Directed by Wallace Fox
Produced by Sam Katzman & Jack Dietz
Story & Screenplay by Harvey Gates, Sam Robins & Gerald Schnitzer
Photography: Arthur Reed
Film Editor: Robert Golden
Cast: Bela Lugosi (Dr. Lorenz), Luana Walters (Patricia Hunter), Tristram Coffin (Dr. Foster), Elizabeth Russell (Countess Lorenz), Minerva Urecal (Fagah), Angelo Rossitto (Toby), Frank Moran (Angel), Vince Barnett (Sandy), Kenneth Harlan (Editor Keenan), George Eldredge (Mike), Joan Barclay (Alice Wentworth), Gwen Kenyon (Peggy), Sam Katzman
No matter where you look these days, the United States is falling apart, so it seems like the perfect time for The Corpse Vanishes (1942). One of Bela Lugosi’s Monogram Nine, its glorious nonsense is a nice alternative to the hideous, venomous nonsense just oozing out of every pore of our society.
Brides are collapsing at the alter, then they disappear during their ambulance ride. A spunky girl reporter (the lovely and tragic Luana Walters) discovers that all the unfortunate brides wore the same odd-smelling orchid, which leads her to Dr. George Lorenz (Lugosi), an authority on orchids — and a mad scientist who’s using the young girls to create a serum to keep his wife, Countess Lorenz (Elizabeth Russell), young and beautiful.
Toss in a family of freaks that lives in Lugosi’s basement, and the fact that Lugosi and Russell sleep in his-and-hers coffins, and you’ve got The Corpse Vanishes. It’s not a scary movie, but it has a real creepiness about it, thanks to its overall air of extreme weirdness and dread — along with a typically committed performance from Lugosi. As crazy as it may sound, this is one of the more coherent and logical of Lugosi’s Monogram Nine.
Speaking of being coherent, a guy once told me he thought the brides were alive, not dead. Well, the title is The Corpse Vanishes, and when Luana Walters finds them, they’re in drawers like the morgue, so I stick to the dead idea. Besides, if they aren’t dead, why does Lugosi have to keep getting more of ’em?
Dr. George Lorenz (Bela Lugosi): “You are beautiful. And I shall always keep you that way.”
Since every copy of The Corpse Vanishes you see is a varying degree of bad (warning: the Blu-Ray is not an upgrade), it’s hard to get much of an idea of what Arthur Reed’s camerawork looks like. It’s hurried, for sure — shooting began in early March, and the picture was in theaters the week in May. Reed spent his entire career shooting pictures for tiny little studios like Tiffany, Argosy and Cameo — and places we’ve heard of like PRC and Monogram. Wonder what the longest schedule he ever had was? If it was more than two weeks, I’d be surprised.
Director Wallace Fox toiled on Poverty Row a lot, too, though he worked for Universal, RKO and Columbia from time to time. He started out at the end of the silents, making cheap Westerns. That continued with talkies, starring guys like Tom Tyler, Jack Randall, Grant Kirby, Tex Ritter and William Elliott. Powdersmoke Range (1935) with Harry Carey and Hoot Gibson is a good one. In the 40s, came the East Side Kids and Bela Lugosi pictures. Pillow Of Death (1945) with Lon Chaney, Jr. is part of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series. He made his way to TV in the 50s, and after a 1954 episode of Annie Oakley, he retired.
The producer was one of my heroes, the great Sam Katzman, who was cranking out glorious junk like this by the train car load. He produced seven movies in 1942; Lugosi was in three of them.
So, with the world a big fat ball of despair, The Corpse Vanishes provides 64 minutes or rather grim, delirious fun. And an escape from a time that sure can use some escaping from. For that, Mr. Fox, Mr. Lugosi, Ms. Walters and Mr. Katzman, I can’t thank you enough.