Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dracula: The International Touch

The eighth entry in my would-be chapter for Vampries' Most Wanted. A good story needs to be told, continuously, by many people.

8. The Spanish and British Draculas

It is the height of irony that the Spanish “Dracula,” filmed at night, with a lower budget, using the sets of the English version, is considered by many to be the superior movie. Universal, like many studios, found themselves in a quandary when it came to the advent of talkies. In English speaking countries, many theaters had yet to be wired for sound; while in the Latin countries, a big market, a movie acted in English would provide little enjoyment. To solve the problem of talkies vs. silent movies, many movies were re-cut to include written dialogue on the screen, in the fashion of silent movies. Since dubbing was a difficult at the time, studios decided it would be more lucrative to simply film a second version of the film starring a Latin cast reciting Spanish dialogue. 

Carlos Villarias and Lupita Tovar
Filming began Oct. 10, 1930, the Spanish crew starting around 8 p.m., a few hours after the American crew left. Carlos Villarias was chosen for the role of Dracula, though he lacks the sensuality that Lugosi was able to give to the role. Lupita Tovar played a much more seductive Mina than was seen in the English version, in large part due to the more revealing costumes the women wore in the Spanish version. Produced by Paul Kohner (later to wed Tovar), it was directed by George Melford who seemed to have a better grasp of the possibilities of the script. The camera work was more comfortable and imaginative. Able to watch the dailies of the English version, the production team was able to see what worked and what didn’t and seemed determined rework the shots used by the English team. Unlike Lugosi, who emerges from his coffin by way of a simple cut away; Vallarias emerges in a puff of smoke. While light shining on Lugosi’s eyes was to give the impression of Dracula’s mesmerizing affect, a simple close-up of Vallarias’ gaze proved just as powerful. Dracula’s brides are used to greater effect, more closely resembling the description of the wild brides in Stoker’s novel. 
Dracula's Brides
So efficient was the production team that they were moving faster than the set up of the sets. While retakes were being shot by the American crew, Kohner’s production, having come in at a final cost of $66,069 in 22 nights, was being previewed on the Universal set the first week of January, 1931. It would be one of the last foreign language films shot thanks to the belt tightening that studios were having to do during the Depression. Not to mention that countries were starting up their own film industries. Available for some time only at the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress and only for study by film scholars, the film can now be seen on select DVD releases of “Dracula.”
Christopher Lee
After the success of “The Curse of Frankenstein,” a retelling of the Frankenstein story released in 1957, Hammer Studios in England decided to try their hand at the Dracula legend, releasing “The Horror of Dracula” in 1958. It’s a bold and in some ways superior retelling of the story with Christopher Lee in the title roll and Peter Cushing playing his arch nemesis Van Helsing. The pair would go on to do battle in other movies of the Hammer Dracula series. The plot has been streamlined even further than the 1931 movie thanks to all the action taking place in or around Castle Dracula. Gone is Renfield and the reason to establish his connection to the Count. Jonathan Harker is back, as his is narration, in the opening but rather than a real estate lawyer, he is a man posing as a librarian in the hopes of getting close enough to destroy the vampire. In trying to destroy Dracula’s one bride, he disturbs the count who is able to attack him. 

Peter Cushing
When Van Helsing, in league with Harker, tracks his friend down to Castle Dracula, he finds the young man a vampire and puts his soul to rest. Dracula has, by this time, fled to exact revenge on Harker’s fiancĂ© Lucy, Lucy’s brother Arthur Holmwood and Arthur’s wife Mina. At the end of the movie, Arthur and Van Helsing chase the vampire back to Castle Dracula where they dispatch him. As in the novel, Dracula never introduces himself to the family he’s terrifying. Rather, he remains on the periphery, appearing to his victims only at feeding time. While his first entrance is startling, Lee’s Dracula at first lacks the mysterious creepiness of the novel and the 1931 movie. He seems, in fact, a rather personable chap if only slightly intimidating. Yet, as the film continues and the curious need for revenge grips him, Lee’s performance turns decidedly menacing, almost feral, his sudden appearances in the rooms of his victims chillingly predatory. His vanquishing is a much more dramatic thing than in the 1931 version as we see first his foot, then his hand, then his face turn to ash as Van Helsing forces him into the light using crossed candle sticks. With the success of these two Hammer monsters, the studio went on to utilize the Mummy and the Werewolf.

(Dracula and Van Helsing working out a few things. 1958 Hammer Studios)

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