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Dracula (1931)

by on 2011/08/17

“I am Dracula. I bid you welcome.”

* * * * *

As I mentioned in my Drácula review, this version of the classic has a competitive edge sharper than a vampire’s enlarged incisor. That edge over all other contenders is Bela Lugosi.

Playing the titular character, Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi is incomparable and dominating at the bloodthirsty Count. He shreds the scenery with his long, tapered (double-jointed) fingers.

This was no lurching, insect-like Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi made Dracula elegant, regal and attractive. Lugosi’s Dracula was a vital, vicious monster in command.

Even when a cross was brandished, Lugosi didn’t cower and shrink like a spider doused with insecticide. Instead, his eyes blazed, with a vigourous sweep of his cape, he was gone. You just knew he’d be back to exact his murderous revenge.

So much of what I’ve come to know about Bela Lugosi makes him perfect for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Lugosi was a statuesque 6-foot-one-inch tall, a former infantry lieutenant in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was forced to flee his homeland, coming to the U.S. aboard a boat bound for New Orleans, to live the rest of his life as a stranger in a strange land.

He was typecast as a monster. So much that was unique and wonderful about Bela Lugosi, like his mellifluous accent, he despised. Lugosi was, in many ways, a tragic figure. A lonely one.

This is where I should probably share that I’m just a tiny, little bit enamoured with Mr. Lugosi. I’ve been reading and watching Dracula in one form or another since I was a kid. Bela is the Dracula of my mind’s eye.

For me, he’s the entire movie – and the actor that launched the phenomena that is still running rampant over pop culture today.

While the Spanish version had superior supporting characters and a lacklustre Dracula, this version had a Dracula that continues to dominate the genre. The supporting characters of the English version were there to serve Dracula – literally.

Renfield, played by Dwight Frye, is wild-eyed and intense but once you’ve seen outstanding Pablo Álvarez Rubio’s performance, well, there’s simply no comparison.

Hebert Bunston does cut a much more imposing figure as Van Helsing – looking a little like a more athletic J. Jonah Jameson.

Helen Chandler and Frances Dade – Mina and Lucy respectively – are both prettily fluffy-headed and simpering, though more horsey than attractive for my taste. They are no more than cool, blonde hors d’oeuvres for the imposing Count.

The upshot is, for me, only Bela is Dracula. I’ve watched countless films and I can’t help but feel every single time, only Bela gets it absolutely perfect.

Perfect.

* * * * *

75 minutes

Rated PG for violence and a glowing, glowering stare that you’ll remember your whole life

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