Movie Critique - Dracula
Stars: 5 / 5
Recommendation: A classic horror film that inspired so many future movies with Lugosi's iconic performance, it is a movie to be watched for any horror movie night or all month long leading up to Halloween.
Dracula is a 1931 America pre-Code supernatural horror film with Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan and Dwight Frye in the lead cast among others. Directed by Tod Browning, he also co-produced the film along-side Carl Leammle Jr. Cinematographer Karl Freund is the uncredited director for the film.
Count Dracula (portrayed by Bela Lugosi) comes to London on business and meets John Harker (portrayed by David Manners) & his fiancee Mina Seward (portrayed by Helen Chandler). However, Professor Van Helsing (portrayed by Edward Van Sloan) finds out Dracula's secret that he is a vampire and the reason behind recent tragedies. But, he is late as Mina is under Dracula's control now.
The film is based on the 1924 stage play of the same name by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston; who in turn had adapted the story from the 1897 novel of the same name by Bram Stoker. Screenplay for this film was given by Garrett Fort. This also forms the first sound film adaptation of the famous novel. A Spanish version of the same film with the same name was concurrently produced in 1931 with Carlos Villarias in the titular role.
Bela Lugosi portraying the titular role, also played the same in the Broadway play. As much as the movie had been an influence in several movies and spin-offs over the years, Lugosi's Dracula also had become iconic with future actors basing their personification on him. Edward Van Sloan also reprised his role as Professor Van Helsing from the Broadway play.
Even though Lugosi acted in only a few films as Dracula after this, he unfortunately ended up being typecasted as horror villain. Although I remember him portraying the role of Inspector Delzante in the 1929 film The Thirteenth Chair, released a mere two years prior to this film, which was again directed by Tod Browning. Lugosi's signature oval shaped ring can be seen in both the films.
The entire filming clearly shows that film was on the cusp between silent and sound films since we see several of silent film techniques used here - closeup of a newspaper article to show advancement in the plot; filmed at silent film projection speed and then the reel sped-up.
Original film didn’t have a background score to avoid additional costs to the budget. The opening music was from Act 2 of Swan Lake. In 1998 Phillip Glass, composer, was commissioned to provide a background score. The film was then re-released with the new score. The one I saw on TCM doesn’t have any background score.
There is no comedy in the film or any tricks or a big ending to it. The plot is entirely chilly, with supernatural effects making it more sinister. It did become a box office success upon it’s release, but audience were shocked at the horror shown in the film. Further Lugosi's unblinking stare is filled with menace giving the viewers their shivers.
In fact the film makers never show any of the actual horror scenes - like Dracula changing to bat; his rising from his coffin when sun sets; him feeding blood from his victims. That alone makes it all the more scarier and chiller since it leaves the imagination to the viewers to no end.
Dwight Frye who plays the part of half-crazed jittery solicitor, Renfield, in the film sadly typecasted him to those kind of roles for the rest of his career.
The film left us a trail of memorable quotes which are even cited in several films, tv shows and books. A few examples:
Upon hearing the wolves howling, Count Dracula comments "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make."
Lucy Weston (portrayed by Frances Dade) quotes these beautiful lines describing Carfax Abbey that Dracula has leased:
The Abbey always reminds me of that old toast, about lofty timbers. 'The walls around are bare, echoing to our laughter, as though the dead were there.' / 'Pass a cup to the dead already, a round for the next to die.'
(I couldn’t find any reference to as if the character spoke original lines or if it was picked from some poet's works.)
Again the film was introduced on TCM by Dave Karger, the TCM host, along-side writer and historian David J. Skal where Skal's book "Fright Favorites - 21 movies to haunt your Halloween and beyond"
In several books I read, this film had been mentioned. For instance, in Cassandra Clare's 2008 novel City of Ashes, the second book in Mortal Instruments series, characters Simon and Clare what this classic film. In Lisa Jackson's 2008 novel Lost Souls, the fifth book in her New Orleans series, this film and the book it originally was adapted from are mentioned several time.
And now finally I get to post about this classic horror film. Typically not a genre I watch, I am making a few exceptions when it comes to these black and white or pre-Code ones.
A classic horror film that inspired so many future movies with Lugosi's iconic performance, it is a movie to be watched for any horror movie night or all month long leading upto Halloween. It still thrills and enchants the audience with the effects, chilliness and suspense.
1) Movie Trivia:
a. You can hear director & producer Tod Browning as the off-screen voice of the harbormaster. Other famous people uncredited are - Carla Leammle, the producer Carl Leammle Jr.'s cousin as the teenage coach passenger (the girl with the glasses in the picture); Geraldine Dvorak, Cornelia Thaw, and Dorothy Tree as Dracula's wives.
b. The scenes of crew members on the ship fighting a violent storm is a direct reuse of the 1925 silent film The Storm Breaker.
c. Lugosi and Browning again did a movie together, the 1935 horror film Mark of the Vampire, a remake of Browning's 1927 lost silent film London After Midnight.
2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:
a. In the opening credits, we see Joan Standing credited for the role as a maid. However, she played the part of Nurse Briggs instead. Maid was played by Moon Carroll though.
b. Leashes on the Armadillos and wires on the Bats flying are clearly visible.
c. When Dracula's wives are walking backward, one of them inadvertently steps on another's flowing dress and you can see her catching the first one so she wouldn’t slip and fall.
d. When the ship that Dracula takes is being pitched in the high seas in a storm, all the crew are drenched. However when Dracula comes on deck there is not a single drop of rain falling on him or around him, and he is as dry as dust. Also the ship keeps rocking vigorously in the storm, yet the scene below deck between Renfield and Dracula doesn’t show them swaying at all.
e. Count Dracula attacks the flower girl in London and leaves her to dead. Yet a little while later when a policeman finds her dead body, the girl moves.
f. Lucy is shown reading a book in her bed when a bat hovers near her window. In the immediate scene that follows the bat, we see no book in Lucy's hand and she promptly goes to sleep. Editing cut the part perhaps where she puts the book aside.
g. Pieces of cardboard in front of the lampshades are seen in bedrooms perhaps to reduce the impact of light on closeup shots.
h. Wolfsbane is around the neck of Mina even before the scene of using the wolfsbane appears, which doesn’t come at least 10 to 15 minutes later. Perhaps they reused this shot.
i. Studio lights clearly seen in Professor Van Helsing's glasses.