Well, this certainly is a goofy, yet watchable, curiosity. Bela Lugosi apparently made this movie during the period when he was stranded in London with no money after a play he was in failed; he must have thought nobody in America would ever see it, but it was released in 1963 as My Son The Vampire. By then Lugosi had been dead for six years and probably didn’t care about having been in bad B movies. His work with Ed Wood might suggest he didn’t care about it in his last years, either. Oh, but it’s too easy to make jokes about Ed Wood, and anyway, I’m rambling.
Here Lugosi plays a vampire who is also an evil scientist who wants to take over the world. His vampiric tendencies are really just a means to continue his immortal state so he can do his experiments. He eats to live, rather than living to eat. But since his arrival in London the cops have noticed young ladies disappearing, and the latest is a woman who has a map that leads to a uranium mine. That is, of course, the reason Lugosi kidnaps her, because he wants the uranium to build his army of robots for world domination. I’m not sure how it would work out for him to be immortal and also have cancer from radiation exposure, but it’s probably too deep for me to understand seeing as how I’m not a mad scientist.
Unfortunately for him, while having his prototypical robot shipped from wherever the hell he came from, the crate labels are switched and his robot goes to British B-movie favorite Old Mother Riley AKA comedian Arthur Lucan in drag. The vampire and his henchmen manage to program the robot to kidnap Mrs. Riley and bring her to the lab, and she is set to be the vampire’s next victim, but she is too smart for him and figures out what’s going on. I’m glad someone does.
While important to B-movie fans for Lugosi’s involvement, Vampire Over London is even more significant as Lucan’s last appearance as Mother Riley, and as a fine example of British B films in and around the WWII era. Comedians in drag were a popular subgenre both during the war and the struggling years afterwards. They served as a kind of propaganda to lighten people’s spirits and to make a comment upon the difficulties of life at the time. From what I understood it may have softened the blow to have a woman making such comments, and reinforced women’s important role in fighting the war at home.
I can’t explain why the woman who was intended to boost women’s morale needed to be a man, but I do understand that this film paints both Mrs. Riley and the real woman who works as the vampire’s maid as the only people with any sense at all. Also, it is Mother Riley who saves the girl with the map and then chases the crooks with the cops following behind. There’s a bit of class humor, with a recurring gag of an upper-class twit who is so drunk he stops to pick up the robot while the robot is dragging Mrs. Riley along in a sack and then lets the robot drive him home. I have an idea that there is a lot more subtext here in the humor that I don’t understand, not being British or ancient, but fortunately the movie seems to work on multiple levels.
I also can’t explain why this film is so entertaining to me, unless it’s that both Lucan’s and Lugosi’s talents shine through even in a genre of film I understand little about. As they say, there is no accounting for taste. This is on the surface a slapstick movie, and pretty simple, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to see if I can track down some of the many other Mother Riley movies. I especially enjoyed her song and dance number early in the film. Luckily, you can too, since the whole thing is up on archive.org which must mean it’s in the public domain and that I am not hurting anyone by sharing it here. Enjoy this oddity from a way gone era.