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Bela Lugosi forever captures the role of a certain undead Transylvanian count who takes a trip to London in the first legitimate version of the classic Bram Stoker novel. Despite many attempts by many talented film makers, I believe this version, directed by Tod Browning, remains the definitive take on the often-filmed novel. But why? Is it simply nostalgia? Granted, I do fondly remember staying up late as a child watching this film on Ghost Host theater and finding myself suitably frightened. However, if I were the same age today, would I find the film as effective? Would a steady diet of more modern and explicit horror films made me too jaded to enjoy the more subtle charms of this film? I hope not, but I could see how it might. The film is slow, and its slowness is further emphasized by the absence of an under score. It is stagey - being as it was more influenced by the stage play than the novel itself. Also, the story plays itself out too quickly. Van Helsing manages to figure everything out and dispatch the count in about two seconds. There simply isn't much suspense - and even less gore or violence. Yet it remains the champ. Why? The main reason is Lugosi himself. He gives the performance of a lifetime. He truly inhabits the role and is genuinely creepy. The rest of the cast, particularly Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Dwight Frye as Renfield, support him admirably. However, when I watch the old Universal horror films nowadays, I find myself really enjoying the atmospheric sets and lighting. Yes, there is still much to love about Dracula today. (As long as you avoid the optional Philip Glass score on the DVD!)
The real estate agent Renfield (Dwight Frye) travels to Transilvania
for a business meeting with Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), who is
interested in Carfax Abbey in London. Renfield is converted in a
servant of Dracula and prepares his master's ship travel to his new a
property. While navigating, Dracula sucks the blood and kills all the
crew of the vessel. Once in London, Dracula sucks the blood of Lucy
Weston (Frances Dade) and she becomes an undead. He feels also a kind
of passion for Mina Seward (Helen Chandler), the daughter of Dr. Jack
Seward (Herbert Bunston) and fiancé of Jonathan Harker (David Manners).
Dracula sucks her blood, Mina has a weird behavior and health problem,
and Dr. Seward calls a specialist, Prof. Abraham Van Helsing (Edward
Van Sloan), to diagnose the mysterious problem with Mina. Although
being a scientist, Van Helsing believes in the supernatural, and tries
to save Mina from turning into a vampire.
"Dracula" is a spectacular well-known classic vampire story, with a magnificent transposition of the Bram Stoker's novel to the cinema. Although being a 1931 black and white movie, the photography and the camera work are excellent. There are at least two magnificent scenes: the long traveling of the camera in the sanatorium, from the yard to Remfield's room and the long stairway in the end of the movie to Dracula's tomb. The performances are quite theatrical, as usual in that period, and the film does not show any explicit violent scene. I dare to say that probably it is Bela Lugosi's best performance. "Universal Studios" released in Brazil a wonderful box, with the shape of a coffin, called "Classic Monster Collection" with eight classic horror movies on DVD. Maybe "Dracula" is my favorite one. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Drácula"
Note: On 23 November 2013, I saw the Spanish Version of this movie.
Dracula(1931) mayn't be the definitive version of the brilliant Bram
Stoker novel, but it is still a classic. My only complaints are the
abrupt ending and David Manners as John, he tries his best but
sometimes his line delivery is awkward and some of his lines are
I did also think that to a lesser extent the first half is better than the second. The opening scene is absolutely brilliant, but while there are still some compelling and well-done scenes the second half is rather talky. That said, there is a lot I loved about Dracula. The costumes, sets, photography and lighting are suitably atmospheric and grandiose, the story is still the timeless story even with the many changes I love and the screenplay apart from the odd stilted line from John is very good.
I saw Dracula in two versions, one without background music which added to the genuine atmosphere, and one with a suitably hypnotic and haunting score from minimalist composer Phillip Glass. While I loved Glass' score, I do prefer slightly the one without the scoring, the silence further added to the atmosphere I feel. The whole film is beautifully directed too, and while the film is very short at about an hour and a quarter the pace is just right.
