Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

THE IMMORTAL COUNT: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi

THE IMMORTAL COUNT: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi. Arthur Lenning. University Press of Kentucky; 2003.

A life-long fan of Bela Lugosi, Lenning has written an exemplary look into the life and art of the under-rated Hungarian actor that continually makes the point that he was a fine performer who deserved better and larger roles than the ones he was given. Lugosi was a stage star and matinĂ©e idol in his native land, then played Dracula on the stage in America, and nearly wasn't cast in the Hollywood version. It might have been a blessing had he not been cast as the vampire count, because he was almost always typecast in every screen appearance thereafter. On the other hand, without his association with the vampire, Lugosi might have had just as bad luck in pictures and been completely forgotten . It is ironic that a man who was often overlooked and undervalued during his lifetime and who frequently had financial problems, has become such a famous icon, nowadays making money for everyone but himself – a renaissance he was unable to benefit from. Lenning leaves no stone unturned in delving into Lugosi's private life, many marriages, drug habits, non-relationship with his son Bela George, and he takes on all former biographers and co-workers to get at the truth. Lenning also analyzes all of Lugosi's films and performances. Occasionally his synopses are over-long, but he always has interesting things to say about the pictures, making the reader want to look at each film one more time. There are many photos throughout the book, including shots of Lugosi as a handsome young man in Hungary. One very poignant photo shows the author as a young boy meeting his idol. It is so clear from the expression on young Lenning's face that this is one of the happiest days of his life; and Lugosi looks so warm and kind-hearted, so pleased to play host to his adoring little friend, that the snapshot is very moving. Although Lugosi might not have welcomed this frank a book, and likely would have protested various assertions out of human vanity, there is no denying that it is a work of scholarship and a sincere and excellent labor of love.
Verdict: A great biography of a great star.

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