My Son, the Vampire (1952)

Genres - Horror, Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Horror Comedy  |   Release Date - Jul 1, 1952 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 72 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Arthur Lucan (1885-1954) was a star of provincial music halls for 40 years, mostly based on his portrayal of "Old Mother Riley," a cantankerous elderly Irish char woman, partnered for most of that time with his wife Kitty McShane. Beginning in 1937, they also starred in a string of low-budget comedy films built around the act, made principally for audiences in the provinces. Old Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (originally titled Vampire Over London) was the last of Lucan's movies, and the only one ever to receive an international release, albeit long after the fact, mostly by virtue of the presence of Bela Lugosi in the role of "the Vampire."

By the time it was made, Lucan and McShane had divorced, and this was the only one of his movies in which the actor did not work with her, so it's not really fully representative of their act -- but the Irish/ethnic music hall humor is there in the dialogue, and the casting and credits are fascinating, as is the ambience. For starters, this is a musical, sort of -- there is a break for a production number early in the picture, in the middle of the comic dialogue between Mrs. Riley and her exasperated landlord. It's not much of a production number, but it is pretty starting nonetheless. As to casting and performances, the whole film is a sort of adventure, though perhaps not one that anyone not attuned in the least to horror movies, British pictures, or English popular entertainment of the pre-1960s would care to go on. Lucan's humor would be an acquired taste even for people so attuned, but on another level, watching him, one does see the precursor to such characters as Albert Steptoe (Wilfred Brambell) of the British television series Steptoe & Son which was, in turn, the source for the American series Sanford & Son, so in a way we're watching an ancestor of Redd Foxx's Fred Sanford at work. And in terms of purely British pop culture, Dandy Nichols (later the spouse of Warren Mitchell's Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part, and the model for Jean Stapleton's Edith Bunker) is here, as well. And Dora Bryan, Philip Leaver, Judith Furse, Hattie Jacques, David Hurst, Bill Shine, and Charles Lloyd Pack are all here, getting a paycheck (for good work) in between performances in better movies (by Laurence Olivier, Michael Powell, Carol Reed et al). (As to better filmmakers, writer Val Valentine clearly knew what he was doing when he named the vampire's servant "Hitchcock," and had him played for laughs by Ian Wilson, a veteran of the Boulting brothers' movies). Producer/director John Gilling, working here for Renown Films (a misnomer for a production company if there ever was one) would go on to do some successful horror movies in the years to come, but nobody would guess this from anything we see here. And Bela Lugosi, clearly in his declining years (he looked far better in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Return of the Vampire) approaches his role with a trace of humor, a slight twinkle in his eye, which tells us that he was at least having a good time working.

This was the only one of Arthur Lucan's movies to see a US release, and that didn't happen until 11 years after its UK premiere. Originally issued over there as Vampire Over London, the picture was re-titled Old Mother Riley Meets The Vampire in order to capitalize on Lucan's act, even though his character is never referred to in that way in the picture, nor is his daughter (McShane) present in any form. Columbia Pictures released the movie in America in 1963 as My Son, The Vampire as a way of capitalizing on the Allen Sherman comedy albums of the period ("My Son, The Folk Singer," "My Son, The Celebrity" etc.), which were top-sellers at the time -- the American credits feature goofy early 1960s-style cartoon graphics and a mock-horror song sung in a parody of Lugosi's accent, a la "The Monster Mash," which was also a hit a little before the release of this movie in the United States.