Monday, November 04, 2019

Monster Monday | Dracula's Daughter (1936)



I had such a good time watching Dracula adaptations last month that I decided to keep going and watch some of the sequels to those adaptations. And even movie sequels to the novel itself, but that don't follow up a movie adaptation.

Who's in it?: Gloria Holden (Dodge City), Edward Van Sloan (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy), Otto Kruger (Treasure Island, Tarzan's Desert Mystery, High Noon, Black Widow), and Marguerite Churchill (The Big Trail, The Walking Dead).

What's it about?: Immediately following the events of Dracula (1931), Dracula's daughter (Holden) comes to England to properly dispose of his body and hopefully cure her own vampirism.

How is it?: I love that it picks up right where Tod Browning's Dracula left off. Jonathan Harker and Mina have left the abbey, but Renfield's body is still there where Dracula left it and Van Helsing (Van Sloan, reprising his role from the previous movie) is still in the tomb with the count's staked corpse. That's when the police show up.

Van Helsing is arrested for Dracula's murder, but instead of calling a lawyer, he asks Scotland Yard to contact a psychologist friend of his, Jeffrey Garth (Kruger). Van Helsing apparently wants to keep Jonathan, Mina, and Dr Seward out of it even though they could support his story. He never mentions them in the film, but that fits with his personality from the previous film. He's stoic, independent, and strong-willed. He refuses to make up a believable lie about what he did, but he's not going to put anyone else in a position where their reputations are also at stake for claiming that vampires exist.

Jeff is skeptical, but (like Dr Seward in the novel) is a former student of Van Helsing and agrees to help the old professor out. Jeff is helped by his assistant, a cultured woman named Janet Blake (Churchill). Dracula's Daughter came out a couple of years after WS Van Dyke's Thin Man movie and I sense some Nick and Nora influence on Jeff and Janet. They're not married, but they clearly like each other even though they tease and bicker. They're a fun couple and I especially like Janet who has to exercise patience with the grumpier Jeff.

Meanwhile, a mysterious, exotic woman shows up at the morgue, dominates the mind of the guard there, and steals Dracula's body. It's Countess Marya Zaleska, who refers to herself later as the daughter of Dracula. It's never specified if she's the Count's actual, biological child or simply someone whom he turned into a vampire long ago, like his so-called "brides" in Transylvania. I like the second option and it makes sense with what's revealed about Zaleska's character. The term "bride" suggests some consent in her alliance with him. "Daughter" does not. You don't get to choose your parents. And since Zaleska resents her vampiric state, I can see why she might prefer that term.

In fact, she's come to London to make sure that Dracula's body is completely destroyed, hoping that doing so will free her from her curse. Her reluctance about being a vampire gives the film a different tone from Dracula and allows Dracula's Daughter to play with different themes. I've always read her craving for blood as an allegory for addiction that she tries to beat through sheer will power. Sadly, it's a tragic, doomed effort.

Other viewers have focused on the seductive side of vampirism and see the film as an allegory for homosexuality. That totally works, too; I just hadn't thought of it. Either way, Dracula's Daughter offers a lot to think about and Holden is a great actor to center the drama around. She's a perfect replacement for Bela Lugosi; aristocratic and exotically attractive in the same way that he was in the earlier film, but because she's also a sympathetic character, I'm more invested in her (and Jack and Janet when she gets involved with them, because they need Dracula's corpse to verify Van Helsing's story) than I am in her dad.

Rating: Four out of five Janets



4 comments:

Caffeinated Joe said...

I like this one, too. I am surprised her character doesn't pop up in more Universal Monsters art and such, as she could add a little more female balance to stuff like that, where The Bride of Frankenstein has to carry all that weight!

Michael May said...

Yes! Excellent point!

It's too bad She-Wolf of London was such a fake-out, because that would complete an awesome female trinity.

Anonymous said...

To be honest I'm quite happy we have both Count Dracula and his more sympathetic progeny; when it comes to Dracula I personally prefer a good, hiss-able Master Villain but I'm quite willing to accept more sympathetic portrayals of other vampires.

Within reasonably broad limits, of course - vampires should be dangerous, uncanny beings and not purely benevolent entities (people keep missing the fact that Vampirism is a curse that those rather nifty super-powers only sometimes compensate for).


In addition to Vampirism being a way of talking about addiction, one could also use it as an excellent way of addressing the sort of dangerous obsessions with purity of blood (and the 'special qualities' associated with them) so inherent to Feudal aristocrats & livestock breeders alike.

Michael May said...

"...when it comes to Dracula I personally I personally prefer a good, hiss-able Master Villain but I'm quite willing to accept more sympathetic portrayals of other vampires.

"Within reasonably broad limits, of course - vampires should be dangerous, uncanny beings and not purely benevolent entities (people keep missing the fact that Vampirism is a curse that those rather nifty super-powers only sometimes compensate for)."


Exactly the same. If this was a petition, I would sign it.

I have more thoughts, but I'll save them for the next Monster Monday, 'cause the movie I'll cover is a great example of Dracula in full monster mode.

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