Last night’s viewing, from the handsome Universal Blu-ray box set of Dracula movies. The reason for going down this byway shall have to remain mysterious for the moment but the set contains what the cover calls the “Complete Legacy Collection – All Six films from 1931-48”. It was bought at Jb Hi-Fi for the princely sum of $32, me having taken advantage of JB offering 20% off every Blu-ray and DVD in the store last weekend.
I wanted first to have another look at the Tod Browning 1931 version, a seventy minute creaker which was a huge success in its day and introduced Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Browning, so one of the extras said, wanted Lon Chaney but the great impersonator and master of make-up was dying.
But when that version was over and a look at the extras was next up on the menu comes “The 1931 Spanish Version”. Now I knew this existed, Michael Jasper had mentioned it many years ago but I’d never seen it. (It’s also mentioned on the cover so they weren’t keeping it a secret.)
The Spanish version is a full 33 minutes longer and shot on the same sets. But it takes its time and every scene is just that bit more elaborate and the characters are placed in the scene with rather more skill, right from the first scene involving the bumpy carriage ride.
Browning made his version by day and new producer Paul Kohner and director George Melford assembled a Spanish cast and worked through the night. Melford also used a different cameraman, George Robinson, while Browning used the Weimar expat Karl Freund. It has to be said that Robinson’s lighting in the Seward household is a little brighter but otherwise, it’s better, more starkly light with points of light and dark more prominent.
The consensus on the net seems to say that the Spanish version is better, more nuanced, better acted by the ensemble. It’s also a tad racier. Lupita Tovar is a dark beauty and the costumer ensures we have glimpses of her via plunging necklines and diaphanous dresses that aren’t available to us when watching Anne Harding in Browning’s take.
All told quite a find and the restoration, with the exception of the lost reel three that had to be replaced by some dodgy third generation material, is even better than the Browning version. Crisper for starters which may again have something to do with Robinson’s work.
As for the rest of the pack well it slowly degenerates. The remaining five films run all the way through to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankensteinwhich I’m sure will have me in stitches if I ever get round to it.