Dracula (1931)

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  • directed by Tod Browning
  • starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston
  • The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”

The first thing I noticed and what stuck with me most through Dracula was just how quiet it was without a musical score. I’ve watched a few silent movies in the past month and somehow even with dialogue this one seemed the quietest. With sound films being a recent advance in the industry, there was a brief transition period in which filmmakers believed that audiences would not believe background music that didn’t match up with the action screen. So in this film, the only music heard was what occurred during the Royal Albert Hall theater performance sequence. I have to admit I was expecting a film chock full of stereotypically vampiric pipe organ beats, but was pleasantly surprised at the effect that dead silence had on Tod Browning’s production. It’s difficult to think of what style of score would have matched up with the level of scariness here without bringing it at least a little bit into cheese territory. The end result, for me, was being swept up in the environment even more due to only having natural noises paired with the physical performance and stylish drawn-out dialogue of Bela Lugosi.

I also had wrongful expectations of this Dracula’s affectations due to what I now realize are decades of Lugosi impressions and straight-up caricatures by others. His movements were instead minimal and deliberate, his sentences were slow and full of pauses, and his stare and expressions were truly scary at times. It would be very easy to insert humor into such a portrayal, something that many have done, but Lugosi and the entire production on the whole operated with sincerity throughout. Though I had some problems with how nonchalantly Van Helsing and everyone else were taking such an obvious threat from Dracula and Renfield, I did love Edward Van Sloan’s confident and competent portrayal of the Professor. Aside from Lugosi’s all-time great performance, my other standout was the tense showdown of psychological strength between Dracula and Professor Van Helsing.

As far as this era of the Dracula/vampire universe goes, this had the advantage over Nosferatu as being permitted to stick to Bram Stoker’s original story. Stoker’s estate came down hard on Nosferatu, which caused that film to drastically change key elements and almost resulted in the actual film being completely destroyed upon completion. This 1931 production leaned heavily on Stoker’s text, as well as the revolutionary 1924 play by Hamilton Deanes, to present a classic, accurate, but very condensed version of the story.

Hey, this is pretty funny: The studio did not want the scene where Dracula attacks Renfield to be fimed due to the perceived homosexual subtext. A memo was sent to the director stating, “Dracula is only to attack women.”

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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