May 15, 2016

The Great Villain Blogathon 2016 - Dracula (1931)

Thanks to Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows and Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy for hosting the blogathon. Who doesn't love (or hate) a good villain? Kindly visit Silver Screenings, Shadows and Satin, and Speakeasy via the links above. You'll be glad you did.

Villain = [vil-uh n] = noun
1. a wicked or malevolent person.
2. (in a novel, play, film, etc.) the main evil character and antagonist to the hero.

My simple definition of villain is "baddie." Count Dracula, a big time baddie, is the title character of Abraham "Bram" Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. With all the adaptations of the novel done over the past 120 years, I would venture to say that the most frequently-portrayed character in horror films would have to be Dracula.

To me, Bela Lugosi is the definitive screen Dracula. Lugosi had a powerful presence and authority on-screen. The slow, deliberate pacing of his performance gave his Dracula the air of a walking, talking corpse, which terrified 1931 movie audiences. He was just as compelling with no dialogue, and the many close-ups of Lugosi's face in icy silence jumped off the screen. With this mesmerizing performance, Dracula became Bela Lugosi's signature role and his Dracula a cultural icon. Lugosi was buried wearing one of his Dracula costumes, complete with cape.

I will be focusing on Dracula (1931), produced by Universal Pictures Corporation and directed by Tod Browning (and Karl Freund, uncredited).

A little background...

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (translated as Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror; or simply Nosferatu) is a 1922 German Expressionist horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok.

The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, with names and other details changed because the studio could not obtain the rights to the novel (for instance, "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok"). Stoker's heirs sued over the adaptation, and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. However, a few prints of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema. Watch Nosferatu below:

The first authorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel was the 1924 stage play Dracula by Hamilton Deane. This production toured England for three years before settling in London.

In 1927 the play was brought to Broadway by Horace Liveright, who hired John L. Balderston to revise the script for American audiences. The American production starred Bela Lugosi (born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó in what is now Lugoj, Romania) in his first major English-speaking role, with Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Dr. Seward. The three actors reprised their roles in the 1931 film version.

Enthusiastic young Hollywood producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. (big daddy Carl, