Wednesday, August 14, 2013

DRACULA (1931, Spanish version)

IMDB keywords: nipples visible through clothing, laughing, hungary

Dracula was such a hot property that Universal decided to double down on it, filming the English-language version during the day and letting director George Melford and his Mexican/Spanish cast utilize the same sets after dark to make this version.  Since then, there's been a schism in the horror community.  Pretty recently, this DRACULA has been heralded as the superior version, although even more recently there's been a predictable backlash.  Check IMDB, it's full of defenders of the Lugosi faith who swear that this edition is just terrible.  Everything is either the Best or the Worst, no in-between!  Let's look at the evidence and judge wisely.


Both films work from the same script, so the problems in the story structure can't be the deciding factor.  Spanish DRACULA certainly starts off with promise, though...we get to see a lot more of those immaculate sets and Melford definitely seems more interested in shooting all of this in an interesting way.  I'm for all that, but another consideration in a DRACULA movie is Dracula.


Oh, dear.  When we first meet Carlos Villarias as El Conde, he tries for creepy fake obsequiousness, but just ends up looking like a tweaker car salesman or something.  Thankfully, things get much better.  I especially dug his initial reactions to Renfield's cross.  Usually, Draculas say, "BLARGGHH!" and turn away rapidly, but this one just looks moderately disgusted.  Wise choice.

"And I'm a Wiccan!"

PS the good will earned by this choice gets revoked later, when a cross turns Dracula into Spanish Nicholas Cage.


However, it's a credit to this movie that it manages to make Dracula creepy even after his unfortunate introduction.  I much prefer the Transylvania scenes here to the Browning film: good use of light and shadow, interesting angles, what's not to love?  The early scenes are easily the best part of the film (again).


The same flaws that flawed English DRACULA plague this version.  Effects are pieces of plastic on draped strings.  I couldn't not laugh when the bat "flew" in, completely stationary, and complete with nonsensical flapping sounds.


And too much of this is still about conversations in rooms.  The DRACULAs really put the "talk" in talkie.  I prefer some of the actors in the Browning version, too.  Post-Dracula Renfield (Pablo Rubio) is far more expressive than Dwight Frye, which some might dig, but he pushes a bit too far into camp territory for me.  At times it gets overwhelming, like a crazy in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  I guess a defender of the film could say there's evidence it's a put-on and that Renfield snaps back into sanity during certain moments, but eh.  Also not fond of Eduardo Arozamena as Van Helsing.  It's a fine performance, but IMFO Edward Van Sloan's stiff, repressed Van Helsing is the best way to go.


Even so, some of this film's London stuff shows a marked improvement over English DRACULA.  Melford breaks out of the room and takes to the outside with more gusto, giving us some really pretty night-time shots.


Plus I thought Lupita Tovar was way more effective in the Mina role (here rechristened Eva).  She's got more energy (and fewer clothes, as she states in her introduction to the film), her interactions with Dracula have more depth, and she's more convincingly evil when it's time to be evil.   


I think that both films are pretty evenly matched in terms of successes and failures.  Calling one or the other a triumph or a disaster is just partisan poppycock.  Both are worth watching, even if neither really true classics.  So stop fighting and kiss!


RATING: 7

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