Bowery at Midnight (1942)

Criminologist and professor Bela Lugosi leads a double life as the kindly operator of a soup kitchen in the bowery. Make that a triple life, as his soup kitchen is a front for his fiendish criminal activities, where he recruits criminals on the lam for a series of robberies. Once he is done with the criminals, he murders them. His drug-addicted and former brilliant doctor assistant attempts to revive them as zombies. Despite the reanimation angle, this poverty row flick is more focused on the criminal underworld angle (the zombies appear briefly towards the end). Kindly Wanda McKay helps Bela out in the soup kitchen. Her boyfriend, who is taking a class with Bela at the local college, decides to pull a Sullivan’s Travels and go undercover as one of the poor and needy for his research paper. The film has a weird grasp on class consciousness, where both faux social workers and academics take advantage of the less privileged in society. However, said less privileged are portrayed as, at best, vagrant riffraff and, at worst, born criminals. In the end, they are wisely kept walled off from respectable, upper class society. The underpinnings of this chintzy scrapper are super cynical. Lugosi is fun to watch per usual, and the supporting cast is full of familiar faces for cult movie buffs (Tom Neal from Detour, Dave O’Brien from Reefer Madness).

IMDB entry

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