Double Your Pleasure with a Dracula Double Feature

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On Sunday Oct. 25th and Wednesday Oct. 28th, classic horror fans are in for a real cinematic treat. Turner Classic Movies in association with Fathom Events and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will be bringing DRACULA (1931), along with its Spanish language equivalent, back to the big screen. This Dracula double feature will be shown at selected theaters across the country and is accompanied by an introduction from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Tickets can be purchased online at the Fathom Events website.

Tod Browning’s DRACULA is rightly hailed as a horror classic while the Spanish version directed by George Melford was assumed lost and went largely unseen by modern audiences following its initial release until it was restored and distributed on home video in 1992. Both films were shot at the same time using the same sets but with different casts, which was a typical practice by studios in the early 1930s. Their goal was to appeal to international audiences eager to see new-fangled sound films in their own language. The idea quickly went out of favor due to the high cost of producing multiple movies but the Spanish language version of DRACULA is one of the best examples we have of this popular practice.

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Top: Director Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi, Broadway stage producer Horace Liveright & screenwriter Dudley Murphy on the set of Dracula.
Bottom: George Melford (center & pointing) directs the cast and crew of the Spanish language version of Dracula.

Among horror buffs there’s been much debate about which version of DRACULA is superior and when I watched them back-to-back again recently I found myself making a case for each in my head, but both films have much to recommend them. Browning’s DRACULA is one of the most beloved horror films of all time and is in no danger of losing its regal position in the Universal Horror pantheon but in the words of film historian David J. Skal and author of Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, watching the Spanish language DRACULA is “Like discovering fascinating new rooms in a familiar old house.”

Both film adaptations have a wonderfully macabre and menacing atmosphere that can still unsettle audiences but they differ in numerous ways. History tells us that both pictures were based on the hugely successful 1924 Dracula stage play produced by Horace Liveright while taking plenty of inspiration from F. W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922) and shot back-to-back at Universal Studios with 23-year-old wunderkind Carl Laemmle Jr. overseeing production. Browning’s DRACULA was filmed in the daytime hours and Melford filmed at night. This gave Melford the opportunity to study Browning’s directing choices and duplicate or alter them as he saw fit. The outcome was two exceptional films with different strengths.

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Top: Scenes from the English language version of Dracula
Bottom: Scenes from the Spanish language version of Dracula

The Spanish language DRACULA is a highly stylized picture that benefits from George Melford’s creative direction. It includes impressive scene compositions, sweeping crane shots and the generous use of fog effects that engulf Dracula every time he rises from his coffin. The director also streamlined the script by tying up loose ends that seemed to dangle like mysterious threads in Browning’s film adding another 30 minutes to his final cut. In comparison, Browning’s direction appears somewhat static (some blame cinematographer Karl Freund for this and he is often credited as a second director) but his film is equally dramatic and the brisk pacing keeps things lively while the nebulous script allows the audience’s imagination to run wild.

Melford’s DRACULA is also an overtly sexier and brasher film where the female vamps wear reveling lingerie and their long locks look like wild manes while Browning’s DRACULA benefits from its sexual ambiguity that transforms the Count into a genuine creature of the night whose prey includes both men and women. But the films different strengths might be most apparent in the casting.

Browning’s film starred Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan, two men who would eventually have essential roles in many Universal horror films, replaying the roles of Count Dracula and Van Helsing that they had popularized on the New York stage. At 6’1” Lugosi was an imposing figure and his awe-inspiring performance as Dracula generates genuine fear. His throaty Hungarian accent sounded particularly exotic to American ears and in 1931 audiences swooned and trembled at the mere sight of him. Edward Van Sloan makes an acute Van Helsing and their costars included the undistinguished David Manners as Johnathan Harker and a rather sedate and vulnerable Helen Chandler as Mina. Besides Lugosi’s iconic turn as Dracula, the most striking performance in the film belongs to Dwight Frye, another important recurring figure in Universal horror films, who plays the doomed Renfield. Frye gives a spectacularly ghoulish and off-kilter performance accompanied by an unnerving laugh that can still send chills down your spine.

