A period setting in a peasant burgh, the superstitious villagers of Condemned to Live (1935) are living under the terror of serial killings which they believe to be the work of a gigantic bat. The sets, only recently built for Bride of Frankenstein (1935), are almost too good for the script. The b/w cinematography here & there rises to good occasion.
The film periodically cuts to an image of a bellringer (in the striking set from Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1923), in much the same way jungle pictures cut to stock footage of random animals. It never relates to the story proper.
Kindly professor Paul Kristan (Ralph Morgan) is soon revealed to be a bloodsucking psycho (though not a bat nor even quite a vampire in the classical sense) because his mother had been bitten by a vampire bat just before she gave birth. His mother had inexplicably been exploring deep in the jungle wilds while in an advanced state of pregnancy. She & his father died in the jungle the day he was born, & he was fostered by his parents' best friend.
Paul has no recollection of his crimes, reverting to a kindly frame of mind after each killing. His friend, foster father, & colleague Dr. Andres Bizet (Pedro de Cordoba) arrives in town & soon realizes Paul is the cause of the villagers' trouble, since this gentleman is privy to what happened to Paul's mother so many years before.
A clumsily orchestrated love story is inserted into the tale. Beautiful young Marguerite (Maxine Doyle) has mistaken her admiration for the professor for love & agreed to marry him. Having thus committed herself she refuses to admit her true love is David (Russell Gleason) who is closer to her own age.
Marguerite & David are two of the sorriest excuses for romantic leads, but as the two male leads are rather geezerly, the scriptwriter padded it out with what must have been intended as youth interest.
Faithful & Igor-like Zan (Mischa Auer turning in the film's best performance) is a hunched-over weirdo who loves his master to distraction & has been helping cover up the professor's crimes, so that even the professor won't find out what he does when he has one of his dark-night fits. When Paul finally realizes what he is, he knows he must destroy himself, & Zan will follow him into death.
Condemned to Live is a poker-faced just-about-adequate example of the more cheaply made thrillers of its decade.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl