Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Monday, May 19, 2008

DRACULA (1931)


DRACULA (1931). Director: Tod Browning. Adapted from the Hamilton Deane play taken from Bram Stoker's novel. Photographed by Karl Freund.

77 years after its release Dracula seems a bit stately and campy, but it does have its eerie moments courtesy of the basic premise, Karl Freund's atmospheric photography, and some great (if somewhat overdone) sets, such as the great castle with its cavernous, crumbling entrance hall (complete with armadillos, no less!) and the staircase with its huge, almost comical spider web. At first the great Bela Lugosi seems mannered and slow, but he remains a fascinating performer, and his interpretation of the vampire will probably remain definitive. The movie is rather slow-moving and cries out for music. Helen Chandler, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan (as Van Helsing) and the other actors are competent, but don't really make that much of an impression. Dwight Frye's maniacal performance as the likable lad, Renfield, whom Dracula turns into a blithering mad man is certainly inescapable, however -- and more or less effective. Followed by Dracula's Daughter.

A Spanish version with different actors was made on the same sets at the same time.

NOTE: A version of Lugosi's Dracula with a new score by Philip Glass is available on DVD. Glass' score is uneven, sometimes adding tension and other times inappropriate and distracting. It is performed by the Kronos Quartet and is not a symphonic score, which would have made more sense but also been much more expensive.
NOTE: Photographer Freund later directed The Mummy.

Verdict: Creaky but somewhat memorable. **1/2.

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