Thursday, October 10, 2019

Dracula Adaptations | Count Dracula (1970)



Who's in it?: Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave), Herbert Lom (Mysterious Island, A Shot in the Dark), Klaus Kinski (For a Few Dollars More, Nosferatu the Vampyre), Maria Rohm (The Blood of Fu Manchu, Ten Little Indians), and Soledad Miranda (100 Rifles, Vampyros Lesbos)

What's it about?: Spanish exploitation director Jesús Franco tries to create the most faithful adaptation of Stoker's novel to date.

How is it?: It was advertised to me as "the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel ever filmed" and the tagline on one poster was "Finally! The Original Version!" Neither of those statements is true.

It's cool that Franco brought in Christopher Lee to play Dracula. Lee was in Hammer's 1958 adaptation of course, and had made a couple of sequels by the time Franco hired him. And since he went on to make several more sequels for Hammer after this, he's one of the most iconic Draculas ever. So it's cool to see him in this non-Hammer version. (It's also cool that Renfield is played by Klaus Kinski, who's not just a great actor in general, but also went on to play Dracula in Werner Herzog's version at the end of the decade.)

One of the elements in this that's very faithful to Stoker is Lee's makeup. He begins the story as an elderly, mustached count who gets younger as the story progresses. I've never been able to imagine a mustached Dracula that seemed cool to me, but Lee pulls it off. Of course he does.

The opening scenes at Dracula's castle are pretty faithful to the novel, too, but it all falls apart when the story shifts to England. Rather than waking up in a Transylvanian convent after his ordeal, Harker regains consciousness in an English asylum run by Van Helsing (Lom), with Dr Seward merely an assistant there who never plays an important role in the story.

Harker is soon visited by his fiancée Mina (Rohm) and her close friend Lucy (Miranda), so their relationships are all the same as in Stoker. And as in the novel, the asylum is next door to the ruined abbey that Dracula has purchased, which is how the count discovers and begins persecuting the women: first Lucy; then Mina. But while Lucy is engaged to a British lord, his name is weirdly Quincey Morris (Lucy's American suitor in the novel); not Arthur Holmwood. There's a lot that's true to the book, but already the film makes some weird changes.

The biggest flaw though is how the script abridges the story in a way that makes Van Helsing seem like a fool. He ignores or disbelieves crucial information for dramatic reasons that are very unlike the literary professor. For example, he doesn't buy Harker's story of what happened at Dracula's castle, even though Harker has bite marks to prove it. And later, when it's more convenient to the abridgment, Van Helsing claims to recognize the marks as Dracula's work. So there's a lot of his being clueless and then later saying, "Ah! Just as I suspected!" Sure you did, Doc.

Maria Rohm is beautiful, but generally forgettable and disappointing as Mina. She's as much a helpless victim as Lucy; merely a second chance for the heroes to defeat the villain rather than being an asset or even really a full character. Like a lot else with the film, I appreciate the effort, but Franco's version is ultimately unsatisfying.

Rating: Three out of five Minas.



4 comments:

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Sounds a lot like James Bond in Never Say Never. Bring back a classic actor associated with the role for another shot at a book adaptation. Though I don’t know that “Never” was any more faithful to its source material than Thunderball.

As I often say adaptations by their nature are compromises.

Michael May said...

What's strange about Lee as Dracula is that this was made while he was still making Dracula films for Hammer. So if we use the Bond analogy, it's like, what if Never Say Never Again came out in 1966 in between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice?

As long as I'm being nerdy about Bond, I'll also mention that Thunderball was a movie treatment before it was a novel, so neither film was adapting just the book. Fleming developed the story with writer/director Kevin McClory, but it never went anywhere so Fleming turned it into a novel (making the mistake of putting just his own name on it). I don't remember how close the Thunderball movie we got was to the original treatment (I think, "not very"), but it's a weird case where other things than just the novel were bound to influence the story, including McClory's own ideas (which of course he also took into his Never Say Never Again remake).

Caffeinated Joe said...

I don't think I have ever seen this one. I thought Lee only played Dracula for Hammer. I want to see it now, so adding to my list. Thanks!

Michael May said...

Enjoy!

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