This poverty row classic made in 1935 was fortunate to have access to the still-standing sets for Universal's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, making it one of the better films of its kind. Like THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), the kindly professor is the villain and Ralph Morgan is quite sympathetic as the doctor whose double life turns him into a werewolf-like vampire complete with a hunchbacked manservant (Mischa Auer).
The similarities THE VAMPIRE BAT are many. Both films cannot help but seem related since they both were directed by the same man, Frank R. Strayer--truly an auteur of poverty row horrors for the 1930s! Morgan is trusted by the townsfolk and the blame is shifted to his servant not unlike Dwight Frye in the other film. However, Ralph Morgan was not in the same league as Lionel Atwill and in 1935 had no reputation as a mad doctor or monster for that matter. Morgan would play this type of role again in Universal's NIGHT MONSTER (1942) to great effect like DOCTOR X (1932) he would use a synthetic flesh to commit his murders ironically killing Lionel Atwill in the process.
The prologue for CONDEMNED TO LIVE tells us that Morgan was bitten by a vampire bat in Africa while still in his mother's womb creating a dual personality when sexually aroused killing whomever crosses his path. Pedro DeCordoba plays the knowing Dr. Bizet who prevents him from killing the young woman who agrees to be his bride to please her dying father.
The film was made at the height of the "Golden Age of Classic Horror" and it is influenced by not only THE VAMPIRE BAT but DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1932) in particular as the good doctor is unaware of his duality. Ralph Morgan gives a great performance in this film and is matched by the underestimated Mischa Auer who would go on to bigger and better things and would reach his peak in 40s screwball comedies.
The production values are quite good and the camerawork by M. A. Anderson is first rate as well. The whole film is a bit slow and the action stalls as we go through the usual plot points of the townspeople as lynch mob and the guilt we see Morgan endure before the truth prevails.
Alpha Video scores a hit with this transfer as it looks better than most of the murky VHS prints available from time to time on small time labels. Alpha is releasing more and more of these forgotten horrors and until a company can locate better source prints we must be grateful to Steve Kaplan for finding these little gems and making them available for all to enjoy in the 21st century. (David Del Valle)
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