Time for another dose of Commander Cody (George Wallace) and his battle against The Radar Men from the Moon. When we last left Cody and his buddies they were on the moon and in some serious peril as molten rock oozed toward them. Luckily the heroes are able to escape to their rocket and return to earth. Once there Cody and his pals put their heads together to determine how to stop the radar men from completing their earthbound plans. This all climaxes to a scene where Cody drives his car over a booby-trapped bridge that explodes under him. Hence the title of this episode – The Bridge of Death.
In the feature film, Doctor George Lorenz is evil because he is portrayed by Bela Lugosi. He lives in a isolated house with a group of demented henchman (including a dwarf!). He and his wife, the Countess (Elizabeth Russell) sleep in coffins. See, it doesn’t get any more evil than that. Well actually it does.
Nosy reporter Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) is looking into a series of dead brides who all collapse at the alter. She is convinced that it is not a coincidence. She starts to put together the pieces and they point to Dr. Lorenz and his laboratory. With some pointless help from the Countess’ medical doctor, Foster (Tristram Coffin) Patricia finds herself about to crack the biggest new story of her carrier. But can she be certain that the next corpse that vanishes won’t be her own?
|Pumpkin boy and lantern head in peril!|
As far as serials go, this one has some entertaining moments, some silly moments and all in all meets the basic entertainment needs. The reused footage of Cody flying around in his rocket suit is good for some chuckles, and I love some of the oh-so-ripe dialogue that permeates the series. This also contains the scene which had to inspire the rant about serials in the film and book Misery. When I saw the car fall off the cliff I had to mumble, “He didn’t get out of the caca-doody car!” The Bridge of Death episode isn’t something special, but it makes for a good appetizer for the film to follow.
|Bela looms alarmingly.|
I think the thing that works with this film is that the character of Dr. Lorenz is driven by his love for his wife, the Countess. From the start of the film, it is pretty darn obvious he is at the heart of the plot to kill young women and abduct them. His goal is to suck the vitality from their body and place it into his ill wife. The treatment works of course, and both become driven to keep her young and alive. The Countess is a shrill disturbing woman, but we can sympathize a bit with Lorenz. A good deal of that comes from Lugosi’s performance.
|Wait, what am I doing in this movie again?|
Of course The Corpse Vanishes was made in the 1940s, so you can’t have a female lead get in and out of peril on her own. Enter Dr. Foster played by Tris Coffin. The part is underwritten, and really feels like it was added at the last minute because someone realized they needed a man to save Patricia. Coffin does what he can with the flat character, but he doesn’t seem too invested in the role (can’t say I blame him). There isn’t much chemistry between the two. So when the two start spouting lines about how deeply in love they are and how they can’t wait for their marriage in the last 10 minutes of the film… well you’ll do a spit take if you’re drinking anything. You have been warned. Don’t blame me for wet floors on this one.
|The cub reporter and the grumpy editor? Two|
more cliches checked off the list.
But if you want to see a film that really took inspiration from The Corpse Vanishes then you really don’t need to look any further than the Ed Wood masterpiece Bride of the Monster. No, seriously they are almost the same film, but with a different driving force behind them. Ed Wood had Lugosi’s mad man attempting to “create a race of atomic supermen who would conquer the world”, instead of attempting to keep his wife alive. But the story beats are the same. Mysterious events lead a cub reporter to a creepy mansion. She meets Lugosi and interviews him. She’s convinced he is involved but has no proof. So she joins forces with a dull man, and together they kinda sorta put it all together.
|At least he isn't welcoming you to Fantasy|
Eventually Joel and bots would come face to face with Wood’s opus. But before that, they would face Lugosi in their first season with The Corpse Vanishes.
|He's only mostly dead.|
But lets take a look at what we do have. First up is part three of Radar Men from the Moon. Joel and the bots are still having a bit of fun with the serial (although the writing crew admitted that the whole thing was starting to wear thin for them at this point). But the level of energy in the riffing of this serial is still pretty high, and it gives some of the best riffing the episode.
|Would you take orders from a guy dressed like that?|
As is typical of Season One episodes, the riffing during The Corpse Vanishes is laid back and meandering. There are a lot of quiet moments where the boys just watch the film and maybe chuckle a bit at what is going on. But there are some funny quips to enjoy.
|Essence of bride... with a twist of lime.|
Most of the funnier moments in The Corpse Vanishes occur in the spooky mansion. A “secret” door allows the mad doctor’s hearse to enter undetected. This door is opened by the hunchback servant, who the boys dub Stanley after the garage door opener. Another secret door in a closet allows Bela to sneak into a bedroom and stare menacingly at Luana. Tom tries his Lugosi accent and says, “This is much better than my old door in the sock drawer.”
One thing the boys avoid here is any jokes based on Lugosi's drug problems. They do hammer on those a bit in their riff of Bride of the Monster, and the gents at Rifftrax go even further in their riff on Plan 9 From Outer Space. It is rare that I feel they go too far, but Lugosi's drug issues were tragic and to use them in the riffing leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially after seeing Ed Wood and how Tim Burton handled the issue. Anyway...
As the movie wraps with our two protagonists tying the knot without a fear of mad doctors, Joel tells the bots “Don’t cry guys, its not a real wedding. “ Crow replies with “It’s the script that is upsetting us.”
|Sorry Joel, but I wouldn't trust Crow with sharp|
All in all, The Corpse Vanishes isn’t a horrible film, and it offers enough for the boys to riff on. But the slow pace of the riffing is the detriment here. The frantic pacing of Radar Men From the Moon helps the riffing there move a lot faster. As a result the episode starts out fairly strong, but peters out before the end. Like all my season one reviews, I’ll rate this as compared to other episodes this season, but I’d deduct one point when compared to any other episode from season 2 forward.
I give it 3 poisonous orchids out of five.
This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XVI.