Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Drácula (1931)

Drac is Back, and this time he's ... Hispanac?

After filming of the Bela Legosi classic concluded for the day, another team would arrive to make a Spanish language version of the same movie. Same sets, same script, same actors marks, everything. Just different actors and crew. This is an interesting solution to a problem the studios faced. Back in the halcyon days of silent cinema, they could rewrite a dozen or so title cards and ship their movie around the world. Now, with the dubbing process years away from "perfection", they realized that the great technological innovation called sound made their films much harder to export. Their solution was to shoot it twice.

Same script and same sets, but here's the thing. Different director, cameraman, and editor. They looked at the direction notes and said "we can do better than that", and did. And at almost 30 minutes longer, contained a whole lot more of the story (longer here, is better). One cannot help but to compare the two films, and Tod Browning's piece doesn't always place second, but as a whole, this is a much better film.

The most noticeable difference between the two is the titular character. While Bela might not have been the great actor Karloff and Price were, his rendition of Dracula is iconic for a reason. And Carlos Villarias, who played the Spanish speaking Dracula was terrible Terrible TerRibLe TeRRIBLE TERRIBLE! Having your monster be something of a disappointment is a serious obstacle to overcome, but at least audiences didn't yet have Bela to compare it to.

While I am huge fan of Dwight Frye's rendition of Renfield, Pablo Rubio was almost as good. I still take Frye's performance, but Rubio was no weak point. From there the acting gets better. When Helen Chandler's Mina was under the influence of Dracula, she indicated this by widening her eyes and acting a little strange. Lupita Tovar's Eva's demeanor, however, changed from virginal to something more aggressive in a sheer top. A much more pronounced transformation.

Oh, and like I marvelled that Carla Laemmle who had a brief speaking role turned 104, Tovar turned 103 last summer. But I leave you with a question: is Dracula a dead man who rose from the grave or is he a living man who unnaturally extended his life by drinking blood. Most versions imply the former but this version appears to assert the latter. I'd have to watch them again paying attention to that point. AMRU 3.5.
"Buenos dias, Senor Renfield."

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