Saturday, October 2, 2010

October Movie Reviews: Dracula 1931

For my October Reviews I am now moving to a real classic.

When watching these movies I try to keep in mind the time that they were made.  What we consider horror is not the same thing as 20, 50 or 80 years ago.  Every generation remakes the classics and leaves their imprint on them.  The 30's gave us two great examples.  Today, Dracula and tomorrow the Spanish language Drácula.

Dracula (1931) (and audio commentary and documentary)

This is the one that gave us Bela Lugosi as the immortal count.  Lugosi's performance is a bit over the top, but he does give us the suave Dracula.  Some scenes of this movie are so iconic that they have almost outlived the context they were presented in.  Dracula on the stairs in his castle is one, and the meeting of Dracula and Van Helsing in the library is another. Dracula spreading his cape like a bat, or heck even the cape at all.  Here is a question, did Dracula ever say "I never drink ... wine." in the book or play?  No.  That came from this movie and it also appeared in the 1979 and 1992 versions.  I also think, more so than the book or play before it this movie really personalized the battle between Dracula and Van Helsing.  Something that was taken to a new level in the Hammer films.

Lugosi got his start playing Dracula on the stage, something that Frank Langella would repeat almost 50 years later.  Though unlike Langella, he never quite escaped the roll.  For better or worse he has been so entwined with the roll that when watching the movie you should keep this in mind.  A lot of what we associate with the roll comes from right here.

Reinfield replaces Harker here in the begining, or rather they are combined into one character. Despite this Dwight Frye is a great Harker-like character. We do get a Harker later on.  The coach ride to Castle Dracula is very reminiscent of the similar ride in the 1992 movie.  Mina is Seward's daughter, again from the stage-play.

Audio Commentary:  Given that I have seen Dracula before, I wanted to watch this with the audio commentary on.  Things I didn't know:  They are speaking Hungarian in the movie.  There is a lot in this movie that never happened before in movies.  Some of the shots used here, which we take for granted, were new here.  Lon Chaney was supposed to be Dracula.
Listening to the audio commentary it is interesting,  a lot of what is now well known of Dracula lore came about by complete happenstance.  Dracula speaking in Eastern European accident came about because the director of Broadway play could not afford his first choice and he had to hire Bela Lugosi, who could barely speak English. For the movie Lugosi earned $3500.00 for 7 weeks of filming.

The Road to Dracula: A very interesting documentary on the making of Dracula and the Spanish language version.  It talks about a lot of the same things mentioned in the audio commentary, only in much greater detail.  We hear from film historians, Bela Lugosi's son and Clive Barker among others.  It's very cool.

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