Today’s film is a nearly-lost classic from Argentina, 1953’s “El Vampiro Negro,” starring Olga Zubarry (Amalia “Rita” Keital), Roberto Escalada (Dr. Bernar, the Prosecutor), Nathán Pinzón (Professor Teodoro Ulbar), Nelly Panizza (Cora), Mariano Vidal Molina (Lange), and Gloria Castilla (Sra. Bernar). Directed by Román Viñoly Barreto; cinematography by Aníbal González Paz. Screenplay by Román Viñoly Barreto and Alberto Etchebehere.
This film is a reworking of Fritz Lang’s “M,” in which a man abducts and kills children. But in “El Vampiro Negro,” some of the attention is taken from the murderer character and given to a mother of one of the children he tries to kill. In another twist, this mother–Amalia–is also a witness as Profressor Ulbar (the murderer) is disposing of his third victim’s body by dumping it down a sewer outside the window near her dressing room at the cabaret where she works.
The movie was languishing in obscurity, and, as with many such films, about to be lost forever, given that film stock breaks down over time. So we’re fortunate that Eddie Muller’s Film Noir Foundation found this and restored it to its former glory.
You can watch the restored trailer here:
I found a full-length print of the movie, but the image quality is pretty muddy. But in case you want to watch it, you can do so here:
I caught a couple of screengrabs to give you an idea of the visuals in this movie, which are really stunning. Sadly, the first one from the opening sequence is from the unrestored version, so the image isn’t as crisp, but I love the lines of shadow and light on the steps outside what I’ll guess is the courthouse:
The dark blob in the center is Ulbar, the murderer. You see what I mean about the degraded image quality of the unrestored version.
Here’s another image (from the restored version), this time from the climactic scene where the people of Buenos Aires’ underworld are giving chase to the murderer down in the city’s sewers. (This was filmed in the actual sewers, using actual people from the underclass.)
These figures emerge from the shadows into focus in a very menacing way (at least from the murderer’s perspective).
I really enjoyed this film. It was visually stunning; and the story–with its focus on the mother’s role, rather than the murderer–was compelling. My one complaint is that it’s told in flashback, which took away from the suspense of the climactic chase scene. After all, we already knew the murderer would be apprehended and turned over to the authorities, rather than be killed by those hunting him.
I give this one 4.75 out of 5 unfiltered cigarette puffs. If you get the chance, give this a view; it’s well worth your time. Even if you don’t like black and white movies. 😀
That’s it for this week. Next week’s film is “City of Fear” from 1959.