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Drácula (1931)

by on 2011/08/14

“I never drink …wine.”

* * * *

The incredible Spanish version of Dracula was shot on the very same set as the classic 1931 Bela Lugosi version. The English production began shooting in the mornings at 8:00 a.m. The Spanish players took over the darkened set at sundown.

I’ve heard and read that many consider this night-suffused version superior to the English movie. During this, my 3rd screening, I’ve considered the question carefully.

The settings and props were all the same – right down to the giant spider web in Dracula’s castle. Apparently the Spanish players all stood on the same marks as the English ones, reading from the same script – but, you know, in Spanish.

There are many ways this George Melford-directed version surpasses the Lugosi version.

First of all, this version’s Renfield is like no other. If you want to see the definition of full body-and-soul commitment to a role, check out Pablo Álvarez Rubio as the bug-eating madman. He has a maniacal cackle you can feel at the base of your skull.

His role in the film was clearly expanded, giving more on-screen time given to this conflicted, tortured soul than in the English production. Rubio is phenomenal and genuinely chilling.

The character of Mina or in this case, “Eva Seward,” is superior. She is full of gasping, simpering, red-blooded life. Lupita Tovar, the actress who portrayed Eva, said the biggest difference between the two films was that of her wardrobe. Eva’s flowing, white nightgown during pivotal scenes leaves little (very little) to the imagination. She’s trying to cover up, but I’ve seen everything. (Thank you, Patrick Stewart).

There seems to be more life in the Spanish version. There’s more …more chest-heaving emotion, more intensity, more action. You believe that each of the characters is in the grip of a nightmare. There’s no stiff upper lips, no tea and sherry, no keep calm and carry on in this production.

There are ways in which the Spanish version doesn’t measure up.  Carlos Villarías looked like a Dracula who dearly loved his mother but had a distasteful habit of killing chamber maids and night nurses. He’s big-eared and average, like an mild-mannered accountant who’s been pushed too far, and has taken to leaping out of bushes, bearing his teeth and rolling his eyes at people.

Ese tío está loco.

The Prof. Van Helsing of this version, played by, Eduardo Arozamena, is not as compelling as the Van Helsing of the English version. He’s thick and nearly motionless, looking, at best, mildly put-out by the Dracula’s life-sucking ways.

Overall, however, this is an incredible film – filled with gloom and terror.  If you haven’t seen this Dracula, you are really missing out. While I still feel that the Bela Lugosi version has the edge, the Bela edge, this film holds incredible fascination.

* * * *

104 minutes

Unrated

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