Possums of the Unknown

Mark of the Vampire: written by Guy Endore, Bernard Schubert, John L. Balderson, Tod Browning, H.S. Kraft, and Samuel Ornitz; directed by Tod Browning; starring Lionel Barrymore (Professor), Elizabeth Allan (Irena), Bela Lugosi (Count Mora), Lionel Atwill (Inspector Neumann), Jean Hersholt (Baron Otto), and Henry Wadsworth (Fedor) (1935): Enjoyable, concise (61 minutes!) remake of Browning’s mostly lost silent film, London After Midnight.

Lionel Barrymore clearly has a hoot playing a vampire-fighting professor called in by the police somewhere in Early Hollywood Europe, where none of the accents match, to solve the murder of one man and the harassment by vampires of his daughter and her fiance. Lionel Atwill is his usual sturdy self as the inspector in charge of the case, and Jean Hersholt does some version of a European accent that could be German, could be Russian, could be almost anything. As everyone else in the movie has either American or British accents, it’s a bit anomalous.

Bela Lugosi appears in several scenes, but doesn’t speak until the last one of the movie. There are some nice special effects for the time, and an enjoyable atmosphere of menace and decay. The ending is a humdinger. Also, dig that possum incongruously wandering around a European castle! Maybe he’s looking for the armadillo Browning put in Dracula’s castle in his version of Dracula (1931)! Recommended.

The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy 1931-1951: written and drawn by Chester Gould (Collected 1970): The nostalgia boom of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s led to a lot of comic strips from the 1930’s and 1940’s being collected in hardcover. This is one of those collections.

Dick Tracy‘s Golden Age, which this collection covers, was one of the finest and most popular in the history of dramatic American comic strips, with a readership that may have been up to 70% of the American reading public at its peak.

By the late 1930’s, writer-artist Chester Gould had reached his stylized peak of artistic form. And it’s quite a peak for the dramatic comic strip, one matched perhaps only by Milton Caniff and Harold Gray.

Tracy now fought increasingly grotesque villains with increasingly descriptive names and increasingly horrifying actions. The graphics are amazingly, well, graphic, and this in a collection that actually censors the more violent endings of some villains, including one in which a Nazi spy ends his life impaled on a flag pole waving the American flag. Tracy’s Rogue’s Gallery is a clear influence on Batman’s similarly twisted foes, while Tracy’s use of forensic methods also foreshadows the Batman’s expertise in that area.

The reproduction of these strips is mostly competent, especially later in the run. The large Sunday panels are missing, which means certain key events are referred to but not shown. A serious reader would want to track down some of the excellent contemporary reprint volumes of Dick Tracy, but this is certainly worth picking up used as a sampling of the great detective. The stories are clever, suspenseful, and very entertaining. Recommended.


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