Monday, January 21, 2013

Movie Monday: The Boogie Man Will Get You

This week's Movie Monday is the Karloff/Lorre horror/comedy The Boogie Man Will Get You!

I had heard of this movie but never seen it, so when TCM ran it one afternoon, I moved my day around to watch it (TCM is pretty much the only channel that I watch "live"): 
I didn't know much about this movie going in, but I couldn't pass up the Karloff/Lorre combination. At the same time, the fact that this film is (relatively) obscure made me think it wasn't all that great--after all, if it was a horror/comedy classic on par with, say, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, there'd be all sorts of DVD/Blu-Ray editions of it available.

Anyway, the film opens (and takes place entirely) in a small town, where Prof. Nathaniel Billings (Karloff) owns a small in, which he has put up for sale, not being able to keep up with the mortgage. Living there with him is his dottie housekeeper Amelia (Maude Eburne) and weirdo Ebenezer (George McKay).

A stranger arrives, interested in the property. It's a nice lady named Winnie Layden (played by Jeff--yes, Jeff--Donnell), who wants to turn the place into a hotel. She seems not a whit concerned with how dilapidated the inn is, and is ready to write a check. Billings is thrilled, but mentions there is one small hitch in selling the place: that he be allowed to stay there and continue his...experiments:
Yes, of course, Billings is a Mad Scientist, who has filled the inn's basement with all sorts of equipment picked up at a Frankenstein Yard Sale. In the opening scene, we see Billigs and one of his guinea pigs, who promptly dies after Billings turns on the contraption the guy has been placed in. Billings seems sweet if spacey; but he seems not to even give it a second thought that he's just murdered someone!

Winnie's ex-husband Bill (Larry Parks) arrives, and is against the sale. Winnie doesn't seem to care, so Bill decides to stay at the inn for a couple of days to see if he can change his ex-wife's mind. That night, Bill finds the dead body in the basement, reporting it to the town's Mayor/Coroner/Notary Public (and a few other things), Dr. Arthur Lorentz, played by Lorre:
As weird as Billings is, Lorentz is weirder: in addition to carrying cats around in his jacket pockets, Lorentz has a bit of a long-standing adversarial relationship with Billings. But when he learns what's going on, he wants in on the racket! They at first want to experiment on Bill (I'd be for that), but when that doesn't work out, they try out a traveling salesman (Maxie Rosenbloom):
There's a whole lot of running around, pratfalls, and other shenanigans when Karloff and Lorre aren't on screen. None of it particularly funny, or interesting; luckily our two horror titans do get a fair amount of screen time. Lorre in particular is great; he's such an odd figure to be found in a Norman Rockwell-esque small town that you wonder how he ended up here. (Indeed, the town seems to be a magnet for weirdos, in addition to Billings, the traveling salesman, an escaped Italian saboteur named "Jo-Jo" wanders by, with plans to steal Billings' equipment)

Anyway, the cops are finally called, and we find out that Billings has numerous victims piled up in the basement (all of them traveling salesmen--"They seem so lonely", Billings muses)! But it turns out that none of them are dead, just in suspended animation. Billings' dream to create an army of supermen (to aid in the war effort) was a tad misguided, you might say.

The cops drop the murder charges, but decide to send the everyone involved to the nearest sanitarium. No worries, Lorentz assures Billings, he's on the hospital's board! And with that, our wacky little story concludes.

Even at a brisk 66 minutes, The Boogie Man Will Get You wears out it's welcome. Karloff and Lorre and clearly enjoying themselves, and their scenes are a lot of fun. Lorre keeps bugging out his eyes at what Billings has been doing, then quickly goes along with it. In his black frock coat, Lorre looks great, like some weird Riverboat Gambler version of Death.

But the rest of the movie is so silly and uninspired that it leaves all the heavy lifting to Boris and Peter, so when they're off screen the movie pretty much grinds to a halt. There are some nice and/or unusual bits--at one point the housekeeper Amelia takes a walk right into a wall; a nice bit of slapstick. Also, it's rare to see a main female movie character be divorced--sure, her and her husband seem to spend a lot of time together, so it's like they are still in a Production Code-approved capital-M Marriage, but it's an odd little detail.

Basically, if you're a fan Karloff and Lorre, The Boogie Man Will Get You is fun. The gleam in their eyes is infectious, and even when the movie is mediocre, it's a blast watching two masters at work.

Post Script: I didn't mean to cover two Peter Lorre movies in a row, it just worked out that way. We all could do a lot worse!

(Thanks to Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension for the stills!)


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