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Top: Bela Lugosi & Carlos Villarías as Dracula.
Middle: Helen Chandler & Lupita Tovar as Mina/Eva
Bottom: Dwight Frye & Pablo Álvarez Rubio as Renfield

The cast of Melford’s film was made up of accomplished Spanish speaking actors from different countries who spoke with varying dialects including Spain’s Carlos Villarías and Pablo Álvarez Rubio as Dracula and Renfield, Argentina’s Barry Norton as Harker and Mexico’s Eduardo Arozamena and Lupita Tovar as Van Helsing and Eva aka Mina. Since Melford could not speak Spanish himself, he had to rely on an interpreter to relay his directions to the cast but they benefited from being able to watch the day’s filming or look at rushes and take cues from their Hollywood counterparts. Generally speaking, the cast is very good but falls short when compared to the cast of the English language DRACULA. This is particularly noticeable in Carlos Villarías’s interpretation of Dracula, which can seem somewhat comical at times. He simply does not have Bela Lugosi’s powerful screen presence or his command of the role. If you have ever questioned Lugosi’s acting skills watching his performance as Dracula back-to-back with Villarías’s will make you a Bela believer.

sdevaPablo Álvarez Rubio interpretation of Renfield also cannot match Dwight Frye’s. Frye is twice as menacing and appears genuinely disturbed while Rubio’s performance occasionally feels like a second-rate ham-fisted reproduction. The one performance in Spanish DRACULA that truly stands out belongs to the talented Mexican-American actress Lupita Tovar as Eva aka Mina. While Helen Chandler played the role close to the bone, Lupita Tovar’s uninhibited performance is a revelation. She is passionate and provocative, bringing a real ferocity and unmatched feral beauty to the part that makes me wish she’d been cast in the English language version as well. Tovar and Lugosi would have made a compelling and potent screen duo.

Interestingly, Tovar and Lugosi did appear in an earlier film together titled THE VEILED WOMAN (1929) that is believed to be lost. The actress additionally starred in George Melford’s Spanish language version of THE CAT AND THE CANARY aka LA VOLUNTAD DEL MUERTO (1930), the prototype for “old dark house” films, which is also thought to be lost. These credits make Tovar a fascinating but illusive figure in classic horror films. With her long tousled black locks and savage grin, she’s a stunning predecessor of modern day scream queens.

Is there a version of the 1931 DRACULA that you prefer? Or like me, do you find things to appreciate about them both? Feel free to chime in with your thoughts below and don’t miss TCM’s upcoming DRACULA double feature. It’s the perfect cinematic treat to indulge in before Halloween!

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24 Responses Double Your Pleasure with a Dracula Double Feature
Posted By LD : October 22, 2015 8:34 pm

When I first heard about the showing of DRACULA in theaters I didn’t realize there as a Spanish language version. Unable to attend the event, I opted to watch my DVD of the film. I was surprised the DVD included the Spanish language version. I thought I would get to it sooner or later. Thanks to your post it will be sooner.

Decades ago when I read Bram Stoker’s novel, I found the character of Renfield terrifying. As portrayed by Dwight Frye, I find him scarier than Dracula. He really did a wonderful job in the film.

Posted By AL : October 22, 2015 11:21 pm

K–your description of Villarias’ performance was spot-on. He was fat and apparently was cast because of his bulging eyeballs, which “they” assumed would make his Dracula “scary”–instead he just looked like a clown and ruined the beauty of the film. Too bad. BTW: let’s not overlook the uncanny performance of Peter MacNicol as Renfield in the sadly underappreciated Mel Brooks film…AL

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 23, 2015 1:41 am

LD – YOU should make time for the Spanish Dracula! It’s a great stand alone film and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 23, 2015 1:47 am

AL – Thanks a lot! Can’t agree with your conclusion that Villarias was fat though. I think his overall look and bone structure wasn’t particularly geared toward the role of Dracula like Lugosi was. And generally speaking, we’d just come out of the silent era which involved a lot of actors making “bug eyes” at the camera to show emotion, fear, etc. Must add, I have never seen Dracula: Dead and Loving It so thanks for the recommendation. I like Mel Brooks but lost track of his work in the 1990s. I will make a point of giving the movie a look soon!

Posted By swac44 : October 23, 2015 10:55 am

Dang, not happening in Canada. Not in my neck of the woods anyway. Instead, there’s some day-long Back to the Future thing happening. Guess I’ll just have to sulk at home with the blu-ray.

Posted By swac44 : October 23, 2015 11:09 am

“Undistinguished David Manners” … poor Mr. Manners, he kinda was the Keanu Reeves of his day. Or maybe the Josh Hartnett. As I’ve noted on MM before, I live in the city of his birth, the house he grew up in isn’t far away (it’s been split up into apartments, but still stands), and I’ve been fascinated with his career as a result, but generally he isn’t much more than a pretty face in most of the films he’s in. But he had a pretty good run there, appearing in Journey’s End, Dracula, The Mummy, The Black Cat, Roman Scandals and so on. He’s actually quite good, a lot more relaxed and very charming, in the recently restored thriller (with Lugosi), The Death Kiss which I caught on TCM a while back and is now on blu-ray from Kino.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : October 23, 2015 5:03 pm

swac – Thanks for sharing that bit of info about Manners! He’s so forgettable that I tend to forget he appeared in other Universal horror movies. Still, the part of Harker was underwritten in both of the 1931 Dracula films. Despite that I still find him much more appealing then Keanu Reeves was in the role. But generally speaking, I find Coppola’s Dracula hard to watch. It’s one of my least favorite productions of Dracula even if it does stick to Stoker’s original tale more than any film version.

Posted By Emgee : October 23, 2015 7:48 pm

David Manners was discovered by James Whale, who of course directed that other horror classic, Frankenstein.
Nowadays we probably don’t care much for nice polite young men as lead actors, but in his day he was highly appreciated.
In fact, he was paid more for his role in Dracula than Bela Lugosi, but then so was most of the cast. (Lugosi was never a shrewd negotiator.)

Posted By swac44 : October 23, 2015 8:05 pm

Yup, it was Whale who put Manners in the film version of Journey’s End after meeting him at a Hollywood party. For some reason it still remains largely unavailable on home video. It’s not even on YouTube, although Google tells me it’s on some dubious looking Russian website, which should probably best be avoided. From all reports, Manners was quite good in it, although Colin Clive steals the show as a First World War soldier on the verge of cracking up. I’m guessing the literary rights to the original play are what’s keeping it out of circulation, which is a shame.

Amazingly, Manners made something like 37 films in only 6 years, which is remarkable by anyone’s standard. Maybe it was the grind of filmmaking that led him to leave the biz, going back to the stage and eventually becoming a novelist, painter and self-improvement writer. There’s a quote on his Wikipedia page where Manners describes Hollywood as “a false place”, so he clearly wasn’t enamored with it.

Posted By LD : October 23, 2015 9:53 pm

Just finished watching the Spanish version of DRACULA, and I was impressed. It may last a half hour longer but it doesn’t seem to. The additional footage adds to the film but doesn’t bloat it.

The one thing I couldn’t get past was Villias as Dracula. He just didn’t work for me in the role. As you said in your post, Kimberly, sometimes his performance is almost comical. I also agree with you about Dwight Frye not being surpassed by Rubio and Tovar being better than Chandler. Still, both films are well worth viewing.

Thanks for your recommendation. I am very glad I watched it.

Posted By George : October 23, 2015 10:56 pm

David Manners is quite good in Capra’s THE MIRACLE WOMAN, with Stanwyck.

Posted By susan : October 24, 2015 3:15 pm

I plan to attend. Will there be subtitles for the Spanish version?

Posted By Greg Morrow : October 24, 2015 7:24 pm

Lupita Tovar, who starred in the Spanish version,is still going at the age of 105! She eventually married Hollywood agent Paul Kohner, is the mother of actress Susan Kohner (“Imitation of Life”…), and she is the grandmother of Chris and Paul Weitz (Kohner married fashion designer Paul Weitz in the 60′s), famous for their “American Pie” franchise. Susan Kohner and son Chris bear an amazing resemblance to Lupita!

Posted By George : October 24, 2015 8:04 pm

Glad Universal is making both Draculas available — but when are we going to see the other 700 vintage movies it has locked in its vaults? As one film buff says about 1932′s BROKEN LULLABY: “I would have to break the law to see that film.”

http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-20151025-column.html

Posted By Susan Doll : October 25, 2015 1:47 am

Hey Kimberly
Coincidentally, I just found out something interesting about George Melford, so I am going to piggyback on your post for Monday.

Posted By CC : October 25, 2015 5:49 pm

Looking forward to seeing Dracula tonight with my middle and high school children. We’ve had it on our calendar all summer. Two great podcasts about the golden age of hollywood: The Secret History of Hollywood and Attaboy Clarence. This past summer we listened to A Universe of Horrors – the story of Universal Studios’ horror movies. Fun stuff! Love TCM and enjoy seeing and sharing with my kids some great films on the big screen.

