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The Corpse Vanishes
cast: Bela Lugosi, Tris Coffin, Luana Walters, Angelo

director: Wallace Fox

63 minutes (PG) 1942
Network DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
It is very tempting to look on Bela Lugosi as the most one-dimensional of all screen icons, but it would be wrong. Throughout his career he was more than capable of giving convincingly naturalistic performances. The man was a quality actor, albeit with a strong native accent (but that has never hurt Sean Connery), and if he is guilty of overacting, then it is because this sort of projection is required from stage actors. Unfortunately for Lugosi, incompetent directors also required it of him. Another acting anomaly occurs when Lugosi (as Dr Lorenz) is called upon to use a syringe (which happens frequently in this movie) as he seems strangely self-conscious on some occasions, while at other times he handle it like a professional medical man. Despite outward appearances, one suspects that he was not a student of Stanislavski, and that this was merely a symptom of the demons that were already dragging him towards Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Now, to the plot... You're not going to believe it, but here goes. It took three writers to produce this, you know. Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) wants to be an investigative reporter (and for someone who sees themselves as hardboiled, she sure does faint a lot), but her boss has stuck her with society features, which means that she has to cover weddings. However, lots of brides have been dying at the altar, only to have their corpses vanish before they get to the morgue. Patricia begins to pick up clues, and is soon on her way to Dr Lonenz's mansion. It has to be said, though, that a drunken tree could crack this case.

The doctor's wife, the countess (Elizabeth Russell) is around eighty and needs glandular injections from young women to keep herself beautiful. Lorenz is an accomplished orchid breeder, so he sends a poisoned orchid to the brides when they are at the church (using his own hybrid, for which he is famous in horticultural circles, clue-hunters!), and then, when they drop dead, makes sure to arrive at the church with his own hearse before the official one has had time to get there.

Occasionally he will pay a wino to help carry to body out of the church, although he has ample assistance back at his mansion. His extended family consists of a crone (Minerva Urecal) and her two sons; a brute of an imbecile called Angel (Frank Moran), and a dwarf called Toby (played by the singularly-named Angelo). There is also a conventional male sidekick who seems somewhat under-used and out-of-place in this menagerie.

When Patricia is unable to hitch a lift to Lorenz's place on a truck that is taking a coffin up to it, she gets a lift from the love interest, the innocent Dr Foster (seriously - and played by the delightfully named Tris Coffin) who is working with Lonenz. It then just gets weirder and weirder - organs, secret passages, coffins for beds and so on. It sounds more interesting than it is, though. The film may be only an hour long, but don't let that put you off - it feels as if it goes on for much longer.

The Corpse Vanishes was shot in a hurry and on a tiny budget, and it shows. Many of the outdoor scenes were filmed just after a rainstorm, and the shiny, wet roads were spliced through the film with no thought of continuity. That is a minor flaw compared to the cavalier disregard shown for whether it was day or night. If the DVD had been taken from a better quality of print then this might have proved to be a major problem, but Network manages to get away with it here. Another 'coincidence' is the fact that the antechamber of the church has exactly the same architecture as the guest bedroom in Lorenz's mansion, something that is amplified by having the camera placed in the same spot on both occasions.

It's a curious little film, and it is not without its charm. Just don't watch it with high expectations.

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