George Zucco, a superb stage actor who entered films with unusual character performances, plays a double role in Dead Men Walk (1943), a poverty-row programmer.
He is the good Dr. Lloyd Clayton who has killed his evil twin Elwyn for the sake of humanity.
But the latter having always been an occult practitioner returns from the dead as a classic-type vampire, eager for revenge against the good brother.
The plot is a thin echo of Dracula. Bad Elwyn Clayton's Mina Harker equivalent is his own niece Gayle, played by Mary Carlisle, who starred opposite Bing Crosby on three occasions, but never fully broke out of the great horde of Hollywood starlets.
Gayle, unable to leave her sickbed, fades more & more night by night. Her boyfriend David at first thinks Dr. Clayton is trying to kill her. He's played by Nedrick Young, whose acting is no great shakes, but he's seen amidst the cast of several excellent B pictures, such as Gun Crazy (1949), House of Wax (1953) & Seconds (1966).
Nedrick also wrote for the movies, most importantly the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Defiant Ones (1958) co-written with Harold Jacob.
Their screenplay also received the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award, & other honors. Nedrick also wrote for Elvis Jailhouse Rock (1957).
He was a victim of the Macarthy Era blacklist, & was for some while forced to hide under the pseudonym Nathan E. Douglas. He died relatively young, at fifty-four, of a heart attack.
The good Dr. Lloyd Clayton & David struggle to destroy the vampire to save Gayle from Elwyn's promise that his niece will become his immortal slave.
Elwyn's crazily faithful Renfield is the hunchback Zolarr played by Dwight Frye, who was the original Renfield in Dracula (1931), as well as the hunchback Fritz in Frankenstein (1931), & Karl the graverobber in Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Frye died at age 44 shortly after filming Dead Men Walk. So one good reason to track down this film is for the rare opportunity of seeing his signature character-performance one more time.
Zolarr steals, hides & protects Elwyn's body by day so that the vampire can safely do his mischief by night, with many a Renfieldesque "Master! Master!" along the way.
A side character, the old housekeeper Kate (Fern Emmett, who in addition to B thrillers played character roles in a great many westerns), is regarded by many as a bit of a loon. She is an unexpectedly heroic figure who sets out to find the hiding place of the vampire.
But alas, Kate's death only serves to convince the local villagers that it is Dr. Lloyd Clayton, not his supposedly resurged brother, who is the killer.
Though excessively familiar, this short feature (barely over an hour) is quite enjoyable mainly due to George Zucco's double-performance & Dwight Frye's support role.
Zuccor is sweet as the good doctor, & menacing as the vampire. The brothers' final encounter within a fiery inferno is a more than adequate climax.
Vampires' Night Orgy (1973) & Ironbound Vampire (1997)
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl