Watching Old Movies: Vampyr (1932)


Highest Grossing Film: Shanghai Express- $3,700,000

Best Picture: Grand Hotel

What happened this year?

Lotta big stars got their start in the film industry this year. Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Shirley Temple all made their first film appearances (although in Bergman’s case, it was little more than an appearance as an extra.) Plus, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, aka the first ever science-fiction radio show started airing for the first time.

Unfortunately, outside of the film world, things weren’t doing to well. Japan invaded Shanghai, the Lindberg Baby was kidnapped and General Kurt von Schleicher made a deal with one Adolf Hitler to use the popularity of the Nazi party to help politically outmaneuver his rivals and get von Schleicher elected as Chancellor of Germany. This was a plan that would quickly backfire on von Schleicher as Hitler soon decided that he wanted to be Chancellor of Germany instead and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Von Schleicher did get successfully named Chancellor in December of 1932, only to be replaced by Hitler the very next month, before being killed 17 months later in the Night of the Long Knives.

Okay, with that depressing prelude to later events out of the way, let’s move onto the pre-show. This one in particular is kind of special because it was the first ever cartoon three-strip technicolour.

Pre-Show: Flowers and Trees

My Thoughts:

Now that’s more like it! While I’ll admit the anthropomorphic trees did make me a bit skeptical (and gave me disturbing Lava flashbacks), I honestly thought this was great and showed tons of the ingenuity and imaginative imagery and animation that put Disney on the map.

In particular it’s the odd cartoon logic that makes me love this short so much. The moments where a flower, plant or something does something in a way that initially makes you go ‘huh?’ and then, when you think about it, you realise it does make sense in a weird sort of way. Take the blackbirds poking holes in the clouds to make rain, or the use of certain flowers as bells and so on. It’s delightfully inventive, yet somehow still making an eccentric kind of sense.

I will say it’s a bit of a basic story (boy tree meets girl tree, evil tree tries to steal girl tree, everyone burns, etc etc) but, honestly, did it really need to be anything else? The story is more or less just a platform for the ideas and in that regard this works perfectly. A genuine classic. A

Main Feature: Vampyr


Plot:  Allen Grey (which is like the most gothic horror name imaginable) is a drifter obsessed with the supernatural who finds himself embroiled in some weird phenomena involving a young woman being preyed on by a vampire. Then stuff happens, I dunno, it’s a bit unclear.

Trivia: For much of the cast, this was there only film appearance since they were not professional actors. Henriette Gérard who played the vampire was a French widow, Jan Hieronimko who played the village doctor was a Polish journalist, Rena Mandel who played Gisèle was an artist’s model. Even Julian West (real name: Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg) who played Allan Grey, was French-born member of Russian nobility who agreed to finance the film in exchange for the leading part. (He later emigrated to America where he became a powerful fashion journalist and mentor to designers like Calvin Klein.)

My Thoughts:

Okay, this is the first feature movie on this list that I genuinely just didn’t really care for.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s not awful by any means or even that bad and I’ve definitely seen much much worse. It’s just that this movie is just kinda… meh. The storytelling, the characters, the acting, the horrors, the lore, it’s all just… meh. I will give it credit for managing to create a strange dream-like atmosphere and a few coolish moments, like Grey in the coffin, but overall it just never really impressed me like a lot of classic horrors have managed. Even Caligari which I had my issues with (even though it’s kinda gone up in my mind with time) was much more interesting than this one.

I think the main issue for me with this movie was that it was missing an element of real/interesting direct horror. Nosferatu had the charismatically hideous Count Orlok, Caligari had Cesare, this had… some old woman. Who never really does anything overly threatening on screen. I suppose there was that weird face at the window near then, but the face itself wasn’t all that horrifying and, again, it didn’t really appear until the end.

It also didn’t help that, in spite of being a talkie, this movie clearly wanted to be a silent film. Almost no dialogue or sound effects and the few that were sounded kinda poorly dubbed over. Which I suppose you could argue adds to the dreamlike atmosphere, but I thought just sounded laughable.

To sum up, if you want a classic vampire film from this decade then just go and watch Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. Because as it is, I just can’t feel like I can recommend this film. Maybe it inspired a lot of things in cinema, maybe some people can recognise and appreciate it for what worthwhile elements it had, but overall, I just felt it was… meh. C

Feature Rankings (1930s):

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front- A/A-
  2. M- B+
  3. Vampyr- C

Short Rankings (1930s):

  1. Flowers and Trees- A
  2. Swing, you Sinners- A
  3. Egyptian Melodies- C-


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