The acting is very good, perhaps theatrical in a way but I think it worked. Bela Lugosi has such a magnetic presence in the title role, Edward Van Sloan is perfect as Van Helsing but in a sinister and funny performance Dwight Frye steals the film.
In conclusion, excellent film and a classic. 9/10 Bethany Cox
One of the most iconic and popular characters in film history, Dracula
has taken many forms, in many genres, and performed to various quality.
Although not the first film to feature the character of Count Dracula
(a couple of lost silent films and F.W. Murnau's unauthorised version
Nosferatu came before), Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the menacing and
seductive Count is commonly seen as the definitive.
The story is known to most solicitor Renfield (Dwight Frye) arrives at Count Dracula castle at night, despite prior warnings by the nearby locals. He is greeted by Dracula, who, unknown to Renfield, is a vampire. Upon arrival, he pricks his finger, causing it to bleed which visibly excites Dracula until he spies the crucifix hanging around Renfield's neck. Renfield is drugged by Dracula and the two travel to London the next day by boat. When the ship arrives, only Renfield remains on the boat, now seemingly a lunatic and a slave to the Count. He is hospitalised while Dracula becomes entranced by a woman named Mina (Helen Chandler), who is engaged to John Harker (David Manners). As circumstances grow stranger, Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) becomes convinced that the Count is indeed a vampire, and that he must be destroyed.
The film would be the beginning of a long run of successful horror movies made by Universal, which would be hits critically and commercially, and many are nowadays considered classics of the genre. Although falling short of the outright perfection of James Whale's Frankenstein (also 1931) and its sequel Bride Of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula still proves a great adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. Lugosi's performance is the definitive Dracula, his minimal movements and slow, pronounced dialogue, spoken with his Hungarian accent proves an unnerving Count. I'm not forgetting Max Schrek's Nosferatu, while amazing for its sheer dedication, it was hardly the Dracula of the book.
Director Tod Browning, who up to the point of making Dracula had made over 50 feature films, controls the film superbly, and opts for slow, menacing darkness rather than loud jump scenes and special effects. It builds up the mood gradually, and with Lugosi's fantastic central performance, makes for an atmospheric experience. It's a pity that Browning would almost end his career the next year with the commercially disastrous Freaks, which I consider a true great of the horror genre.
It's just a shame that the film's final scene is rather soft and anti- climatic, jarring with the brilliance that came before. However, it remains an excellent film overall, and the film that would spawn many memorable films for Universal studious.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bela Lugosi couldn't have played it any better in Dracula. Simply said,
scenes where we find ourselves looking into his eyes, we find ourselves
fearfully looking into the eyes of death. Bela Lugosi also imposes a
strong presence over his characters which I think is important to his
image in Dracula. He is much taller than the other actors, which makes
him look more powerful and makes his present felt. He is wonderfully
scary. While it is obvious that it was made in 1931 during some scenes,
it still strikes fear in the audience.
The Mise-en-scene is incredible in this movie, particularly in the opening scene when the carriage comes speeding up the hill and quickly drops the man off to Dracula. There is a thick fog and darkness, Dracula wearing a black outfit covering everything, and cliffs in the background. Dracula's castle is also an excellent example of mise-en-scene with the darkness, high cathedral ceilings, spiderwebs everywhere, bats swooping about, and wolves howling in the background.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is interesting that when Universal went to make this one, they did
not get much of what they wanted to do yet came out with a very good
film. Universal wanted a big budget film, but because of the
depression, this one was made on the cheap. The studio head wanted Lon
Chaney Sr for the title role. He was not available and almost by
accident they found Bela Legosi.
Todd Browning did a great job directing the first horror film. Todd could not have liked the fact that at night, the crew shooting the Spanish Version would look at Brownings daily shot and then re-shoot improved versions of their own with their cast.
