Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Bela Lugosi in Living Color

When I was a child, my mental image of Bela Lugosi was in black and white.

He was Dracula even though others had portrayed Dracula on the big screen. Lugosi was the embodiment of Dracula with his thick Hungarian accent. The others who played Dracula all imitated Lugosi to one extent or another, and few could come close to his natural style.

When I got older, my image of Lugosi became more defined, thanks to the biopic "Ed Wood" about the filmmaker whose mediocre efforts gave Lugosi's career a final chance. That, too, was in black and white — but that was by choice.

Most of Lugosi's movies were in black and white, but that was a choice that was driven by economics. Color was simply too expensive for many filmmakers in the '30s, '40s and '50s when Lugosi was in demand.

That was about the only thing that made "Scared to Death," which premiered on this day in 1947, noteworthy. It is the only feature–length movie on Lugosi's resume that was filmed in color. The credits proudly proclaimed that the movie had been filmed in "natural color," but it didn't look terribly natural to me. It was a cheap process called Cinecolor.

The premise, such as it was, was that a young woman had been literally frightened to death, and the movie (which ran slightly more than an hour) was devoted to the investigation into how this could have happened.

Aside from the fact that it was in color, "Scared to Death" could have been an Ed Wood movie. It had the same wooden acting and the same bad dialogue, presented as if it were a bad junior high film production of an already bad play. The only thing it lacked was one of Wood's cheesy titles — although the title that was used came pretty close.

Even the color was suitable for an Ed Wood movie. It was cheap and unnatural.

"Scared to Death" further resembled an Ed Wood movie in the sense that it used every outlandish plot device imaginable — including having Lugosi's colleague played by Angelo Rossitto, a three–foot actor whose character had other challenges besides his stature.

"My little friend Indigo is deaf and dumb; he cannot hear and he cannot speak but reads the lips," Lugosi's character explained. "And I will advise you to say nothing to annoy him for his temper is as short as he is."

Most of the plot developments were contrived and only loosely served their purposes — such as they were.

My advice? Do yourself a favor and watch one of Lugosi's black–and–white movies. Just about any of them would be better than "Scared to Death."

Even one of Ed Wood's movies.

Well, that's a tough call ...