So today I have another movie from the Legends Of Horror box set and I have to admit, this has the potential to be my favorite box set from Mill Creek. After all, some of the people involved in these movies are true icons in the movie industry. Today’s movie happens to be one of Bela Lugosi’s lesser known works. So let’s see what this movie has to offer as I watch Bowery At Midnight.
The plot: A man named Fingers Dolan escapes from prison and after knocking out a motorist and stealing his clothes, makes his way to New York City. When he gets there, he ducks out of site of a police officer and overhears two people talking about the Bowery Friendly Mission, a soup kitchen where the owner doesn’t ask any questions about the people served there. Fingers goes there and gets some soup but after he is finished, the owner, Karl Wagner, invites him to his office to smoke a cigar. Inside his office, Wagner tells Fingers he knows who he is and offers him a job in the gang that he runs. Meanwhile, in a secret basement, one of Wagner’s men named Stratton is delivering a package to Dr. Brooks. When Stratton heads back upstairs, he sees Fingers talking to Wagner and, recognizing his friend, begins to talk to him. Fingers agrees to join Brenner’s gang and, along with Wagner and Stratton, heads to a jewelry store to open the safe but after opening the safe, Wagner has Stratton kill Fingers. Later, Stratton is talking with Brooks and when Brooks hears about Fingers being killed, he gets upset, stating that he was supposed to work on the dead bodies. Stratton worries about Wagner possibly double crossing him and says he might follow Wagner to see where he goes during the day, unaware that Wagner is watching him via a monitor in his office. The next morning, Wagner, whose is really Professor Brenner, gives his wife a strand of pearls that he stole from the jewelry store while at the store, the owner opens the safe to discover Fingers’ body inside. Police Captain Mitchel says that the rash of crimes being committed is done by a homicidal maniac, as the body of one of the crooks has been found at each scene. Meanwhile, Brenner is teaching his psychology class and discussing paranoid delusions with his students. That night, two police officers are finishing their shift and heading towards a diner to eat when they see a man, Frankie Mills, shooting into a building. A brief gunfight starts and the crook injures one of the cops but manages to get away. Frankie heads to the Friendly Mission and gets his wound bandaged by Judy, who serves as a nurse there. When the police start to search the mission, Frankie hides in Brenner’s office and Brenner smiles upon seeing him and goes to get rid of the police. After they leave, Brenner has Frankie head down to the basement with him and introduces him to Stratton and Brooks. Meanwhile, Judy goes home and finds her boyfriend Richard, who happens to be in Brenner’s class, waiting for her. Richard complains to Judy about her spending all of her time at the mission but she says it is rewarding to help people. The next day in class, Richard talks to Brenner about changing the topic of his paper, saying he wants to try living in someone else’s shoes for a while. Later, Frankie Mills heads out disguised as a blind man and when he stops in front of a jewelry store, he nods to Brenner and Stratton, who are on a nearby roof, and Brenner pushes Stratton off the roof. As the crowd gathers around Stratton’s body, Frankie uses the distraction to rob the store. Later that night, Richard, dressed like a tramp, shows up at the mission, surprising Judy when she sees him. When Richard sees Brenner leaving his office, he greets him but Brenner pretends not to know him. Richard follows Brenner to his office and says that Brenner must be there to research people like he is and Brenner admits he is right. Brenner shows Richard the secret basement and introduces him to Frankie and Brooks. Richard gets upset at what Brenner is telling him and tries to leave but Frankie shoots him and Brenner tells Brooks that Richard’s body is his. As Brenner and Frankie leave, Brooks heads to another room and opens a door to another cellar, where he keeps the bodies of Brenner’s former henchmen that he reanimated. The next day, the police show up at Brenner’s office to ask him about Richard’s disappearance but his secretary says he isn’t home and give him his home address. After they leave, Brenner walks out of his office and his secretary, not realizing he was there, tells him about the police and sending them to his house. At the Brenner house, the two detectives, Pete Crawford and his partner Tompson, speak with Mrs. Brenner. Noticing a picture of Brenner on the table, Pete recognizes him as Wagner and tells Brenner’s wife about his suspicions concerning the mission and Brenner. Mrs. Brenner realizes that the police are telling the truth and agrees to go to the station with them but as she goes to get her coat, Brenner, who was hiding in their room and overheard everything, kills her and leaves her in the closet. At the mission, Judy sees Brooks coming out of Brenner’s secret office and asks him what he is doing there. Brooks asks her to go pick up a prescription for him and when she says she will if he shows her what is going on, he reluctantly agrees. Judy gives the prescription to one of the tramps to fill then heads back to the office and Brooks takes her down to the basement. When she sees the graves, including one for Richard, she is horrified by what happened. Meanwhile, Brenner sneaks into the basement through a hidden door and heads up to his office to get his papers. Judy exits the basement and Brenner is surprised to see her and takes her back to the basement, where he chastises Brooks for allowing Judy down there. Brenner goes back to his office to finish getting his papers but hears the police breaking into his outer office. Brenner heads down to the basement and tells Frankie they need to leave through the hidden exit but as Frankie opens the door out to the alley, the police who are keeping watch see him and shoot him. Trapped in the basement, Brooks tells Brenner he has a way out for him and opens up one of the graves to show a secret passage but as Brenner descends down the passage, he is attacked by all of the reanimated dead bodies. Judy shows the police down to the basement and they see what happened to Brenner, while Judy is shocked to see Richard down there. Some time later, Richard, apparently fully revived, is lying in bed and talking with Judy about their upcoming marriage and future plans.
Bowery At Midnight met with mixed to negative results from the critics, holding a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there wasn’t a critical consensus on the site, the critics seemed to differ on finding it some silly fun or being completely boring. After filming The Corpse Vanishes, Monogram Pictures announced two more films starring Bela Lugosi, both to be released in 1942 as well, but the titles were changed from Night Of Horror and Torment to Bowery At Midnight and The Gorilla Strikes (which was later changed to The Ape Man).
This was a decent movie, albeit a little slow in it’s pacing. The acting was good, with Bela Lugosi doing a good job in his dual role of Brenner/Wagner. The story was interesting but it left off a lot of information, such as what exactly Brooks was doing with the bodies or how Richard was completely brought back to life. The thing I liked the most about this was you basically are left wondering which persona was the real one; Brenner or Wagner. There wasn’t really any special effects and some of the scenes, such as the shootout between Frankie and the cops, looked somewhat jumpy, similar to how some old silent pictures were shot. A short, fun movie that is worth giving a chance.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5