Tuesday, October 23, 2012


It was 1942, and even though war was raging in Europe, Hollywood believed that it had to carry on making silly matinée movies, if only to keep Bela Lugosi from moping and moaning about what the Nazis were doing to his homeland. And so it was that, just before the Japanese came along and distracted everyone with that whole Pearl Harbour thing, ‘The Corpse Vanishes’ was hurled up onto the silver screen.

The movie begins with a pretty bride collapsing just as she’s about to say “I do”, and her horrified family realising that she’s dead. It transpires that she’s the fourth bride in a month to suddenly drop dead in the middle of her wedding ceremony.

Personally if I were a prospective bride (and you know I’d rock a meringue, baby), or a groom, or anyone remotely connected with any member of a wedding party, I’d be considering elopement right about now. But American girls of 1942 were apparently marriage-or-nothing kinda dames, and they’d rather fall down dead at the altar than skip the full church ceremony and cohabit like some wanton Canadian.

But the mystery doesn’t end there. Before the authorities can examine the body, the bride is snatched by some fake morticians… just like all of the other dead brides before her.

Later, while covering a society wedding at which still another bride drops dead at the altar and vanishes without a trace, Pat Hunter, girl reporter, picks up a mysterious orchid that the bride was wearing, and after checking the wedding photos in the society pages she realises that all of the other vanished brides were wearing a similar flower when they died. Pat senses a scoop.

But Pat’s boss doesn’t want to hear about it. You’d think that the phenomenon of brides dropping dead at the altar, and their corpses being stolen from under the noses of their grieving relatives, would be national, if not global news. But he keeps brushing off investigative journalism as a waste of time, thus demonstrating the keen news sense of a tennis ball.

I can only imagine what he would have said if Pat had come to him with a really big story:

Pat: Hey boss, there’s a lot of evidence that this break-in at the Watergate Hotel was more than just a simple burglary. It may even go all the way up to the President!

Editor: Don’t be ridiculous! Break-ins happen all the time! You think the President hangs out with burglars? You’re crazy!

Pat: But I have the evidence right here… 

Editor: I said drop it! Say, look at this press release from the American Ham Council: “Studies Show America Loves Ham!” Now there’s a story!

Undaunted, Pat decides to consult with orchid expert Professor Lorenz, little realising that he is the one responsible for all these dead and stolen brides. Only they’re not dead - the fumes of the orchid merely cause a sort of near death – and Professor Lorenz is using them to battery farm a certain hormone that he then uses to create a youth serum.

Fortunately Pat becomes friendly with Professor Lorenz’s colleague Dr Foster, who somehow doesn’t know about his associate’s rampage through the Los Angeles’ bridal community. Once they realise the truth, however, together they hatch a plan to trick the Professor into exposing himself. And if you’re ever seen a photo of Bela Lugosi, you’ll know that any plan involving him exposing himself is going to be fraught.

For a silly matinee movie, ‘The Corpse Vanishes’ had a remarkably convoluted plot. Unfortunately most of it didn’t make sense, and the script appeared to have been written by the sort of person who, if the internet had been around in 1942, would have been writing stupendously bad fan fiction instead of movie scripts.

Take, for example, the scene in which Pat challenges the Professor after seeing him and his wife asleep in matching coffins.

Pat: Oh, Professor, do you also make a habit of collecting coffins? 

 Lorenz: Why, yes, in a manner of speaking. I find a coffin much more comfortable than a bed.

But of course. It’s totally understandable and not batshit bonkers at all. Everyone knows how vital good back support is to corpses.

That aside, one wonders why the scriptwriter thought that the Professor and his wife needed to sleep in coffins as part of the story. There was no suggestion that they were vampires or the undead. I guess it just intimated that they were kinda freaky and creepy. Or possibly Kennedys.

This presumably set them apart from all of those normal people who drug and kidnap young brides to synthesise youth serums.

But fortunately by the end of the movie Lorenz, his wife and his freakshow servants are all killed, Pat and Dr Foster declare their love for each other after a whole 48 hours of acquaintance, and Pat’s boss is forced to run a story that may actually sell newspapers. Meanwhile the brides of Los Angeles can breathe a little easier, knowing that nothing now stands between them and the glory of a 1940s style marriage. Other than, you know, that whole World War II thing.


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