Monday, June 08, 2015

Dracula (1973 I) – review

Director: Jack Nixon-Browne

First aired: 1973

Contains spoilers

When we think of a version of Dracula from 1973 it is natural to think of Dan Curtis’ Dracula, however there was another version, of Canadian origin, released that year. Produced for the CBS' Purple Playhouse series it is very difficult at best to get one’s hands on and so it is no wonder that it isn’t better known.

Robertson Davies
Pop culture mythology suggests that it is an accurate version of the novel, but I can tell you that this is no truer than any other version – despite the fact that the episode is introduced by Robertson Davies who tells us that it is (and, by the way, I list Davies’ Cornish Trilogy as some of the best modern literature that I have read, non-vampire but well worth hunting down). Indeed Davies fluffs the date of publication for the novel, suggesting it was 1894. At this point I need to thank David B who contacted me to say he had the episode and was willing to share it, I owe you one. Also, as it is Dracula this review will spoil the full plot.

brandy
So the episode actually starts in Dracula’s castle with Dracula (Norman Welsh) and Harker (Dan MacDonald) both supping Transylvanian brandy. Let us pause and consider Dracula’s look. It was, to me, a foreshadowing of the look Hammer would give to the Count a year later in Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires - however where John Forbes-Robertson looked like a drag queen, Welsh looks like a melodrama villain (which I’m sure was the look they were going for and in many ways works). They are talking about Carfax though seeing an old portrait of a warrior that looks exactly like his host gives Harker pause to thought.

he's not in the mirror
Dracula is eager to sign the deeds and does so, forgoing the opportunity to rent with a view to buying, saying that he trusts Harker. Outside a wolf howls and Harker drops his Brandy glass, as he tidies up he cuts his finger and in a wonderfully understated moment we see the vampire’s struggle etched across the actor’s face. Later, as Harker sleeps, we see the brides (and they do refer to Dracula as husband) or at least we see their heads as they discuss that Harker will soon be theirs once *he* has left and suggest that they’ll be well rid of Dracula! The brides were played by Marie Romain Aloma and Marcella Saint Amant. Harker wakes and feels at his neck then decides to shave. The mirror has been broken from its frame so Harker hangs a travel mirror. Dracula enters the room and, of course, casts no reflection. Harker cuts himself and Dracula’s reaction is violent and threatening and is followed by him locking Harker in the room. Harker discovers that he has been bitten.

the brides
Cutting forward the brides encroach on Harker as he sleeps at his desk. They are about to bite him (he doesn’t wake) when Dracula throws them back and says there is a sack with dinner in it downstairs (we don’t actually see the baby scene). Once they have left, Harker wakes up and Dracula says farewell as he is leaving. The full melodrama of this version of the character is captured in the maniacal laugh he lets loose as Harker bolts around the castle looking for an escape. He cannot leave by the main door due to a wolf (or German shepherd) beyond the doorway and so runs back upstairs. He looks out the window and sees Dracula wall crawling down. Once on the ground the vampire lifts (with ease) two crates of earth into his carriage. The two men verbally spar and then Harker is pulled into the castle by the voracious brides.

Nehemiah Persoff as Van Helsing
The action then shifts to England. We see two workman (Peter Hughes and Robert Joy) carrying a crate into the depths of Carfax and then dropping it down some stairs. They are killed by Dracula (who was inside) for their trouble. Elsewhere Lucy (Charlotte Blunt) is ill in bed, she seems anaemic and has been sleepwalking to nearby Carfax. Now we do get Lucy’s mother (Maud Whitmore) in this but their surname is Murray not Westenra. Lucy and Mina (Blair Brown) are sisters but Mina is already married to Harker. Mina does wonder where her husband is; like in the book Dracula has (off screen) made Harker write letters, though the contents are different; the latest suggests he is in Paris. Lucy is engaged to Jack Seward (Steven Sutherland) who is just mentioned as a physician. He has called for his mentor Dr Van Helsing (Nehemiah Persoff). Lucy occasionally asks to kiss Jack and this can be unusually passionate for a well-mannered girl.

biting Lucy
When Van Helsing arrives he quickly decides Lucy needs a transfusion and uses Mina’s blood as they are sisters. This, of course, ignores the sexual undertone of the transfusions as laid out by Stoker – in the book there is the suggestion that the multiple transfusions from various men could make “this so sweet maid… …a polyandrist”. There is no hint of this sexual side here, just the efficiency of using a family member for a transfusion. Van Helsing gives her a garland of garlic flowers to wear, which she removes in her sleep before welcoming her love… In the morning she goes to bite Seward (with fully formed fangs), struggles with Van Helsing and then dies.

Mina's needlepoint
Following the funeral Mina is dismissive of the doctors’ abilities as they treat her mother (for a common ailment). She has taken to needlepoint and is making bat adorned chair covers (though she says she is working on a raven) and dreams of Lucy visiting and someone lurking outside. Van Helsing and Jack see someone and grab him – it is Harker. Mina is given a sleeping draft and sent to bed and Van Helsing is convinced that Harker is the vampire – until he holds the cross. By then Mina has gone sleepwalking. They find her at the Murray crypt where two dogs appear, turn into Lucy and Dracula, and go to bite her. Van Helsing has given the general lore and the two bits out with the book are the need to sleep on native soil and the harmful nature of the sun’s rays. They hold the vampires off Mina with very sparkly, gem encrusted crosses. Dracula vanishes and, being close to sunrise, Lucy returns to the crypt.

hypnotising Lucy
Harker takes Mina home as Seward and Van Helsing go to the crypt. As Seward reads the prayer for the dead Van Helsing stakes Lucy. Back at the house Mina admits that part of her is already *his*. Harker tries to convince her otherwise and holds up a cross, as it touches her forehead it burns her. Van Helsing decides to try and hypnotise Mina so he can find out where the 12 boxes of earth (more were shipped without Harker knowing) are hidden so they can purify them. Dracula speaks to them through Mina and his powers prove too strong for Van Helsing. So, instead, they prevent Mina leaving until 1 hour till dawn and then follow her to Carfax house.

staking Lucy
They purify one box of earth before Mina runs away, nipping into a secret passage. Dracula is about to bite her for the last time when Van Helsing comes into the room and throws the crucifix towards them preventing the bite. Dracula heads down a hidden tunnel with Van Helsing in pursuit and comes up against Harker and Seward holding crosses – Harker remembered the secret passages from his investigations into the house on the Count’s behalf. A cock crows heralding the dawn and suggesting that Dracula has nowhere to go. Harker is going to stake him (reminded by Van Helsing that they are releasing a soul in torment) but Dracula tries to convince him (and Mina) that they are both his – and reveals that he has been alive 1000 years. Mina takes the stake – as though rescuing him – and then stakes him herself, healing the burn on her forehead.

wall crawl
And there we end – it was just under an hour and was a competent but stagy version of the story. Locations were limited (and extras were minimal), as though we are watching a play, and I guess that was the point of the series. Despite falling into melodrama on occasion, Norman Welsh is not a bad Dracula and there are brief moments of genius – in looks given. I also enjoyed Nehemiah Persoff as Van Helsing. As the play is short there was little room to get all the strands of Dracula running but some of the changes were interesting in of themselves - transfusing Lucy with Mina's blood, Dracula and Lucy hunting together and the effects of Mina's hypnosis all being prime examples. However, this rare version of the tale needs sourcing, cleaning up and releasing for all the collectors out there. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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