Today’s movie is the classic Universal horror film Dracula (1931). Many of you are probably aware that a Spanish-language version was filmed on the same sets and at the same time as the English-language with Bela Lugosi (1931). They filmed the English-language version during the day and the Spanish-language version was filmed at night. The only difference in title is that the Spanish version has a little mark above the first “a.”
In my opinion, the Spanish-language version is vastly superior to the Lugosi film. I realize this is heresy and Bela Lugosi will always be the only vampire for me. They just did some stuff in the Spanish-language version that made it a better film.
Both stories are essentially the same so I will do both reviews at the same time and only mention the elements that I think works better in the Spanish-language version. We will see how it works.
Dwight Frye played the role of Renfield, the man too weak to stand-up to Dracula. Frye was covered in Episode 7 – Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Edward Van Sloan with his thick glasses played the role of vampire fighter Van Helsing. Van Sloan was covered in Episode 47 – The Mummy (1932).
David Manners played the love of Mina, John Harker. Manners was covered in Episode 47 – The Mummy (1932).
Helen Chandler played the main heroine Mina. Chandler was born in South Carolina in 1906. She was a major star on the New York stage by the end of 1920s. She tried to make the transition to film, and although she did well in Dracula (1931), she was basically a failure. By 1937, she left Hollywood to return to the stage, she was abusing alcohol and sleeping pills. In 1940, she was committed to a sanitarium for recovery. A decade later she was disfigured in a fire as result of smoking in bed. Chandler died in 1965 following surgery.
The first thing I noticed about this movie is that the Adam West version of Batman ripped off the Dracula logo seen below the credits. Following the credits, the movie shows a carriage with six people on board moving along the path at a breakneck speed. One of the men asks the driver to slow down but a local couple says that they must reach the town before sundown because of Nosferatu.
When they get to the town everyone unloads but Mr. Renfield (Dwight Frye) insists that he must travel on to Borgo Pass where he is being met by someone from Dracula’s castle at midnight. The locals gasp and cross themselves. When he insists that the driver take him on to the pass a lady gives him a cross to wear for the sake of his mother.
As the sun goes down the movie switches to Dracula’s castle where the undead count (Bela Lugosi) is raising for his nights activities. On the other side of the dungeon, Dracula’s three “wives” are exiting their coffins as well. There are opossums running around although their range is basically North America only. What seems like a bee or a beetle is shown leaving its coffin as well. I don’t know what this is supposed to mean.
In Dracula, the vampires beginning opening their coffin followed by a cutaway shot and the vampire is there. In Drácula, the coffin opens away from the camera followed by smoke and the vampire rises up. This is much scarier.
The driver takes Mr. Renfield to the pass as quickly as possible and dumps him and his bags before he speeds away. Waiting is a royal coach, with a disguised Count Dracula as the driver. The door opens unaided and Mr. Renfield gets in anyway. As the ride is very rough, Mr. Renfield looks out to talk to the driver and see only a bat flying ahead of the horses. But he goes on. With no driver, the coach arrives at the door of Dracula’s castle. The castle door opens unaided and Mr. Renfield goes in anyway. While he waits in the foyer, Count Dracula descends down a wide staircase. They go upstairs and Dracula walks through a large spider web without disturbing it. Mr. Renfield pauses, then knocks the web down with his cane and proceeds. Dracula tells Mr. Renfield says that the spider lays its traps to obtain the blood of like. Of course this set the course that Renfield will follow into fly and bug eating.
In his room, Renfield gives the purchase papers to purchase an abbey in London. Wouldn’t this be hallowed ground and thus bad for vampires? Dracula is a speed reader and says he will only be taking three trunks on his trip. Dracula gives Renfield food and wine before leaving. Renfield has an attack, maybe drugged wine or blood wine, I’m not sure. He opens the windowed door and sees the same bat outside. Renfield passes out and the three ‘wives’ approach but Dracula waves them off. They never show him being bitten.
In Drácula, the tapestries on the wall are much creeper. The wine bottle is covered with dust, showing its age. It a part of the film that was recovered from a copy in Cuba clearly shows the three ‘wives’ following upon Renfield.
The next you see Renfield, he is insane, and serving as a Hound of Hell for Dracula as they sail to London. The three crates are soil, so I guess he divorced the “wives.” The ship makes it into port with all of the crew dead and the captain lashed to the wheel.
In Drácula the crew sees the vampire and is terrorizing by him and Renfield’s laugh.
Renfield is placed in an asylum under the care of Dr. Seward. Right off the bat, see what I did there, Dracula knocks off a cockney flower peddler. He then makes his way to an opera where he uses his considerable glamming powers to gain an introduction to Dr. Seward, his daughter Mina (Helen Chandler), Mina’s boyfriend John Harker (David Manners), and her friend Lucy. Lucy catches Dracula’s attention with her talk of death. Lucy is also quite taken by the count.
Later that night, Dracula turns into a bat and visits Lucy for a little snack. The next time they show Lucy she is dead even though the doctors gave her transfusions. Renfield screams like a fiend as the orderly takes a spider away from him. He has been moving up the food chain from flies trying to emulate Dracula. Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) tests the blood of Lucy. Van Helsing realizes that they are dealing with the undead. Dr. Seward and the others are very skeptical.
