Tuesday, October 02, 2012

31 Days of Dracula | Bela Lugosi (1931)

As Caffeinated Joe said in yesterday's comments, this month is the COUNTdown to Halloween wherein we visit with 31 different Draculas (or close derivations). I wish I had room in the subject line to include COUNTdown as a permanent title, because that's awesome.

I don't know what's left to say about Bela Lugosi's version of the Count from Tod Browning's classic film. He's not as terrifying as Max Schreck's, but he's got that suave, exotic thing down and man, that thing he does with his hands. It's worth remembering that he reprised the role in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which I'm guessing most people reading this have seen. But if you haven't, please reward yourself and check it out. It's hilarious, but Lugosi and the other monsters (Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster) play it totally straight.

I should also mention that when Browning was filming his version of Dracula, a Spanish team used the same set and script to make a Spanish-language version. It's actually better than Browning's in several respects, the most memorable to me being the Spanish version of Mina. I really can't stand Helen Chandler's performance in the English version. It's worth watching not only because it's good, but it's also fascinating from a film study standpoint to see how different filmmakers made use of the same resources.

The biggest thing that the Spanish version doesn't have though (besides Browning's style) is Lugosi. It's an iconic performance and had a bigger influence on future interpretations than any other.


Moncynnes said...

One more thing in the English Dracula's favor: Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. Van Sloan rocked every role he played in Universal horror. The guy they had playing Van Helsing in the Spanish version looks too much like Henry Kissinger for me to take seriously.

Michael May said...

Ha! I really need to watch both back to back again once I get a little ahead on the 50 Horror Classics.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Finding Spanish Dracula is easy enough, finding a way to watch isn't so much.

I don't speak much Spanish so I'm still looking for a copy of a Spanish adaptation of an English language film with English subtitles.

Kinda makes your head spin doesn't it?

Wings1295 said...

I think Lugosi is what makes this a classic. The film itself can be a bit dry, especially viewed today. But I can watch it just to watch him.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I think the strangest thing for me when I first saw the Legosi film was that there was no incidentary music, it was just that snippet from "Swan Lake" at the beginning and thats it. Quite off putting really.

Michael May said...

I can relate to both of those comments. Some of the acting is super dry and the lack of a score doesn't help. I do like that haunting Swan Lake music, but Dracula is probably my least favorite of the classic Universal monster movies.

There are some truly great moments in it though. Dwight Frye's Renfield is awesome and I love the bit where the orderly tells the maid that he's unsure of her sanity (along with everyone else's) and she just stares and nods at him.

There's another great scene that I always look forward to. Van Helsing is grilling Mina about the Woman in White and Harker's getting frustrated by all the vampire talk. Van Helsing calmly asks Harker not to interrupt, turns back to Mina, and says, "When was the next time you saw Miss Lucy after she was buried?" Harker throws down his paper and storms off with an unspoken, "Oh, f*** this."

The Dracula: The Legacy Collection that came out a few years ago has the Spanish version with English (or French, for those who prefer it) subtitles. I don't know if that's the only way to get it, but t's a good collection and also includes Dracula's Daughter, Son of Dracula, and House of Dracula. Oh, and also a version of the Lugosi film with a different score by Philip Glass. I haven't watched that one before, so I don't know what kind of effect it has, but I'm curious to see if it livens up some of the drier spots.


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