Walter Summers (director)
Network on Air (studio)
11 October 2021 (released)
This 1939 adaptation is regarded by many as a classic, which is to be expected as it features the great Bela Lugosi in the lead role and is based on a best selling novel by the most prolific of all crime novelists: Edgar Wallace.
This marked the heavily accented Hungarian Lugosi's second trip, as regards to film, to the UK. Some four years previously he had featured in an early Hammer film ('The Mystery of the Mary Celeste'). Here though he is cast in a dual role, namely that of former scientist and 'kindly' insurance broker Dr. Feodor Orloff and that of the even more kindly Mr. Dearborn – proprietor of a Home for the Blind. Mr. Dearborn btw is also blind... or is he… or is he in fact Orloff? It is only too obvious although in his incarnation as Dearborn, Lugosi is dubbed by Shakespearian actor O. B. Clarence (sounding refined) whereas as Orloff, Lugosi speaks with his native Hungarian accent when really, it should have been the other way around. Also, whenever we hear Dearborn speaking here seems a major fault here as the echoing acoustics sound like it was recorded in a cathedral.
Orloff is, of course, a murdering crook without an iota of conscience - the pre-requisite of any good crook. He agrees to loan money to certain people in need, usually around £20,000 - a considerable sum at the time. He then fakes the documents (having an ace forger on board) and promptly arranges their deaths so he can claim the insurance money for himself under a fictitious name. The bodies are disposed of from the home for the blind - a towering warehouse in Greenwich overlooking the Thames. To make sure they are dead the victims are first drowned in a vat.
Detective Inspector Larry Holt (the indomitable Hugh Williams - were there really ever any rozzers like Hugh?) is drafted in to put things right after the body of a man named Stuart is discovered in the river. Stuart's daughter Diana (Greta Gynt) arrives to identify the corpse. Diana’s arrival, despite the tragic circumstances, seems to please Holt and soon romance is in the air though not before the gal (“she's got a lot of guts”) obtains an ‘undercover’ job as a seeing-person secretary to Dearborn. It doesn't take her long to find some damning evidence (for example, one of her dead father’s cufflinks) and this is quickly spotted by Orloff who sends his hideous deformed and blind henchman Jake (Shakespearian stage actor Wilfred Walter) to 'take care of her'. Jake has already seen to Fred Grogan (Alexander Field), the weasely insurance claims forger who had the audacity to put the bite on Orloff. Fortunately Diana manages to alert Holt and his boys just in time. Pretty soon it's all aboard for a mighty climax at Dearborn's home for the Destitute Blind…
After a rather slow start and somewhat static pace in the film’s first half, the second half picks up the pace and action considerably, what with atmospheric night scenes shrouded in fog. Despite Lugosi’s thick Hungarian accent he had presence in abundance but it needed a director like Tod Browning to bring it out.
Nonetheless, The Dark Eyes Of London engages with an interesting plot (that's been filmed more than once) though it’s more of a crime story than a horror story. After an almost overpowering opening credits score by Guy Jones we have very little incidental music throughout the rest of the film and it was sorely needed. Four people worked on the script, including the young producer John Carlyle and director Walter Summers himself. Another remarkable thing is just how quickly the police cars (admittedly the roads were much clearer then) can get from one place to another, like Whitehall to Palace Gate in less than a minute and to Greenwich in even less. These are of course minor quibbles aside from the fast talking Chicago cop Lt. Patrick O'Reilly (Edmon Ryan) - assigned to Lt. Larry Holt to study British police methods. The casting of Ryan (or any other American for that matter) would have been decided to boost sales in the US market.
THE DEAD EYES OF LONDON is definitely one for the collection. Like our very own Tod Slaughter, Bela Lugosi was always eminently watchable. There is even an appearance from Charles Penrose - the actual Laughing Policeman himself!
Special Features of this beautifully restored Blu-ray release include:
Brand-new audio commentary, ‘Bela Lugosi in Britain’, US-titles, US-trailers, image gallery, limited edition booklet, limited edition O-card (Blu-ray exclusive) and limited edition poster postcards (also Blu-ray exclusive).