“If you didn’t study him, you wouldn’t know he’s maladjusted.”
Fingers Dolan (John Berkes) is a safecracker who has just broken out of prison. He ends up at a soup kitchen run by Karl Wagner (Bela Lugosi). The Bowery Friendly Mission is also a front for a criminal gang. Wagner recruits members for his gang from the down-and-outs that frequent the soup kitchen. When he is not being Karl Wagner he is Professor Frederick Brenner, loving husband and intellectual who teaches abnormal psychology.
Wagner recognizes Fingers right away and puts him to use. Fingers doesn’t perform the way he should. Fingers is killed. Wagner does a lot of killing. If a gang member displeases him, they are history. Most of the time he gives the dead bodies to Doc Brooks (Lew Kelly). The Doc is an alcoholic mess. He used to be a great physician. Now he works as a janitor at the mission. He secretly takes the corpses of the people Wagner kills and brings them to a secret basement of the mission. There he cures them. He keeps these zombie-like victims in a crawlspace.
Richard Dennison (John Archer) is one of Professor Brenner’s students. He is working on a paper for class and wanders into the soup kitchen. Brenner, as Wagner does not want his cover blown so he has him killed by his favorite henchman Frankie Mills (Tom Neal). Dennison ends up in the crawlspace.
Pete Crawford (Dave O’Brien) is a detective with the police. He is investigating the missing Dennison. He goes to Brenner’s home to ask him some questions about Dennison when he sees a picture of Brenner/Wagner. Oops.
“The Bowery at Midnight” was released in 1942 and was directed by Wallace Fox. It was the fifth movie Lugosi did for Monogram Pictures. It is a combination crime/horror movie. Plus it’s only 61 minutes long which is probably part of the reason it’s so scattered. A lot of stuff got thrown at this and some of it didn’t stick. There wasn’t enough time to fully develop some of the many plots and sub-plots. It’s confusing at times. Technically Lugosi plays three parts. His straight laced Professor, his persona of kindly soup kitchen proprietor, and his paranoid sociopathic killer true self. Even with all that said I still enjoyed it. If you’re a Lugosi fan or if you’re just in the mood for a quickie, Lugosi as a gangster is a gas.