Mark of the Vampire
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Film archivists and scholars are still out there trying to track down Tod Browning's 1927 silent thriller, London After Midnight, a film long reputed to be "lost," but until that one shows up in someone's basement in Budapest or an equally unlikely place, you should check out Mark of the Vampire - Browning's almost scene for scene remake from 1935. Set in a small Czechoslovakian village, Mark of the Vampire teams up Lionel Barrymore (as a professor of demonology) and Lionel Atwill (as a police inspector) for a murder investigation which appears to be the work of vampires. The scene of the crime is an eerie castle previously owned by the late Count Mora (Bela Lugosi), who was rumored to have murdered his own daughter (Carroll Borland) before committing suicide. Ever since that tragedy, the villagers have noticed strange sights and sounds in the vicinity of the Count's estate, leading everyone to suspect that the place is haunted.
The working title for Mark of the Vampire was Vampires of Prague but it's obvious from the first scene that we're deep in Transylvania territory and not the capitol of the Czech Republic. The influence of Browning's previous ode to the undead - Dracula (1931) - is felt in every scene, from the vampire mythology to the cobweb-covered crypts to the use of Bela Lugosi as the suspected bloodsucker. But Browning also adds some new twists like the introduction of a female vampire named Luna. Intimations of an incestuous relationship between Luna and Count Mora, however, proved to be too much for MGM, which had the references removed from the script. There is also that surprise ending which some horror fans feel negates the supernatural qualities of the film. What most everyone agrees on, however, is the haunting, black and white cinematography of James Wong Howe, which glides over gypsy encampments, foggy graveyards, and rat-infested tombs, as if airborne. The makeup effects are equally superb and you won't soon forget Carroll Borland's startling first appearance in the film or her strange pallid face in the moonlight.
Bill Tuttle, the makeup artist on the film, later admitted in The Films of Bela Lugosi by Richard Bojarski, "The crew and I didn't like to work for director Tod Browning. We would try to escape being assigned to one of his productions because he would overwork us until we were ready to drop from exhaustion...he was ruthless. He was determined to get everything he could on film. If the crew didn't do something right, Browning would grumble: 'Mr. Chaney would have done it better.' He was hard to please. I remember he gave the special effects men a hard time because they weren't working the mechanical bats properly. Though he didn't drive his actors as hard, he gave Lionel Barrymore a difficult time during a scene. Lugosi's performance, however, satisfied Browning."
Lugosi was also greatly admired by his co-star, a young Berkeley drama student named Carroll Borland who was making her film debut. Borland had actually met Lugosi a few years earlier when she showed him a Dracula sequel she had written entitled Countess Dracula. Lugosi was impressed and eventually recruited her for his leading lady in a California touring company of Dracula. By sheer coincidence, Borland later answered a casting call ad for Mark of the Vampire in the newspaper without being aware of Lugosi's involvement in it. Once the studio heads saw her screen test which showcased her unique, synchronized movements as the vampire - gestures which were identical to Lugosi's - she won the role without anyone realizing she had been Lugosi's protege.
During the filming of Mark of the Vampire, an amusing incident involving Lugosi and Borland occurred off the set. According to Arthur Lennig in The Count: The Live and Films of Bela "Dracula" Lugosi: "At the end of each working day Bela's wife, Lillian, would pick them up in the car. They would merely change their clothes and ride home without removing their makeup. Lugosi had a large bullet hole on the side of his temple; and Carroll had her hair pasted down. Driving down Sunset Boulevard, Bela in the front seat and Carroll in the back, the car stopped at a light. Bela turned to say something to her, and she leaned forward. Next to them, driving a truck full of chickens, was a farmer. He took one look at the two vampires leaning close to each other, with their eye shadow, bullet hole, pasted-down hair, and white faces, and did the most perfect double take Carroll had ever seen and promptly drove up on the sidewalk!"
Producer: E.J. Mannix
Director: Tod Browning
Screenplay: Guy Endore, Bernard Schubert
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Costume Design: Adrian
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Original Music: Herbert Stothart, Edward Ward
Cast: Lionel Barrymore (Prof. Zelen), Bela Lugosi (Count Mora), Elizabeth Allan (Irena Borotyn), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Neumann), Carroll Borland (Luna Mora), Jean Hersholt (Baron Otto von Zinden), Donald Meek (Dr. Doskil), Henry Wadsworth (Fedor Vincente).
BW-61m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford