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Dracula (1931) & Drácula (1931)

I recently posted some pictures comparing the two Universal’s Dracula movies from 1931. I thought I should write a few words about these great horror films.

These are the first sound movies on my list. It might be the reason why there is so little music in the movies. Maybe they were not sure if people could follow the dialogue if there was background music playing at the same time. Sound effects are also kept to a minimum. At one point during the Spanish version I got worried my sound system broke when all the white noise suddenly disappeared when dialogue stopped and people were shuffling around with no sounds of footsteps etc.

The two movies are filmed back to back using the same sets which was common at the time. The English-language crew would come during the day and the Spanish-language crew filmed during the night. English version was Directed by Tod Browning and the Spanish by George Melford. I have to say Melford’s version has the overall better cinematography and lighting. While I certainly enjoy Browning’s version, it has more to do with some of the performances given by the likes of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye than the artistic qualities of the movie.

It would seem that the Spanish crew were being maybe more ambitious and passionate about the composition and lightning of the scenes. Apparently they also had access to the English dailies and used them to figure ways to shoot things more imaginatively.

Other than the cinematography, the movies are almost identical although there are some notable differences.

Bela Lugosi is great, but I wonder if some of Carlos Villarías’ shortcomings are due to him being asked to imitate Lugosi Dracula.

The scene when Van Helsing shows Dracula the mirror has some wonderful over the top teeth grinding and fist clenching by Villarías.

While I think Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is better than Carlos Villarías’, one thing I think the Spanish-language version triumphs in casting/performance is  Lupita Tovar as Eva Seward (the Mina Murray character). She seems really likeable and natural.

Once she’s under Dracula’s power she get’s really giddy during the night. She even starts howling with laughter just before getting a bite out of poor, confused Juan Harker’s neck.

Helen Chandler was much more bland in the role. Tovar’s Eva initiates physical contact quite happily while Helen Chandler’s Mina does not touch Harker and is rather restrained altogether. Also the Browning version never showed Mina actually biting Harker. While the Spanish version also shies from showing other bites, much like the English version, at least they had this one.

The Spanish version also had the brides of Dracula feed on Renfield while English version had Dracula command them away to feed on Renfield by himself.

My favourite thing about the Spanish version though, is the ending, the English-language version ends with Van Helsing claiming he has something to do and urges Mina and Harker to leave him. then the camera follows them rising the stairs. Nobody gives a thought to Renfield lying dead by the stairs.

In the Spanish-language version Van Helsing says that he has to keep his promise to Renfield and the movie ends with Eva and Juan ascending the stairs while Van Helsing stands by Renfields corpse at the end of the staircase. It’s such a beautiful, symbolic picture.

While I’ve spent more time here praising the Melford’s version I must stress that I love both versions for different reasons. Bela Lugosi is the one true Dracula for me. He has such class.

Next time I’ll probably post something about Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.