Directed by: George Melford
Release date: 1931
When Universal made their English language version of Dracula, in 1931, they faced a dilemma. This was before the days when films could be subtitled, or even dubbed easily. To make another language version the scenes would be re-shot, in the case of some films the original actors would re-shoot in other languages. In this case a whole new cast and crew were brought in at night to shoot the scenes that the other cast had shot during the days.
Firstly, let me point out that the reason that the DVD box pictured has Lugosi on it is because my version of this film is in the same DVD set – ‘Dracula – the Legacy Collection’. I don’t intend to summarise the plot as it is essentially the same as the other version, so nip over to that review for a summary, but there are differences. The Spanish cast and crew would watch the rushes of the day’s shoot and try to out-do their counterparts, the film has additional scenes and shots and this all adds up to the film being half an hour longer than its English counterpart.
Two of those changes were radically different scenes for the seduction of Renfield by the brides and the ship journey to England. Unfortunately the transfer over these scenes is fairly low quality as they had been lost for some time before being rediscovered in Cuba. Looking at the brides we see that the brides at the beginning of this film are different actresses to those in the scene I am talking about – the opening view of the brides is from the English version. In this version the brides are the ones who bite Renfield (Pablo Álvarez Rubio) and not Dracula (Carlos Villarías) and they look wondrously feral compared to the other version.
Another additional scene comes in the fact that, in this version, we hear of the fate of Lucy, or as she is called in this Lucía (Carmen Guerrero). If you check my review of the English version you will see that the lack of knowing what happened to her vampiric persona was one of the things I commented on. In this we actually see Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena) and Juan Harker (Barry Norton) return from her staking.
The actors seem, in the main, to do a good job – although the acting, as in the English language version, seems to be a little stagey in places. Lupita Tovar, who plays Eva (the new name for Mina) was able to get away with much more revealing dresses in this version and to me was more animate in her performance than Helen Chandler. However I wish to concentrate on two of the performances in particular.
Pablo Álvarez Rubio’s performance as Renfield is superb, he comes across as manic and, in Dracula’s castle, he seems genuinely frightened. It is the powerhouse performance of the movie, as was Dwight Frye’s in the English version. To me, however, it didn’t quite match Frye’s performance. There was just something special about Frye’s and it has the edge – not too much in it though.
The same cannot be said about Carlos Villarías’ performance as Dracula. He was always going to be on a loosing streak next to the iconic performance given by Lugosi. Lugosi had a presence that Villarías just did not have. I have to say that occasionally, when Villarías smiled, my mind wandered to Norman Wisdom – possibly cruel of me to say so and not, of course, a source of terror when that happens.
Thus the performances are in the main good but the two key characters are, a shade for one and considerably for another, less impressive. That said the film is longer. Is this good or is less more? In this case I would say less is more. I found the pacing of this not as good and the film felt overlong.
That is not to say that this is a bad version of Dracula, on the contrary it is a good version of Dracula but it is natural to hold this up against the more famous English language version and compare, and it comes up a little short.
I will mention that the Legacy version does not have standard subtitles in English, they are subtitles for the hearing impaired. The subtitling of sound effects and the placing of the subtitles near the actor speaking on screen is a little intrusive and I wish Universal had decided to do standard English subtitles as well as the ones for the hearing impaired. This is a version issue and does not impact my score for the film.
7.5 out of 10 then for a fascinating alternate version of one of the most iconic vampire movies made and a glorious peek into the cinema techniques of yore, the lack of an armadillo in the opening view of Castle Dracula’s crypt has not, incidentally, impacted upon the score.
The imdb page is here.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Directed by: George Melford