Posted By Tom Webb : October 26, 2015 1:15 pm

Hi to swac44. You mentioned “Journey’s End,” with David Manners and Colin Clive, and directed by James Whale. It is in fact posted on YouTube, under it’s title, and for anyone interested in seeing it, take a look there. It is well worth your time, for it is an excellent film, with great performances. I think it has David Manners’ best role and performance, and he is very touching in it. Colin Clive is of course the star, and is fantastic, too. If you’ve only seen Manners in “Dracula,” “The Mummy,” “The Black Cat,” or other films, you might be surprised by how good he is in “Journey’s End.” I just checked YouTube, and it is still there. A film that should be out on DVD. Manners is also very good in Frank Capra’s “The Miracle Woman,” with Barbara Stanwyck.

As regards the two versions of “Dracula,” I agree with the view that both have their strong and weak points. It is fun seeing the films as a double feature, and comparing and contrasting them. There are other alternate-language versions of classic films out on DVD, too. Laurel and Hardy shorts in Spanish and French, “The Big House” in French, with Charles Boyer in the Chester Morris part; a Buster Keaton film; the German-language version of “Anna Christie,” with Garbo speaking German; a few others, I think. “The Big Trail,” the film that put John Wayne on the map, was reportedly also made in French, German, Spanish, and Italian versions. I wonder if any of those are still around. Paramount made many French versions of its films, using bilingual stars such as Claudette Colbert, as well as French actors like Maurice Chevalier and Lily Damita. An interesting period of Hollywood history. Too bad they didn’t make an alternate version of “Frankenstein.” That would be really interesting to see.

Posted By swac44 : October 26, 2015 1:43 pm

Hmmm…I’m searching YouTube but nothing’s coming up under “Journey’s End” except a 1988 TV movie based on the play. If I enter “James Whale” or “Colin Clive” to the mix, the results are equally disappointing. I do have a washed out copy of the film on VHS, probably from a UK TV broadcast, but I’d love to find a better copy.

It could be that this particular YouTube clip is banned in my country, due to the rights issues surrounding the original play. Or that it was on YouTube at one point, but has since been removed.

I did find this YouTube slideshow of Manners stills, accompanied by a completely inappropriate piece of music, but it certainly establishes the fact that he had “matinee idol good looks” that I’m sure helped ensure his early popularity.

Also worth tracking down is Whale’s sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, 1937′s The Road Back, which seems to have fallen into obscurity, despite its pedigree as the follow-up to a notable early Best Picture Oscar winner. It follows a group of German soldiers trying to readjust to life after the First World War, and in Whale’s original cut, showed the early seeds of fascism being sown, although that was toned down by the studio prior to release, so as not to tick off the German audience.

Posted By George : October 26, 2015 8:37 pm

As Tom Webb said, the two versions of DRACULA have strong and weak points. I prefer the Lugosi version; his performance overcomes the much-criticized staginess of the film’s second half.

The Spanish version was a disappointment when I finally saw it. My expectations were bloated by reading David Skal’s comments about it in the book “Hollywood Gothic.” Writing at a time when seeing the film required a trip to Cuba, Skal depicted it as a brilliant masterpiece — which it isn’t. But it’s still pretty good.

Posted By Steve Gans : October 29, 2015 2:51 am

Saw the movie tonight in Peoria, Illinois with my wife. We were sad that a town of 120,000 people only saw seven of us buying tickets for tonight’s show, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Please keep doing these events.

Posted By George : August 23, 2016 12:33 am

For a sort of companion piece to the Spanish DRACULA, seek out EAST OF BORNEO (Universal, 1931). It was also produced by Paul Kohner, directed by George Melford, and has Lupita Tovar in a supporting role. But it’s in English. The stars are Charles Bickford and Rose Hobart.

Although sold as a jungle adventure, EAST OF BORNEO is close to a horror film, with scenes that sadistically dwell on a man attacked by a leopard and another man devoured by crocodiles. And it has the dark atmosphere and mobile camerawork of the Spanish DRACULA.

EAST OF BORNEO can be viewed on YouTube.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 25, 2016 8:28 pm

Steve – Glad you enjoyed seeing Dracula and I hope you’ll give The King and I a look when it’s back in theaters.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 25, 2016 8:29 pm

George – Thanks so much for the heads-up on East of Borneo! Will try and give it a look soon. It sounds like something I’d really enjoy.

Posted By George : November 14, 2016 8:09 pm

R.I.P. Lupita Tovar, dead at 106.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/lupita-tovar-dead-dracula-actress-850624

Just two nights ago, I watched her in BORDER LAW (Columbia, 1931), with Buck Jones. A really good B Western that can be seen on YouTube.

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