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Dracula (1931) – A Comparison of The English and Spanish Language Versions

imagesWhen my cousin, sister and I went to see TCM Presents Dracula – Double Feature (which will also air this Wednesday, the 28th, at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm across the country at select theaters) we were the only people in the theater and when we first sat down, we were met with sound and a blank screen. I was obliged to run out and find somebody to look into it. Fortunately, we got visuals before Dracula started. I was quite excited. Although Dracula is far from my favorite Universal Monster film, I was looking forward to seeing the second feature of the afternoon, the Spanish Language Dracula, which I had heard was even better than the English one.

Dracula: Original English Version

The first half of the double feature was the original 1931 Dracula, with Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye and David Manners. The film was based on a highly successful play, which in turn was based on Bram Stoker’s novel, and it is extremely obvious it is based on a play. It is possibly the most talk-bound horror film I have ever seen and my impression of the film last year on a little screen was confirmed on the big screen. Dracula is slow. And it’s not just that people spend all their time talking, but they talk slowly and walk slowly and the camera moves slowly. Director Tod Browning made many excellent and highly expressionistic films with Lon Chaney during the silent era, but this film is curiously stage-bound. The camera-work is also remarkably straightforward. It pretty much just points straight ahead while the actors talk, with frequent close-ups of Bela Lugosi’s eyes, which are lit to look as frightening and mesmerizing as possible.

I call it a drawing room horror story (as opposed to a drawing room comedy). Everyone talks in the drawing room and if anything sensational occurs, it is related in conversation (for instance, Mina Seward relating how Dracula opened a vein in his arm and made her drink, or Jonathan Harker telling how he sees a giant wolf dart across the lawn). The film does start at Count Dracula’s castle and there is a brief foray into London and to a ballet, but the rest of the film occurs in Dr. Seward’s home, which is next to his asylum for the insane. The cast only ventures from the house at the end, pursing Dracula to his broken down residence. There’s not even any music (except for the Swan Lake Overture at the beginning, not to mention the reverberations from the theater next door to us that sounded like the beating of a heart).

Bela Lugosi

Bela Lugosi

So what makes the film such a classic? Bela Lugosi. Say what you will about his performance, he has a certain flair and 100% conviction in what he’s doing that makes him compelling. He plays the count with a great deal of stillness (he doesn’t make faces, but stares intensely) and completely dominates the film. Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing is suitably canny as the professor who’s on to Dracula and uses his knowledge to defeat him, but he’s not particularly charismatic. Helen Chandler as Mina Seward is downright anemic while David Manners as Jonathan Harker is stuck with a boring role where he does nothing but hold Mina’s hand and fret.

The only other person who really gets to shine in the film is Dwight Frye as Renfield, the lawyer who Dracula turns into his insane minion who craves flies and spiders. He has one of the best mad laughs ever; it’s creepy and he does the staring eyes without quite going over the top into manic and distracting activity. He also made me think of Gollum.

My cousin found the ending of the film to be a bit of a letdown. I know what he means. After all the talking and threatening in the living room and the neck biting and staring eyes, how does the film end? Van Helsing simply follows him to his ruined Abbey and drives a stake in his heart. So, that’s all there was too it? Now showdown? He’s really dead now? Well, okay. Suddenly Dracula’s fearful power seems deflated and he suddenly vulnerable. All he can do is lie there in his coffin during the day while someone walks up and kills him.

Dracula: Spanish Language Version

Alt1_dracula_spanish_bigFor a time, movie studios would make foreign-language versions of their English films. They would use the same sets, but have a different cast and rewrite the script a little. For the Spanish Language Dracula, the budget was smaller, the cast less known, the director (George Melford) didn’t speak Spanish and needed an interpreter, and they were obliged to shoot at night, but since they had the advantage of watching Tod Browning shoot his film first, they set out to make an ever better film. And with the exception of their Count Dracula, in many ways they did.

Clearly, they did not feel obliged to adhere slavishly to the script, since they add twenty minutes to the film’s running time. There are additions to conversations that more clearly explains what Van Helsing is doing or that fills in gaps in the story. In the English version, we see Renfield crawling towards a fainting maid as if he’s going to attack her, but we never find out what happens. The Spanish Language shows what happens (he’s really stalking a fly). And they explain why Van Helsing and Harker are out at night in time to follow Renfield, who leads them to Dracula’s Abbey (they are setting Lucy’s soul free – a friend of Mina who was turned into a vampire by Dracula).

They also expanded Renfield’s role. Pablo Arvarez Rubio as Renfield can’t quite match Dwight Frye in madness or evil laughter. When he’s playing mad, he seems a bit much, but he’s much more convincing in those added scenes that show him to be aware of what other people think of him. When he’s introduced to Van Helsing, he speaks and acts perfectly normally, until he sees a fly and begins to stalk it, only to look at the incredulous faces of those watching him and sink back in shame. In fact, there’s so much added with Renfield that at times it seems as if Count Dracula disappears from the story.

Carlos Villarias

Carlos Villarias

Which is just as well since the one glaring weakness in the film is Carlos Villarias. His expression seems to swing between one of dyspepsia, insanity and flat-out geniality (my cousin argued that he liked him better than Lugosi because he was nicer and that made him scarier). He widens his eyes crazily and grins constantly. It’s very distracting and he doesn’t nearly dominate his film the way Lugosi does.

Lupita Tovar is also a much more vivid Eva (changed from Mina). There’s still not much in the character of Juan Harker for Barry Norton to work with. Eduardo Arozamena as Van Helsing is warmer, a little gentler in how he deals with people and more aware of them as people, not just bent on defeating Dracula like he was a scientific problem to defeat. Van Sloan’s Van Helsing had a stronger will, but Arozamena’s was more humane. Even Eva’s (Mina) father gets to be a bit warmer and less clueless in the film than the English version father.

