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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.
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.
This movie has thrilled and chilled viewers for generations and also serves
as a standard for vampire flicks. This is the role that Bela Lugosi was born
to play, Count Dracula. His mannerisms and looks make the character
masterful and commanding. Based on Bram Stoker's novel, a vampire terrorizes
the English countryside searching for sustenance, human
Glorious black and white. The lighting, scenery and mood music should share equal billing with the great direction of Tod Browning. This movie leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime.
Wonderful supporting cast includes: David Manners, Edward Van Sloan, Helen Chandler and Dwight Frye.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've probably written about these films more then any other yet I
notice something new every time I watch. This time, I realized
"Dracula" is set in the modern day. During the flower girl scene, you
hear a car horn and see modern street lamps. Another question I ask for
the first time: Why did Dracula disguise himself as the carriage
driver? Why hide his face? Despite this question, it is one of the most
atmospheric scenes in a film built primarily on atmosphere.
Modern critiques tend to say Lugosi is the sole graceful factor in a stagy film. True but don't undersell. Karl Freund's camera is not stationary. A pan around Renfield's shoulder, a slow move up steps, a panorama of Seward's sanatorium. Renfield leering from the ship or the shadow of the captain lashed to the wheel are just two chilling scenes. The use of shadows is toned down from Universal's silents and it's generally agreed that Freund's artistry was held back by Todd Browning. Wither Browning had trouble adapting to sound or was still grieving for Lon Chaney (and the version of "Dracula" they had planned on making) is debated.
Either way, you can't deny the power of these images. The early shots of Dracula's castle, the brides awaking in the catacombs, the illogical armadillos, beetles in tiny coffins, Lugosi's glaring eyes. These images are the base upon which all American horror films are built. They still send chills up a viewer's spine seventy years later. The set design is incredible, particularly the dusty staircase of Castle Dracula or the ruins of Carfax Abbey. Supporting the sets are fantastic glass painted backgrounds.
I won't waste words on why Lugosi is the iconic Dracula. He exudes an authority over everyone simply with his body language. Shots of him doing nothing but standing in shadow-swept doorways manage to be creepy.
Given Dracula's sway over the opposite sex, it's easy to understand while the vampire is a fantasized character for men. But why is the vampire a sex symbol for women? The film is split on the issue. The scene of Dracula cornering the flower girl brings to mind nothing but sexual assault. I believe Dracula leaning over the sleeping bodies of his prey aren't meant to be provocative but rather to invoke classical nightmare imagery. We are all vulnerable when we sleep and many horror films prey on that innate vulnerably. (Yep, I just traced a line from Dracula to Freddy.) Dracula is feared by his female victims, yet still oddly attractive. Lucy doesn't seem totally asleep when Dracula comes for her. A later scene, where Mina walks into the count's arms, his cape wrapped around her, blending in with the shadows, is undoubtedly romantic. The vampire is a man with complete control over his females, psychic and sexual. Why women would desire such a mate is a topic unsuited for this blog. The seductive female vampire is a horror concept not yet solidified. Mina, once turned, seems less like a willing seductress and more like a drug addict, uncontrollably forced to attack her beloved husband.
The movie is flawed, no doubt. Who the heck is the main character? The count is unknowable. Harker or Seward don't do anything besides wring their hands. Van Helsing comes in too late, Lucy exits too early, while Mina is a damsel in distress. Nope, it's gotta' be Renfield. We follow him from the beginning and he features in most of the scenes. A book must exists that explores his character more. There's a lot of untapped potential there. Dwight Fry had enough range to play a straight-laced businessman perfectly, even if his unhinged insanity is what we remember. When his spider is thrown away, you almost feel for the guy. His monologue about Dracula presenting him with a feast of rats is great and I wonder why no other adaptation has gone into more detail about that. Why does Dracula even keep the guy around? He doesn't serve him much and is even responsible for revealing the count's hiding place.
The pacing drags in the latter half, as the staged qualities take over. There's a number of narrative question marks. Lucy's story arc is oddly abbreviated. We hear about her escapades as the Woman in White but Van Helsing disposes of her off-screen. Why does Dracula have Mina just hanging around the abbey at the very end? What purpose did that serve? Renfield preys on the unconscious maid in one scene but we never find out why. The guy sure gets out of his cell easy. Dr. Seward should probably hire a new staff. Dracula's final confrontation with Van Helsing is anticlimactic. Even the weaker second half of the film has its moments, such as Dracula making eye-contact with Mina's maid or smashing the mirror out of Van Helsing's hand.
I'm not begrudgingly calling it a great movie. It remains the best adaptation of Stoker's novel in many ways and is the most important of the Universal Monster cycle in countless ways.
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