In Drácula Van Helsing is still wearing his coke bottle glasses. Many long shots are reused. Renfield has little bit of a Andy Garcia thing going while Van Helsing resembles Eugene Levy, you know the dad in American Pie (1999).
Drs. Seward and Van Helsing meet with Renfield who seems quite normal at first. As the sun goes down, the howls of wolves are heard although none are in London as Dracula arises. Van Helsing says that he and Renfield know why the wolves howl as he uses a sprig of wolfsbane to drive Renfield back. As he is hauled away, Renfield says Van Helsing knows too much to live.
When Renfield is locked in his cell, Dracula appears outside and asks him to help with the turning of Mina. Renfield wants to resist but he can’t. Dracula flaps over to Mina’s room and bites her for the first time.
The next day Mina is describing what she believes is a dream to Harker. Dr. Van Helsing examines her neck and finds the marks on her neck. Harker asks what could have caused the marks and right on cue the maid announces the arrival of Count Dracula. Van Helsing is on to Dracula already. Dracula says he has been telling her stories and they might be causing the dreams. Van Helsing checks Dracula’s reflection in a mirror while Dracula asks if he can check on her later. Van Helsing opens the mirror on Dracula who slaps the mirror away saying he does not like them trying to cover his actions. Dracula throws a big complement to Van Helsing before he leaves. Harker sees a wolf running across the yard as Dracula goes.
Drácula shows a lot more rage and contempt at the mirror showing. They also feature the women more prominently.
Van Helsing tells Seward and Harker that the count is a vampire. Mina goes outside for a small bit with Dracula.
Renfield shows up and does his crazy laughing and says Van Helsing is their and Mina’s only hope. Dracula as a bat comes back and threatens Renfield. A maid screams and Mina is dead in the yard. However, she has only passed out.
Lucy is beginning to roam around as a vampire and attacking small children. Mina tells Van Helsing that she has seen Lucy in the yard. Mina breaks off her engagement with Harker. Harker blames Van Helsing as he brings Mina inside before sundown.
Van Helsing puts wolvesbane on Mina and on the doors. He also puts a nurse in the room to watch over her. He, Harker, and her dad could guard her but I guess their Victorians. Dracula wakes for the nights activity. They convince Harker not to take Mina away. Renfield shows up and warns of Dracula’s power. He says Dracula came with a red mist that had thousands of red eyed rats that he would give Renfield. Dwight Frye should have gotten an Oscar for his maniac laughing and rats, rats, RATS. Van Helsing realizes from Renfield’s ranting that Dracula is already in the house. All the others head out. Dracula enters through the patio door and tells Van Helsing that he should leave London. Van Helsing says he will stay and fight and drive a stake through his heard.
Dracula uses a voice command for Van Helsing to come to him but the doctor is mentally strong. Dracula then uses a palm down hand followed by a palm up hand before Van Helsing weakens. But the doctor is too strong and snaps out of it. When Dracula approaches Van Helsing drives him away with a crucifix.
In Drácula Van Helsing seems scared and Drácula only uses the raised claw hand to summon Van Helsing to him. The bat looks a lot faker in this version.
Dracula glams the nurse and Mina goes outside. Harker joins her there and she almost bites his neck. Dracula shows up as a bat and communicates to Mina to bite Harker. She begins to bit him again and Van Helsing stops her with the cross. Mina finally tells Harker that all Van Helsing says is true. The orderly and the maid are out in the lawn shooting Dracula as a bat.
Eva (Mina) actually bites John on the neck before Van Helsing stops him in Drácula.
The put Mina back in her room and Dracula comes right back and gets her using the weak willed nurse. Harker and Van Helsing see Renfield heading towards the abbey. They follow him right to Dracula’s lair. Dracula is leading Mina down a long stone stairway. Renfield tries to help the girl but Dracula overpowers his mind, breaks his neck, and throws him down the stairs.
In Drácula they show the sunlit stop the vampire from making his final bit on Eva.
Harker and Van Helsing break into the abbey at sunup and hear Mina scream. Van Helsing finds Dracula’s coffin and breaks up the lid to make a stake. Harker brings him a bar to hammer it into the heart of the vampire. Van Helsing kills Dracula quite easily. Mina is not in the second coffin. When Dracula dies Mina comes back and she and Harker are reunited. Harker and Mina leave but Van Helsing stays behind and movie ends.
World-Famous Short Summary – Couple has a few nips before marriage
I would have to say that Drácula is a little more operatic. They take more time showing the vampire move in and the actors are a little more facially expressive.
If you enjoyed this week’s show please tell your friends and it you really want to help drop over to iTunes to give me a review. If you want to comment, recommend a movie, or just say hi, follow the links in the show notes to my site.
Beware the moors
Dracula (1931) and Drácula (1931)
Free Sweet Science (Boxing) eBook - The Sport of Film Noir
Subscribe to get our latest content by email.