Reviews: Dracula (1931 movies)

Dracula

It’s been years since I saw this and I was surprised how much I’d forgotten. It’s quite good, even if not so terrifying now as it must have seemed for its original audiences, back when vampires had not yet been done to death, so to speak.

The film is based on a play and of course ultimately on Bram Stoker’s novel. It does a good job of compressing the story and considerably reducing the number of characters. It’s well-paced, and despite its running time is just an hour and 15 minutes it doesn’t feel rushed.

Bela Lugosi is excellent in the title role, for which he’d already achieved fame on the stage. Curiously he played Dracula only twice on film, the other time opposite Abbott and Costello, unless you count a live-action short he did with Mae Questel as Betty Boop, at one point telling the terrified Betty that she’s booped her last boop. (Questel provided the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in the cartoons, and decades later she played the elderly relative who sings the National Anthem at the end of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.)

Helen Chandler, who plays Mina, is quite beautiful and appealing. In fact the whole cast is good, other notable members being Edward van Sloan as Van Helsing and Dwight Frye as the mad Renfield with a distinctively weird and sinister laugh.

Drácula

When the cast and crew of Dracula left the studio each evening another cast and crew came in for the night shift to make the Spanish-language version using the same sets and a very similar script. Oddly enough, the director, George Melford (who a decade earlier had directed Rudolf Valentino’s most famous film, The Sheik), didn’t speak Spanish and had to use an interpreter. While the Spanish script was a translation of the English version, some scenes are quite different, and the overall running time is a half-hour longer, in part because the acting is more stage-like and the pacing slower (but not overly so).

Lupita Tovar, who plays Eva (Mina in the English version) is quite appealing. In one memorable scene she wears a gown whose bodice is both low-cut and nearly transparent, and at one memorable point she leans back and laughs in what one might call a vibrant manner. Whoa, Nellie. When Juan Harker first sees her in this outfit she innocently asks why he’s looking at her like that.

Carlos Villaríos (whose name is misspelled in the credits!) isn’t quite as good as Lugosi in the title role, but he’s not bad, less suave but more threatening and monstrous (and like me rather prone to leer). I’m not sure which film’s Renfield I like better. Pablor Álvarez Rubio seems more extreme in his madness but no less convincing, especially in his shifting back and forth between lunacy and lucidity. I’d also be hard-pressed to say which Van Helsing I preferred; they’s both quite good.

I didn't run across a trailer for the Spanish version, but here's an extract:

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