Bela Lugosi’s robot-aided vampire meets his match in “Mother Riley Meets the Vampire”

By on April 2, 2019

In John Gilling’s Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, British comic legend Arthur Lucan stars in his last screen appearance as “Old Mother Riley,” sharing the screen with another legend, Bela Lugosi, who plays the vampire, “Baron Von Vousen,” using a radar-controlled robot to accomplish his evil intentions.

This 1952 black & white British horror comedy — also known variously as My Son, the Vampire, Vampire Over London and The Vampire and the Robot — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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Mother Riley Meets the Vampire is built around the idea that the Vampire — who has traveled to England to perfect his experiments with which he hopes to control the world — orders a radar-controlled robot, but hilarity ensues when the robot is delivered by mistake to “Old Mother Riley” instead.

American audiences were quite familiar with Lugosi, of course — this was his third and final British film — but they weren’t as familiar with Arthur Lucan’s cantankerous elderly Irish washer-woman character, who Lucan had played since 1934.

The character was arguably the most influential drag act (then called a “dame” act) on British stage and screen, and so their comedic pairing was bound to be a hit in Britain and America as well as the rest of the world.

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The plot here — part amusing melodrama, part slapstick — is filled to the brim with Mother Riley’s preposterous antics in Lugosi’s sinister scientist house, featuring secret passages and sliding panels.

You can read more about his towering radio-controlled robot here and here.

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As it turned out, Lucan dressed in drag here for what would be his seventeenth and final on-screen appearance in the role, making this the last of the Mother Riley comedies (he’d been making them since 1937).

Lucan was going through a bit of personal trouble at the time, apparently: tax debt problems and he was also divorcing his wife, actress Kitty McShane, who often appeared with Lucan in his Mother Riley films.

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Lucan continued to play this part theatrically, though, and was preparing to take the stage as Mother Riley on May 17, 1954, at the Theatre Royal in the Barnsley, Yorkshire area — for a stage-adapted performance replicating the plot of his 1938 film Old Mother Riley in Paris — when, age 68, he collapsed in the wings and died in his dressing room.

At the time of his death he was scheduled to film Old Mother Riley’s Trip to Mars, a broad comedy satire on then-present day atom bomb experiments and future rocket trips to the moon.

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This film’s supporting cast also features solid performances from Dora Bryan as “Tilly,” Richard Wattis as a copper (“Police Constable Freddie”), Hattie Jacques, Graham Moffat, John le Mesurier, Ian Wilson and Dandy Nichols.

Read more about Mother Riley Meets the Vampire below.

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Born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in Lugoj, Romania, the Hungarian-American actor will always be best remembered for portraying Count Dracula in the 1931 film — fask hadapted from Bram Stoker’s novel — which he’d begun his American film career with back in 1927.

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For much of 1951, Lugosi was in England, in the midst of a 27-week UK revival tour with the stage version of Dracula, playing his famous vampire character.

The success of the 1948 American-made horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein — in which Lugosi had also appeared as “Dracula” — may have inspired the British filmmakers to do a horror comedy film of their own with him.

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It’s long been rumored that the film’s screenplay (by Val Valentine) must have been quickly written in order to give Lugosi and his wife enough funds to get home from England after the Dracula tour collapsed, leaving the cast unpaid and the Lugosis stranded.

The truth turns out to be less interesting, however: the ailing 68-year old Lugosi was simply fatigued from touring the UK and for his next acting role he needed to be in a film that didn’t require too much strain on his part.

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If you search online, you can find interviews with Lugosi from aboard the Queen Elizabeth just prior to his arrival back in New York on December 11th, 1951, where newspapermen asked him about the film, which he’d just made for Fernwood Films Ltd.

Production at Nettlefold Studios, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, had begun in late October, just a few days before Halloween, and was completed in early December, 1951.

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73-year old Bela Lugosi died in Los Angeles, CA, on August 16, 1956 (no doubt inspiring the Bauhaus song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”).

He was buried wearing one of the “Dracula” cape costumes in the Holy Cross Cemetery in the L.A. suburb of Culver City.

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In the United States, the film was first distributed by Renown with an eye on introducing the “Old Mother Riley” character to the American market, but the film was titled Vampire over London for some reason, and, in certain markets, The Vampire And The Robot.

The re-released film was distributed a second time in the U.S. during the early Sixties as My Son, the Vampire, which was also the title of the 1963 single released by popular U.S. comedian-singer Allen Sherman, who’d become a huge success by that point.

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The song lyrics are quite silly, as you might expect from Sherman:

“My son, the vampire, he’s a total loss,
And if you should meet with him, do not drink or eat with him,
Run if he takes out his dental floss
‘Cause my son, the vampire, ain’t collecting it for the Red Cross!
He wants…Blood!”

Watch Mother Riley Meets the Vampire on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.