Cast & Crew
After his twin brother Elwyn's funeral, Dr. Lloyd Clayton burns all of Elwyn's books and papers on sorcery and the supernatural. Later, Elwyn's helper, hunchback Zolarr, accuses Lloyd of murdering his brother, but Lloyd knows that Elwyn fell from a cliff while he was attacking Lloyd. On the same night that Lloyd's ward, Gayle, announces her engagement to Dr. David Bently, Zolarr exhumes Elwyn's casket and Elwyn emerges as a vampire. Lloyd is mystified by the death of Elwyn's first victim, who appears to have died from extreme anemia, and is shocked by the sudden appearance of Elwyn, who vows revenge against Lloyd for killing him, and announces that he intends to make Gayle his disciple. After Elwyn attacks Gayle in her sleep, she grows gradually weaker and weaker from what appears to be a debilitating illness.
When Lloyd confides in David that he suspects Elwyn's supernatural forces are causing Gayle's illness, David reluctantly accompanies Lloyd to Elwyn's crypt, and there they discover that his coffin is missing. When Lloyd resists his suggestion that he marry Gayle immediately and take her away, David confides to the sheriff his suspicion that Lloyd is slowly murdering Gayle for her inheritance. A local woman, Kate, whose daughter died mysteriously the year before, goes to Gayle's bedside and insists that she wear a cross as a protective measure. She then informs Lloyd that Elwyn is a vampire, and that Lloyd must burn Elwyn in his coffin by daylight in order to stop him. Elwyn sends Zolarr to remove the cross from Gayle's neck, but David catches the hunchback in Gayle's room and chases him out of the house. David is then shocked when he sees Elwyn materialize and realizes that Lloyd was telling the truth.
The sheriff, meanwhile, warns Lloyd to leave town, but he refuses. Later, Zolarr murders Kate after finding her near Elwyn's coffin, and then moves the coffin to Elwyn's house. When a local man sees Elwyn walking away from his latest victim, he assumes it is Lloyd, and forms a vigilante group. While Lloyd goes to confront Elwyn at his house, David tries to delay the mob. A candle is knocked over during a struggle between Lloyd and Zolarr, and the house catches on fire. The mob finally overcomes David and storms over to Elwyn's flaming house, where they see Elwyn and Lloyd locked in mortal combat. By the time Lloyd kills Elwyn, he is surrounded by flames, and both he and his brother die in the pyre.
Melville De Lay
Holbrook N. Todd
Dead Men Walk
The script by Fred Myton clearly borrows heavily from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula as well as Universal Pictures' wildly popular 1931 adaptation starring Bela Lugosi. The interesting twist added to the premise is the notion of having the vampire and the vampire-hunter linked by birth as twins. Good vs. Evil tensions lend a Jekyll and Hyde aspect to the story as well. In a pre-credits sequence, we see a hand grab a book called History of Vampires and throw it in a fireplace. A disembodied head with spooky lighting is superimposed as it intones lines like, "You creatures of the light - how can you say with certainty what does or does not dwell within the limitless ocean of the night?" Such an introduction to "disbelievers" must have seemed quite corny to wartime viewers, a throwback to the early 1930s and to the spoken introduction that Universal Pictures felt was necessary in Frankenstein (1931), but seldom used since. One would think that audience members knew what they were getting into with a picture bearing a title like Dead Men Walk!
The credits are followed by a small-town funeral service, at which Dr. Lloyd Clayton (George Zucco) rises at the invitation of the minister to view the body of his brother, Elwyn Clayton (also Zucco). The town spinster, Kate (Fern Emmett), intrudes on the service and yells, "How can you defile this sacred house with the body of that evil man - that servant of the Devil?" Indeed, Elwyn practiced ancient sorcery and demonology, as Dr. Clayton explains to his niece Gayle (Mary Carlisle) and her fiancé, Dr. David Bently (Nedrick Young). As Lloyd burns his brother's papers, Elwyn's twisted servant Zolarr (Dwight Frye) tries to stop him and tells the Doctor that he knows his Master's death (via an off-screen plunge from a cliff) was not accidental, but deliberate murder. Later, Lloyd is even more shocked by the appearance of Elwyn himself, revived by Black Magic and now a vampire. "You'll know that I am no intangible figment of your imagination when you feel the weight of my hatred," Elwyn snarls, "Your life will be a torment - I'll strip you of everything you hold dear." Elwyn plans to drain the life from Gayle and Dr. Clayton is stymied in his attempts at vampire-hunting when David accuses him of local murders and gathers the townsfolk against him.
Dead Men Walk awkwardly plays with vampire lore; it is difficult to imagine, for example, why regeneration by Black Magic would result in blood-sucking as a side effect of becoming undead. George Zucco convinces as two separate but related personalities, although his Elwyn comes off better as a twisted sorcerer than as a Dracula-like figure. His performance is also undercut by the haste with which these Poverty Row quickies were shot; in both of the scenes in which Elwyn rises from his coffin, Zucco visibly struggles to get to his feet, something no self-respecting vampire should ever do. In addition to a lack of retakes, the low budget of the film takes its toll on the music score by Leo Erdody. There are a few original cues consisting of an odd mix of violin, flute and organ, but they are reused to the point of tedium and often during inappropriate scenes.
Dead Men Walk was the final film appearance of female lead Mary Carlisle. The blonde, blue-eyed Carlisle started in films in 1930, was named as a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1932 and can be seen in bit parts in several prestigious MGM films, including Grand Hotel (1932). She graduated to leading roles at studios such as Paramount, RKO and Columbia, and made a particular mark as the straight romantic interest or dutiful daughter in comedies such as College Humor (1933) with Jack Oakie, Handy Andy (1934) with Will Rogers, Kentucky Kernels (1934) starring Wheeler and Woolsey, and It's in the Air (1935) with Jack Benny. Her career did not progress in the direction she wanted, however, and by the early 1940s Carlisle found herself at low-budget studios like PRC and Republic Pictures. She retired shortly after marrying actor James Blakeley, who went on to become a production executive at Twentieth-Century Fox Television.
In an interview (in Filmfax magazine No. 16, August 1989), Carlisle discussed the differences between PRC and the major studios: "There was little time for lighting and rehearsing. Everything was different. On an A picture, a designer designs the wardrobe. At PRC, we'd go to wardrobe and pick out something that had already been worn two or three times on other pictures. ...It was the difference between a Rolls Royce and a Ford. We'd shoot a picture at PRC in anywhere from ten days to two weeks. They were quickie B's." Carlisle added, "I do remember that George Zucco couldn't have been nicer."
The stage-trained George Zucco had become largely typecast as a mad scientist-type by the early 1940s, despite his earlier supporting roles in such prestigious pictures as After the Thin Man (1936), Marie Antoinette (1938), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939, as Moriarty), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Zucco was a favorite at PRC, where his other horror titles included The Mad Monster (1942) with Glenn Strange, The Black Raven (1943), Fog Island (1945), and The Flying Serpent (1946).
Producer: Sigmund Neufeld
Director: Sam Newfield
Screenplay: Fred Myton
Cinematography: Jack Greenhalgh
Makeup: Harry Ross
Music: Leo Erdody
Film Editing: Holbrook N. Todd
Cast: George Zucco (Dr. Lloyd Clayton/Dr. Elwyn Clayton), Mary Carlisle (Gayle Clayton), Nedrick Young (Dr. David Bently), Dwight Frye (Zolarr), Fern Emmett (Kate), Robert Strange (Wilkins [Harper, in credits]), Hal Price (Sheriff), Sam Flint (Minister)
by John M. Miller