"I wanted to restore the character as a pure, romantic, dignified and elegant man, one who really does want to find one special woman. And as most women want to find one special man... if you're lucky enough ever to have that in your life, you realize how much better it is than anything else." – Frank Langella
That, essentially, is the crux of this adaptation of Dracula. No, it is not entirely accurate to the book. It is not even somewhat accurate to the book. It barely resembles the book except in the names of the characters (and even those have been changed around) and the fact that the Count is in fact a vampire. And don't get me wrong, I love the book for its subtleties and for providing a fascinating glimpse into a Victorian mindset through its symbolism, but only one Dracula movie stands out for me, and this is it.
It is a shame in some regards that the film has become dated, that it was moved into the Edwardian era instead of remaining Victorian, and did not land a bigger budget, because frankly, without some of the cheesy special effects and 70's style of film making, it would improve greatly. I am well aware of its faults, even known to make intentional fun at them, but it's true
I simply love it.
Prior to taking on this role, Langella was performing the same character on stage on Broadway and creating a sensation. Women simply loved him. I actually knew a woman who used to work in the theater and she said she has never seen such a reaction in a female audience before or since those performances. Langella had such tremendous stage presence that most of the women in the audience were madly in love with him before the end of the first act. The movie gives us a taste of this, because Langella embodies something very few men possess –- natural sensuality. It's never forced, it's never aggressive, it's never overbearing or overtly sexual; it's demure eroticism underneath a cravat. He is one of the most elegant men I have ever seen, the kind where you are consciously aware of him in a room even if he is not the central focus of the camera. It is Langella that makes the film –- without him, for all intensive purposes it would be rubbish, a forgettable foray into the lackluster productions that marked the latter half of the 1970's.
Langella approached the project differently from any actor before or since –- he wanted to make the Count a lonely individual who arrives in England suspecting nothing will change, that he will remain indifferent and amused by mere mortals, and instead is powerfully drawn to a woman. It is love that ensnares him and makes him careless, while at the same time Lucy discovers an intensity, a gentlemanly quality, a charm in him that is absent from her aggressive suitor. There's no sensitivity in Jonathan, no lingering caresses, which is not the case with Dracula. The Count makes it all about her, and that makes all the difference.
It's an unusual film in certain regards since it does make the audience naturally side with him, but also does not shy away from enforcing the view that Dracula is indeed evil. He is responsible for death and insanity. He does represent sin and temptation, but at the same time when his end comes about, we are sad. We are angry. We do not want to see him suffer like that. Not that beautiful, charming, mild-mannered Count who, well, just has this tiny flaw of being a vampire. (It's forgivable... isn't it?)
What I like about this film is that it intentionally appeals to women by respecting their boundaries. It's tasteful. There is a little bit of gore, true, but the overall approach is unique and tinged with romanticism. Dracula never reveals fangs. He never has blood on his mouth. The "love scene" is not explicit and contains nothing to detract from its emotional connection. I saw it for the first time at age seventeen and have seen it hundreds of times in the years since. It is not an award-winning film but it doesn't have to be
it makes me delightfully happy and that's all that matters.
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