Take a Drink: for shrieks and squeals
Take a Drink: for closeups on eyes
Take a Drink: for shadows and silhouettes
Take a Drink: for maniacal laughter
Take a Drink: for “moscas”
Do a Shot: whenever you can’t help but think of Bela Lugosi
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
One lesser-known trend in Old Hollywood was to produce different versions of the same film for different markets, from different languages to silent versions for those theaters that still weren’t wired up for that newfangled sound hokum.
1931’s Dracula took this to an extreme, filming Tod Browning’s Bela Lugosi-starring classic during the day and a Spanish language version with a different cast and director but the same set and script at night. It’s the same exact plot and most of the same ingredients, but results in something that is not Dracula… it’s Drácula.
In all likelihood,, nine times out of ten in this situation you’ll end up with a strangely accented carbon copy of the original film, but nobody told George Melford that, so he went ahead and made the film his own. He had access to Tod Browning’s dailies, and found ways to improve up on them- a better angle here, a more evocative bit of framing or lighting there while also taking advantage of the more Dracula-appropriate nighttime filming conditions. He does use the same scenario of course, and even some of the exact same shots, but his version adds shading and nuance.
Well… for the most part.
Even more interestingly, the film runs around 15 minutes longer than The Browning Version (hehe, pretty damn obscure joke alert), and puts that time to good use. In particularly, he really develops the tragic character of Renfield, Dracula’s pawn and insane flunky who deep down has enough glimmers of humanity to make him a tragic figure. In many ways, he’s the protagonist of Melford’s version of this story, with the most screentime and appearing in the first and final scenes. And what a final scene it is. Browning’s Dracula‘s worst aspect is how rushed and anticlimactic the ending is, and Melford does an excellent job correcting this, without really changing it. It’s much smoother and well-developed, and that final shot of Harker and Eva climbing out of the darkness, with Van Helsing and the pitiful, crumpled Renfield in the shadows below, is the type of shot that separates the men from the boys.
Unfortunately, Medford didn’t have Bela Lugosi or even Dwight Frye to work with. It’s not that the acting is bad, but that it’s so noticeably inferior to the day shift, except for arguably Lupita Tovar, who in many ways is a more engaging Eva. Pablo Alvarez Rubio’s Renfield comes around on you, but he has none of the subtlety of Frye, often equating insanity with nothing but a lot of wide-eyed yelling.
Worse, though, is Carlos Villarias’s Dracula. He was the only cast-member shown the dailies along with Medford, and he was encouraged to emulated Lugosi’s performance. Unfortunately for him, there’s only one Bela Lugosi, and his imitation is a pale one at best. At times, he’s more creepy Spanish uncle than terrifying creature of the night.
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If only this and the more famous English language version of Dracula could have been combined. Lugosi’s iconic performance pushes the latter ahead by a hair, but Drácula is a fascinating alternative take on the same material, and in many ways a superior one. An absolute must for horror fans.