Friday, December 15, 2006

Zombie For A Day

A real treat for fans of the off-beat Horror-Comedy genre is Monogram's 1941 film King Of The Zombies. The reason for this is the presence of third-billed star Mantan Moreland, an excellent comedy player popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps he is best know as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in fifteen Charlie Chan films.

Moreland was born in Louisiana in 1902. He first appeared on stage and then in films. His character was often that of a frightened servant, but his character was no more a coward than Bob Hope and Lou Costello in similar movies. Moreland always managed to keep things in perspective, much like Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. Truth is, Mantan Moreland stole many a film from the nominal stars.
King Of The Zombies features a Nazi scientist working to create a zombie army for the Third Reich. Heroes Dick Purcell and John Archer, accompanied by valet Jeff (Moreland) crash on the mad doctor's island and start to uncover the secret plot. The mad doctor attempts to turn Jeff into a Zombie which leads to some of the funniest scenes in the movie. I won't spoil things by trying to describe them. Let's just say we
get to watch a comic master at work. It's also interesting to note that Jeff is the first
character in the film to realize skullduggery is afoot, putting him way ahead of the heroes.

Mantan Moreland deserves to be remembered for his great talent. Sadly, at the time, too many of his roles were beneath him, but his talent and on-screen good humor won him many fans of all races.

Moreland suffered a stroke in the 1960s which curtailed his career, but he kept working until his death in 1973. During his career he appeared in over 130 roles in film and television. His films are definitely worth seeking out.


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