Monday, April 23, 2012

Dracula (1931)


Year Of Release: 1931
Running Time: 75 Minutes
DVD Released By: Universal
Directed By: Tod Browning
Writing Credits: John L. Balderston (play), Louis Bromfield (uncredited), Tod Browning (uncredited), Max Cohen (titles-uncredited), Hamilton Deane (play), Garrett Fort, Dudley Murphy (additional dialogue-uncredited), Louis Stevens (uncredited), Bram Stoker (novel)
Filming Location: Los Angeles, California

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles K. Gerrard, Tod Browning, Michael Visaroff

Tagline 1: The story of the strangest passion the world has ever known!

Tagline 2: The Vampire Thriller

Alternate Titles:
I was unable to locate any alternate titles for this film.

Interesting Bits of Trivia:
The original plan was to make a big-budget adaptation of "Dracula" that would adhere strictly to Bram Stoker's novel. However, with the Great Depression, Universal didn't have the money to make such a sprawling film. Instead, they opted to adapt the much less expensive Hamilton Deane stage play. When this film was re-released after the Production Code, several deletions were ordered made to the soundtrack. The deletions include Renfield's scream as he is being killed and Dracula's moan as the stake is driven through his heart. These deletions have been restored. It was rumored that Bela Lugosi, who didn't speak English very well, learned his lines phonetically for this film. This however proved to be untrue as Lugosi had already learned English as well as he ever would by this point in his life. The role of Dracula was originally to go to Lon Chaney, but his death on August 26, 1930 forced the filmmakers to find a new actor to play the role. Ian Keith was one of the first choices for the part. He appeared in other notable films such as The Ten Commandments and It Came From Beneath The Sea. Fortunately however, it was Bela Lugosi who finally secured the role of Dracula, and went down in film history as the most famous Dracula of all time. 

Summary and Conclusion
Let me just start off by saying that between yesterday and today, I watched both The Beast That Killed Women and The Monster of Camp Sunshine. Both of those movies are basically just nudie flicks with a monster thrown in just to add a hint of a plot to it all. There's a lot of movies like that, and most can be bought from Something Weird Video. Basically, what I'm saying is, that when it came time to do this review, I was really ready to watch a real movie.
I didn't really know what to expect with this film. To this point, my exposure to Bela Lugosi films has been pretty much limited to his work with Ed Wood. I own a lot of Bela's movies, but I try not to watch them until I get around to reviewing them. So this was the first really dramatic role I've ever seen him in, and let me just say that he was marvelous. Whoever had the bright idea to cast Lon Chaney in this role should have been bitch slapped into the middle of next week. I mean, Lon Chaney was cool and all, but he would have been totally wrong for this part. Bela wasn't even the second choice for this part, which really surprised me. I mean think about it. You have a count from Transylvania, so doesn't it make sense to have someone play the role who has the right accent naturally? Bela lent an air of authenticity to the role that very few, if any of the other actors of the time could have. His creepy smile and debonair manner really made him seem like he was who he was pretending to be, and to this day, I don't know anyone who doesn't associate Bela Lugosi with the role of Count Dracula.
The other stand out character in this film was Renfield, played brilliantly by Dwight Frye. While many of the characters in this film were somewhat forgettable, Dwight Frye made his character one that will haunt my dreams for years to come. He played the role of the madman beautifully, with an evil grin and a style of speaking that made you really believe that you were watching a mad man. It was really strange to see the way he handled this character, because at the beginning of the movie, when he was just normal and visiting Count Dracula to deliver some lease papers to him, he almost seemed like he didn't really have a grasp on how the character should act. It wasn't until he became Dracula's slave that he really grabbed a hold of his character and ran with it. Before that he seemed unsure about what to do with himself, and it showed a bit in his portrayal. And yet, I forgive him for that since he eventually became one of the most unforgettable characters that it has ever been my pleasure to witness on the screen.
Mina was played by Helen Chandler and I'm still trying to sort out whether the character of Mina was really that dumb or if it was just the way that Ms. Chandler played it that made it seem that way. I think I'm leaning towards the latter because I can't really pinpoint any one thing that Mina did in the movie that would lead me to believe that she was an idiot. She just came off that way.
Professor Van Helsing was played by Edward Van Sloan, and if I could pinpoint any one bit of bad casting in this movie, I think that would have to be it. Van Helsing is supposed to be Dracula's nemesis, yet Edward Van Sloan played him more like an old man that needed an enema. Even in the confrontation scene where Dracula tries to hypnotize Van Helsing, and Van Helsing resists, there's no real sense that there's a battle of wills going on there. Van Helsing just kinda ends up looking like he pooped his pants and forgot where he was for about a minute and a half. Now if they were going to cast Lon Chaney anywhere in this film, I think he'd have made a far better Professor Van Helsing than he would have a Count Dracula.
Jonathan Harker, who was played by David Manners, ended up being nothing more than another victim of the forgettable character syndrome. In this case though, it's not David's fault. It's more the way the role was written that made the character forgettable than anything he did. Unfortunately, Dr. Seward's character, played by Herbert Bunston, also falls into the same category.
There's a lot of really cool stuff in this film. Like when Dracula walks through a bunch of cobwebs without disturbing them, or when the ship was taking him and Renfield to London and they went through that incredibly well done storm. Those things were really sweet. But then there were other things in this film that almost made me wonder if Trey Parker and Matt Stone had written it. I mean, what's the deal with the potato bugs and possums and armadillos creepin' around in Dracula's castle? Those are the kinds of things that are really there for no other reason than to make you say to yourself, "What the hell???" The really cool thing about it though is that they don't detract from the movie. The goofiness that things like that add in those What the hell??? moments, only add to the charm and overall fun of the film.
So the long and the short of it is, I had a lot of fun watching this movie. I've always loved Bela Lugosi, and to finally see him in the role that basically became the defining role of his entire career, was a real treat. This film did have a casting problem or two, but overall it was solid and a whole lot of fun to watch. I had the pleasure of listening to the radio version of this story as performed by Orson Welles while I was sitting at Heathrow Airport in London on my way to visit my wife's family in Israel. After hearing that and now seeing this, I must say that this film held quite close to the radio play and really brought the whole story to life. It's just unfortunate that the film wasn't allowed to hold completely true to the story as Dracula wasn't allowed to attack any of the men in this particular version of the story, but still they did a great job with it. In spite of it's few minor problems, I'm really happy to be able to award this movie five bees. I think it would be more appropriate in this case to give it five bats, but it would probably just confuse people, so I'll stick to bees.

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