Yes, this tired Dracula pun is about the only enjoyment I got out of watching Daughter of the Night (1920), an edited version of a German film entitled Der Tanz Auf Dem Vulcan/Der Fluch der Menschheit (a.k.a. Dance on the Volcano). The joke referencing the 1931 horror classic is appropriate (though your mileage may vary) because Daughter is one of the earliest films featuring Glen or Glenda Bride of the Monster White Zombie star Bela Lugosi, who had a significant film career in that era though only a few of his features have survived. Daughter and two other Lugosi silent were packaged in an Alpha Video bundle titled the Bela Lugosi Silent Collection, which I purchased from Oldies.com because a) I like Bela, and 2) I needed another item so I could get free shipping.
The other two films in the Collection will be reviewed on the blog in upcoming weeks…but Lord-a-mighty, I hope they’re better than this one; I’m not disappointed by too many silent films but I can attest that this is one that was painful to sit through. I suspect this might have to do with the whittling down of the original source material; Der Tanz Auf Dem Vulcan was originally presented in two parts of five reels each while the American version was edited to six reels. The humorous thing about this is that even with the shortened length I still struggled to stay awake during the darn thing; the box for the Alpha release says it’s 83 minutes (I clocked it more at fifty-three) so I guess I should be thankful for small favors.
Then again, if I had watched the German original my attention might have been a bit more rapt. The brevity of Daughter of the Night makes it a tad difficult to follow the narrative but as near as I can discern it’s a tale set against the background of the Russian Revolution (the Bolsheviks vs. the Royalists), with a young female vocalist named Marie Dourouska (Lee Parry)—“the toast of the boulevards”—struggling to conceal a secret from her aristocratic beau, Andre Fleurot (Lugosi). It seems that Marie and her confederate Ivan Michelov (Robert Scholz) are nationalists who are neither in league with the Bolshies nor the Royalists instead, they are pursuing a “third way” whereby they hope to bring democracy to their native country. (Lots of luck, comrades.) Fleurot is eventually briefed on Marie’s secret past, and that makes him only more determined to be her boyfriend…but there’s conflict when Andre’s former paramour, the Countess Kaminska (Violetta Napierska), enters the picture—she’s heading up the Royalists’ network of spies in Paris…and she’s a little ticked off at Fleurot for throwing her over. (Hell hath no fury and all that rot.)
I’ve stated on the blog before that a first-rate print of a movie can make you enjoy it that much more. The presentation of Daughter of the Night falls terribly short of any measurable mark of quality; the contrast is positively atrocious and gives the players a severe case of clown white-face, as if they all decided to launch into imitations of Harry Langdon. I’d recommend this film only to Lugosi completists (it’s amusing to see him as a dashing leading man); the DVD also features a nine-minute clip from a July 27, 1953 telecast of You Asked for It that is also in dreadful quality. Poor Bela.