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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Study in Classic Horror- DRÁCULA (1931)

I’m afraid I didn’t like it. Sorry to start this entry off so bluntly, but I know I’m going to take some flack for my opinion, so I thought it best to get it out in the open early. I know a great many people hold Universal’s Spanish language version of Dracula, shot on the same sets with a translation of the same script, in high regard, some even find it superior to the Lugosi version. It just turns out I’m not among them. I made an effort; I really went in wanting to like it, but it just wasn’t to be. Have my love of Lugosi and the higher profile of the other version become so elevated in my psyche that this one couldn’t possibly eclipse it? Perhaps, to a degree. After all, when we hear a new version of a popular song we tend to favor the original version that we fell in love with, but I think it was more than that.

Let me start by going over what I did like about the film. There were some good performances. Pablo Álvarez Rubio certainly made a good Renfield, although he took the character in a much more extravagant direction than Dwight Frye. Lupita Tovar made for an enjoyable Eva (this film’s version of Mina). And Carlos Villarías makes an adequate Count, even if I did think he looked like the son of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee with a dash of Nicholas Cage thrown in, still I found him lacking in the Lugosi charm. But casting-wise I felt most of the good performances were made by the tourists and villagers at the beginning of the film, and I particularly liked the wide-eyed frightened helmsman, who becomes the last victim on the cargo ship.

Production-wise, I appreciated some of the script elements retained in this version that were cut from the Lugosi version. It was nice to see exactly how the housekeeper escaped a possible attack from Renfield, and I was glad to see closure brought to the Woman in White subplot, even if it did come at an awkward time dramatically.

I did find it strange that there is footage of the brides of Dracula used from the English version that doesn’t match at all the brides we see a few minutes later, but I can forgive that. We’ll just say the Count has six brides in this version.

No, my biggest problem with Drácula was the pacing. This version is thirty minutes longer than the English version, and it feels like it. One might argue that it’s due to the aforementioned script elements that they kept, but no, it’s mostly due to the director’s slow pans and his need to show every single step as someone crosses a room. This is the same way the Ed Woods of the world pad out a film. Couple that with Eduardo Arozamena’s very stilted way of delivering his lines, and this makes for one very slow moving film. There were also some strange choices made when it came to the composition of some shots, particularly one where several of the actors are obscured by a sofa. On the whole, I found it very hard to remain engaged.

So, let the dissension begin. I was looking for discussion and debate when I decided to take this project to the Internet, so I’m looking forward to hearing what others have to say. I may not have liked it, but I look forward to hearing why others do.

To end on a high note though, there’s a nice anecdote connected with the film in Michael Mallory’s book that I can’t resist repeating here: Apparently, Lupita Tovar got the role of Eva because Universal executive Paul Kohner had fallen madly in love with her and she was to return to Mexico. Creating projects for young Spanish-speaking actors was apparently his ploy to keep her in Hollywood. Apparently, it worked. They were married in 1932 and remained so until his death in 1988. Incidentally, she’s still with us today at age 101, and the DVD I watched, features an interview with her from five years ago, still looking rather lively for a lady in her upper 90s.

This week’s supporting features:

Porky Pig in Paying the Piper (1949)

The Our Gang short Big Ears (1931)

Next week’s film:

The Mummy’s Hand (1940) starring Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Wallace Ford, and Tom Tyler

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