Still, the Spanish version did not have Bela. The rest of the cast around him played the roles real well. The real irony here is that Bela would only do the role one more time, making fun of himself in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Legosi is one of the few actors who has the best dramatic performance and the best comedy performance on film for the same role.
This original holds up well, including the creepy arrival of the ship of corpses in England. The estate rented by Dracula in England is now actually the same name as a famous web site. Another accident related to this film. Sometimes fate creates a work of art where none is expected. Dracula is one of those, copied a lot but none as good as the original.
I found Dracula to be an interesting movie. The camera really pans out on some scenes, like in the sanitarium and the staircase at Dracula's estate. I found the movie to movie a little too slow for my liking. It seemed to lull in some parts and I found myself getting a little bored. The actors were every dramatic which played out nicely and gave more life to the scene. I enjoyed Renfield because he was so insane and his laugh was creepy. I laughed at the part between the male nurse and Renfield when the spider is taken away from him. I didn't quiet understand the beginning with the three girls they did not seem to really add anything to the film. I think Dracula is a classic that has been redone many times. I would say this version was not my favorite, but I still enjoyed watching it.
The 1931 `Dracula' casts an imposing shadow over the horror genre. It is,
after all, the movie that launched the classic Universal horror cycle of the
1930s and 1940s. It is also a tremendous influence on the look and
atmosphere of horror movies in general (and vampire movies in particular).
It gave Dracula a look and a voice, and created a legend.
Okay, so we know it was influential. But how does it work as a movie? Well the first time I watched it, I was underwhelmed. The pace is slow. While Bela Lugosi's Dracula is menacing, the rest of the cast is colorless to the point of transparency. There are some good gliding camera shots here and there (thank you, Karl Freund!), but the majority of the film is locked into stationary medium and long shots. The film is tightly bound to its theatrical origins director Browning has his characters look at things out of frame and describe them rather than just showing us, which would be much more effective.
Fortunately, `Dracula' improves with repeated viewings. The glacial pace and lack of sound in many places gives the movie a nightmarish sense of menace. In fact, `Dracula' is somewhere between a nightmare and a piece of classical music everything proceeds at its own pace, gliding through the motions, gradually building suspense and momentum until the piece reaches climax. The end result is a flawed but haunting, hypnotic masterpiece, and one of the greatest vampire films ever made.
Yes, after the "first two reels", this film is less effectively baroque, but it's still heartily enjoyable stuff, even if the finale is poorly handled. Bela Lugosi's performance as the good Count is so wonderfully definitive that it seems remarkable how many other actors have subsequently donned the cape. I've not seen any of the other versions, but I suspect few could match Lugosi's hypnotic display of acting. From the wonderfully eerie, sublimely photographed Transylvania scenes to the scenes in a London theatre, Lugosi is spellbinding. While he dominates the film, others make their mark. Helen Chandler is quite good as the unfortunate Mina Seward, Dwight Frye is wonderfully mad as Renfield and Edward Van Sloan is towering as Van Helsing. Certainly, there is a contrast in tone between the two parts of the film; the first nightmarish, eerie, mesmerising and very cinematic, the second more akin to a stage play, and rather more melodramatic, but it does come together in my view, as a most effective, likeable whole. It is all immensely helped by a quite wonderfully Philip Glass score, that perfectly complements and embellishes the images. In many ways it is typical Glass, and that is no bad thing, but the atmosphere the Kronos Quartet create is just right. Rating:- ****/*****.
"Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make!" so said
Bela Lugosi in what was to be the role that cemented him as a pop
culture icon of American film. To see director Todd Browning's original
1931 adaptation of Dracula is to see the American horror film at its
finest. Dracula is the vampire formula at its purest before it could be
diluted by the telling and the retelling. Dracula is a surreal
experience as Browning takes us with him on a journey into our fear of
death, but also our fear of the filthiness of sex. It is a film that
has aged like a good wine which Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula swore to
If one were to try and dissect Todd Browning's Dracula to find a sole element of success the search would lead us time and time again to Bela Lugosi. Dracula simply is not Dracula without Lugosi's portrayal of the Count. So much credit has to be given to Lugosi and his portrayal of the titular character. It is doubtful this film would have the staying power, or the atmosphere that it has if another actor was portraying Count Dracula. Lugosi's performance and how it succeeds is the marriage of so many factors, but arguably Lugosi's greatest asset to his performance would have to be his rich Hungarian accent. Lugosi surprisingly doesn't get much dialogue in the film as much of the exposition comes from the protagonist Professor Van Helsing played by Edward Van Sloan, and Dracula's slave Renfield played by Dwight Frye. The lines Lugosi does deliver are often extremely concise. It is not the lines themselves, but rather the way Lugosi delivers them that creates this character. How Lugosi delivers the lines offers more insight into this character than any detailed dissection of the character could. Lugosi's lines are read almost phonetically, each word one by one, each little nuance of the language stressed in Lugosi's thick Hungarian dialect. The resulting effect is hypnotic, poetic, frightening, and in many ways very sad. Lugosi's introduction is in my humble opinion one of the strongest scenes in motion picture history almost solely based on the delivery of the line "I am... Dracula". The scene follows Renfield, a solicitor whom Dracula will drive mad, as he ventures through Dracula's dilapidated castle searching for the Count. Dracula appears out of the shadows sucking in whatever air Renfield could muster in these catacombs of death by merely saying "I am Dracula." Lugosi's delivery is as much a part of the aging castle trapped in time as the cobwebs are. Lugosi was so suave and mysterious as Dracula that the audience became attracted to the vampire.
Dracula is not merely Lugosi's picture though. The film has a strong supporting cast highlighted by actor Edward Van Sloan, and Dwight Frye. One thing that can be said of Dracula's entire cast is that despite the extreme material no one even comes close to going over the top with their role. The amount of sincerity and the absence of any tongue in cheek aspect of performance are to be admired. Sloan and Frye's characters both had the potential to skate towards over the top territory, but both performances are firmly grounded in reality and are very effective in complimenting Lugosi's Dracula.
Dwight Frye is very strong as Renfield. The role is as complex as that of the Count. Renfield is a bipolar madman enslaved to do Dracula's bidding. Frye is asked to exhibit behaviors on all forms of the spectrum. This character and the characterization are unpredictable to the extreme. One constant about Renfield is that he is the predator, and he represents the fear of sexuality within the vampire mythos. Frye's facial expressions are other worldly especially when we see the extent of Renfield's madness. There is a scene where Renfield crawls with vulture eyes towards a housemaid who has fainted by the sight of his very appearance. Frye too is asked to deliver insight into a character despite the fact that the lines don't explicitly offer character exposition or development. Renfield's dialogue mainly consists of nonsensical lunatic ravings. The way Frye delivers the lines and how he builds the intensity is really powerful though. It is these build up of the madness that keeps this character effective.
Technically Dracula isn't all that impressive a picture from a cinematographer's standpoint, but does it really need to be? Browning is very cautious about what he wants to do with his camera. Much of the film is very static and offers little to no movement of the camera. What Browning captures in his shots though are really powerful images. The amount of attention given to the detail of each shot truly is amazing. The fact is there is not one shot of Bela Lugosi blinking in the entire film; that shows an incredible commitment. Browning is more of a still photographer than he is a cinematographer, but the power of the images is unmistakably there. This static dream-like world is perfect for the subject material.It may hurt the pacing a tad, but an argument can be made that the audience are much better able to appreciate Bela Lugosi, and even Dwight Frye's performance due to the way Browning stages his picture. Browning's appreciation for the hypnotic quality of images is one of the strengths of the film, not one of the weaknesses.
Dracula is a masterpiece of film making. The film still offers a hypnotic experience almost 80 years after Bela Lugosi first uttered "I am Dracula". It is a film that has only gotten better with age. Todd Browning and Bela Lugosi succeeded in creating a surreal picture where vampires do exist.
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