If you have been following my blog or my comments on fellow blogger’s pages you may already know that I am not overly fond of Todd Browning’s “Dracula” from 1931. I have not exactly made a secret of it.
Now it is time for me to give my official comments on it after watching it a second time last night.
I am afraid my opinion has not much improved.
“Dracula” actually starts good. A carriage arrives at a lonely inn in Transylvania and the locals are quite convincingly speaking Hungarian and seem genuinely terrified of the vampires. Renfield (Dwight Frye) the ignorant traveler is continuing up to the pass where a mysterious carriage will take him to Count Dracula’s castle. This is convincing and well done, maybe even better than Murnau’s Nosferatu.
Then Renfield arrives at the castle and meets our friend Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the quality level drops. I am sorry, I know Lugosi is the quintessential Dracula, but I cannot take that man serious. He seems a caricature on himself and instead of sinister he appears funny. It does not help that the castle looks like something from the haunted house in a theme park and come on: armadillos? Are they the harbinger of doom and decay?
Renfield and Dracula travel together to England (London or Grimsby, I cannot really figure it out), Renfield now possessed and half crazy. I kind of like him like this. He is the only character who is half-convincing at this stage. Dracula moves in at the local ancient ruin, next to a sanatorium, which happens to be where Renfield is committed. The sanatorium is run by a Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston) and his two daughters Lucy (Frances Dade) and Mina (Helen Chandler) soon fall victim to the Count’s special attentions.
It is a bit odd; Lucy seems to die or disappear, but it is hardly mentioned or the concern of anybody. Mina on the other hand is the one everybody are fighting so hard to save and protect, including the possessed Renfield. Talk about a favorite daughter!
The next 40 minutes or so or more than half the movie takes place in a few rooms in the home of Dr. Seward. People enter and people leave and generally do a lot of (pointless) talking. Obviously due to the limitations of sound technique, but it makes for a very static movie. Dracula comes and goes with impunity and it seems all a bit artificial. Other people to come and go are John Harker (David Manners), Mina’s fiancée and Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who is in particular a cartoon character with his Teutonic mad scientist clichés.
I will not tire you with the conclusion of this charade, except to say that I got a bit confused as to the resolution and that we have the imbecile Harker warning the Count during his and Van Helsing’s sneak attack on Dracula’s hideout by shouting Mina’s name.
Suffice to say that the resolution causes as much groaning as the rest of the movie.
What I kept thinking was how much I would rather watch “Nosferatu”. Max Schreck is far more sinister than Bela Lugosi and for me that will remain the real and original Dracula film.
Todd Browning’s version on the other hand belongs in the department of kitschy B-movies.