This is third of Bela Lugosi's nine pictures for Sam Katzman and Monogram, and it's an unusual one at that. Made during the height of wartime propaganda, the film deals with the idea of a "Black Dragon Society," a group of anti-U.S. Japanese spies hiding out in the U.S. The Black Dragons themes were also present in G-MEN VS. THE BLACK DRAGON, a 1943 Republic serial, and the East Side Kids also confronted them in 1942's LET'S GET TOUGH, made by the same studio Lugosi was employed at.
BLACK DRAGONS starts with a group of cigar-smoking, liquor swilling men having a few laughs at a social gathering. Soon the doorbell rings, and a strange character named Monsieur Colomb (Lugosi) interrupts things. One by one, Colomb does these men in, leaving a dagger behind in each instance, but one of them is kept secluded in his room, and with the help of a deadly serum, is turned into a horrible mess by the end of the picture. Bela is actually a brilliant plastic surgeon/Nazi traveling to America to get revenge on the Japanese spies that double crossed him.
While not the best of Lugosi's Monogram films, the actor turns in a very good performance, while close-ups of his remarkable eyes enhance the mood. He also gets to show us how sinister he looks in a serial-era goatee and actually gets to play two parts. Future "Lone Ranger" Clayton Moore is the smiley reporter/hero, Joan Barclay (also in THE CORPSE VANISHES) is the heroine, and pint-sized Bernard Gorcey (Louie Dumbrowsky from "The Bowery Boys" series) has a cameo as a cabby. Running a swift 61 minutes, the ending is downright bizarre, and this is a must for fans of "Poverty Row" horror and Lugosi in general.
Unlike some of Lugosi's other 1940s public domain B flicks (THE DEVIL BAT, THE INVISIBLE GHOST, GHOSTS ON THE LOOSE, etc.), BLACK DRAGONS is not readily available from dozens of different companies on VHS (a colorized version was once released), and this marks the first time it has appeared on DVD. The Alpha disc is actually not too bad. The black and white print source is expectedly marked up and a bit soft, and the sound is somewhat muffled. Don't expect the quality of The Roan Group's Lugosi titles, but this Alpha disc is fine until something better comes along (if that happens!). No extras are on this release, but Alpha's packaging again utilizes some very attractive poster art. (George R. Reis)
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