The film is also more fluid, both because of the things they added to more smoothly transition between story points, but also in the more interesting camera angles, crane shots, and cross-cutting, which makes the story move more swiftly despite being twenty-minutes longer. It is still an essentially slow-paced film, but it gains pep.

If it weren’t for Bela Lugosi (and Dwight Frye), I’d suggest sticking with the Spanish language version. But Lugosi made it a classic and since the Spanish language Dracula wasn’t rediscovered and restored until the 1970s, it was the original English Dracula that influenced how people would perceive Dracula for years to come.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Movies

 

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“Double Your Pleasure with a Dracula Double Feature”

I am so definitely planning on seeing this this weekend! Here is an article on TCM’s MovieMorlocks, discussing the upcoming double feature of Dracula (1931) and the Spanish Version Dracula made at the same time. It is being shown at select theaters across the country.

“On Sunday Oct. 25th and Wednesday Oct. 28th, classic horror fans are in for a real cinematic treat. Turner Classic Movies in association with Fathom Events and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will be bringing DRACULA (1931) along with its Spanish language equivalent back to the big screen. This Dracula double feature will be shown at […]”

Source: Double Your Pleasure with a Dracula Double Feature

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Movies

 

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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

220px-A&cfrankMost people say that the comedy/horror/spoof Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the best way to be introduced to the original Universal Studio’s monster movies. But not me. I did my research to watch Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Never was a person more prepared than I. I have so often watched the spoof of something before actually watching the something and this time I was determined to be on the right side of the joke. And my preparation included: Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man and even The Invisible Man – all in their original, horrific glory.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is probably the most remembered movie Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made (though their routine “Who’s on First” might be more well known). It was apparently their most financially successful and definitely their most critically praised.

The story revolved around Chick (Abbott) and Wilber (Costello), two baggage clerks, who are warned not to deliver two large boxes to the McDougal House of Horrors. But they ignore the warning (which came from Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man), and the monsters are loose…though not in the McDougal House of Horrors. They have a nice, creepy castle they can repair to that is owned by a fugitive scientist from Europe, Dr. Sandra Mornay, who, as far as I can gather, specializes in brain implantations. She is also going to help Count Dracula to recharge Frankenstein’s monster, who apparently has depleted energy. It is not exactly clear why Dracula wants the monster, other than to have someone to do his dirty work, but his entire purpose seems to be wrapped up in getting the monster in working order.

However, he does not want the brain that is currently in the monster, the brain that was put in by Dr. Frankenstein in the original movie and was labeled abnormal. He wants a brain that is obedient, weak, easily led and not too bright. Dr. Mornay thinks Wilber’s brain will do nicely and is trying to vamp him, as is an insurance investigator for Mr. McDougal, Joan Raymond, who is trying to figure out where Mr. McDougal’s exhibits disappeared to. Meanwhile, Chick can’t figure out why all these pretty girls are chasing after Wilber.

Abbott-and-Costello-Meet-Frankenstein-1

Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Glenn Strange, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi

Also in the mix is Lawrence Talbot, who is trying to convince Chick and Wilber that he is the Wolf Man and that he is on their side. The trouble is, they don’t believe him and he keeps turning into a wolf and trying to attack them.

Half the fun comes from Wilber, who keeps seeing these monsters, but Chick never believes him and always seems to just miss being where they are. Wilber’s reactions are priceless, his flabbergasted terror and inarticulate gasps and mumblings. Chick is trying to talk sense into him – when he is not trying to talk him into giving him one of his two dates for the costume ball that Sandra invited Wilber to…although Joan has also managed to come along.

The ending is definitely the highlight. Chick and Wilber are running around in comic terror from the bumbling Frankenstein monster while Dracula and the Wolf Man are engaged in an earnest, deathly combat that is entirely peripheral to Chick and Wilber.

One of the things that makes the movie so funny is how absolutely serious the monsters take their roles, especially Lugosi as Count Dracula. He said that he approached the movie with exactly the same attitude as he did his role in the original Broadway show and the original 1931 film. Lon Chaney Jr., also plays his role earnestly in his quest to stop Dracula and deal with his nightly transformation. There is a fun line when he tells Costello, with internal torment at his plight, that every night, when the moon rises, he turns into a wolf. “Yeah, you and every other guy.” Costello replies.

th8OW940SCFrom all accounts, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster, had a lot of fun with the role. He would walk around the studio in all his makeup with a big grin on his face and he would constantly break out laughing at the antics of Costello during shooting, so they had to keep shooting retakes.

Ironically, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein marks the final appearance of all three monsters; monsters who had each been in multiple sequels. Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney both originated the roles and it is poetic that they should make the monsters’ final appearance. Lon Chaney is actually the only person to play the Wolf Man in all the Wolf Man movies. Boris Karloff, however, declined to play his originated role of the monster, so instead they cast Glenn Strange.

As a bonus, there is a vocal cameo by Vincent Price as The Invisible Man. Although Claude Rains originated the role, Vincent Price did play the second Invisible Man in The Invisible Man Returns.

Of course, this wasn’t really the end of these monsters. They were remade many times, by many different studios, by many different actors. Hammer Film Productions began making horror films in the 1950s and 60s that were in color, with lots of blood (which was new, since horror had traditionally been associated with black and white movies because of how shadowy and atmospheric black and white movies can be). I want to see their 1958 Dracula, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Count Dooku vs. Grand Moff Tarkin? What’s not to like?

But there’s not much to beat great monsters and great comedy, all in the same movie. And although Abbott and Costello would go on to meet many other monsters, like the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man (and Boris Karloff in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff), this is considered their finest.

abbott-and-costello-meet-frankenstein-1948c

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Movies

 

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