there. With that said, this is an above average movie. If they added a bit more, I think that this could have better one of the stronger movies from this era.
My Rating: 7 out of 10