At midnight on Walpurgis Night, an English clerk, Renfield, arrives at Count Dracula's castle in the Carpathian Mountains. After signing papers to take over a ruined abbey near London, ... See full summary »
At midnight on Walpurgis Night, an English clerk, Renfield, arrives at Count Dracula's castle in the Carpathian Mountains. After signing papers to take over a ruined abbey near London, Dracula drives Renfield mad and commands obedience. Renfield escorts the boxed count on a death ship to London. From there, the Count is introduced into the society of his neighbor, Dr. Seward, who runs an asylum. Dracula makes short work of family friend, Lucia Weston, then begins his assault on Eva Seward, the doctor's daughter. A visiting expert in the occult, Van Helsing, recognizes Dracula for who he is, and there begins a battle for Eva's body and soul. Written by
Dracula (1931) - US Version ***1/2; Spanish Version ***
The Browning/Lugosi 'classic' has always been one of my favorite Universal horror films but, ever since the simultaneously-produced 'rival' Spanish version resurfaced, the 'original' has taken a beating by fans and historians alike - mainly because the latter features superior camera-work! This, however, is the ONLY area where it can lay a claim to be better in when compared to the US version (the fact that leading lady Lupita Tovar had a sexier wardrobe than Helen Chandler shouldn't even be considered, I guess). Still, the fact that on the DVD the opinion that the seminal US version is the inferior one seems to be shared by quite a few people hasn't done it any favors! I remember being impressed by the Spanish version when I first watched it in 2001, singling out for praise the performance of Pablo Alvarez Rubio as Renfield and, of course, George Robinson's cinematography. However, coming back to it now, I felt that Rubio's hysterical rendering of the character (which reminded me of Gene Wilder in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN  of all people!) was nowhere nearly as nuanced as Dwight Frye's unforgettable characterization in the US version. Regarding the "superior camera-work", I guess this is true for individual sequences (Dracula's introduction, for instance) but, frankly, I never felt that Karl Freund - a pioneer of the moving camera - had somehow been restrained by Tod Browning, who admittedly wasn't very fond of this technique. Given that of late we've also been faced by the ridiculous assumption that Browning didn't actually direct the film, he couldn't have - since he wasn't even there!! It may be however, that since frequent Browning collaborator Lon Chaney (who had been slated for the title role) died before shooting began, the director sort of lost heart in the project - coupled also with the fact that the script was rather talky, another element with which Browning felt uneasy! Well, whatever went on behind the scenes, for me what's in front remains one of the highlights of the American horror film - from the marvelous dialogue (especially as delivered - each in their own unique way - by Lugosi, Frye and Edward Van Sloan), irreproachable performances (Frye and Van Sloan were at their best, while Lugosi only ever really came close with THE BLACK CAT  and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN ) and memorable individual scenes (the entire first act set in Transylvania, the confrontation scenes between Dracula and his nemesis Professor Van Helsing, Renfield's various ravings). The tame ending may appear anti-climactic to most people but I honestly was never bothered by it! If anything, this was remedied in any number of ways in subsequent outings...
Which brings us back to the Spanish Dracula: like I said, the film is an interesting and altogether pleasing 'alternate' to the Lugosi version...but it is fatally compromised by the inadequate leading performance of Carlos Villarias, whose bulging eyes and feral snarls can't hold a candle to Lugosi's definitive screen vampire! This version does go to places where the American doesn't (Browning shies away from the vampire attacks, for instance) and even features 'new' scenes like the aftermath of the vampiric Lucy's demise - but, at 104 minutes (a full half-hour longer than the US version, when considering that they were following the same script!) it's way overlong for its own good. The Browning/Lugosi version is often criticized for its sluggishness but this one actually moves at a snail's pace: take, for instance, the famous scene where Dracula is exposed by the mirror - Lugosi knocks the box down immediately, while Villarias takes forever to do so (even if his resolution is effectively flamboyant nonetheless).
A word about the DVD quality: disappointingly, the Spanish version features closed-captions (for the hearing-impaired) rather than proper subtitles. As for the US version, the print utilized for this particular transfer (which differs from that of the original, and more satisfactory, 1999 release) is a bit too dark for my taste and the dialogue sometimes was hard to catch due to the incessant hiss on the soundtrack! It also reverts to the 'original' single groan during Dracula's staking (instead of the elongated variant available on the earlier disc)...but does feature a bit of music at the end of the Opera sequence, which had been missing from the previous edition!! Well, this only means that it's worth keeping both copies of Dracula as neither is really definitive...
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