Thursday, November 14, 2019
Son of Dracula (1943)
Who's in it?: Lon Chaney Jr (Man Made Monster, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Tomb), Louise Allbritton, Robert Paige (The Monster and the Girl, Hellzapoppin'), Frank Craven, J Edward Bromberg (Invisible Agent, Phantom of the Opera), and Evelyn Ankers (Hold That Ghost, The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Captive Wild Woman).
What's it about?: A Southern heiress (Allbritton) courts a vampire (Chaney) with a familiar name for her own, mysterious purposes.
How is it?: I love the Southern Gothic setting and the complicated morality of Allbritton's Katherine. She's playing a dangerous game for reasons that I won't spoil and don't agree with, but I totally understand why she thinks she's right. I didn't expect that kind of intricacy in a Universal Dracula sequel, though I probably should have after Dracula's Daughter.
Two things don't work for me. The smaller issue is the character of Katherine's boyfriend, Frank (Paige). He has a tragic arc as Katherine's plan has the unintended consequence of driving him insane. That's pretty cool, but Frank goes from normal to crazy too quickly, implying (if I'm generous in my reading of him) that he was already pretty close to nuts to begin with. (If I'm not generous, it's just bad film-making.) As soon as Count Alucard steps in as a rival and lays hands on Frank, Frank pulls out a gun and shoots the count. I don't really know why Frank's carrying a gun to begin with, but he's not entirely the calm, Southern gentleman he presents himself as. After he tries to murder Alucard, he spirals down from there. Once he's on that path though, the rest of his journey is captivating.
The bigger problem is Chaney Jr as the count. He looks great, but makes no attempt at a Hungarian accent or really appearing to be European at all. The effects around his vampire powers are pretty great (especially one chilling scene where he floats across the surface of a bayou), but he still isn't very scary. He comes across as a mundane bully, not Lord of the Undead. I guess it's better not to try an accent than it would be to have him do a horrible one, but if he's not capable, then he just feels miscast.
There are interesting things to think about from a continuity standpoint. The Dracula legend is widespread enough in this world that Alucard is a lousy pseudonym if the count is actually trying to hide his identity. The local doctor (Craven) figures it out in the very first scene and is immediately on Alucard's trail. When he calls in a Hungarian folklore expert (Bromberg) for assistance, they speculate about who Alucard might actually be.
The folklore guy, Professor Lazlo, wonders if Alucard might be a descendant of Dracula. That's as close as the movie gets to explaining the connection or justifying the Son of Dracula title. "Son," in this case, doesn't necessarily mean "direct offspring." And since it's just speculation by Lazlo, there's no reason to believe that Alucard is actually, biologically connected to Dracula at all.
Alucard clearly wants some sort of relationship to exist, though, and sees himself at least as the spiritual heir to Dracula's legacy. That's why he adopts such a ludicrous, easy to decipher alias. He wants people to make the connection. He may not even be Hungarian, or even European. That would explain his accent. I imagine that he's a completely American vampire who traveled to Europe and adopted a connection to Dracula before meeting Katherine and following her back to the States. He's a poseur, but he's a powerful one.
One last continuity observation and it's an important one: In relating Dracula's story to Dr Brewster, Lazlo explains that Dracula was destroyed at the end of the nineteenth century. That fits with Stoker's story, but not with the Universal adaptation that took place in the 1930s. There's no mention of any of the events of that film or Dracula's Daughter, so the easiest interpretation is that Son of Dracula is a sequel to the original novel and not the other two Universal films. Meaning that there are two separate realities.
I don't like that, though. I enjoy Son of Dracula too much to just put it aside in a pocket universe. Instead, I prefer to think that Lazlo is simply mistaken about when Dracula was defeated in the Universal films. It also makes more sense for the other sequels that followed if Son of Dracula takes place in the same world as Dracula and Dracula's Daughter, but I'll get into why that is later. It's a weird mistake for Lazlo to have made, but I think that's the best explanation.
Rating: Three out of five Minas.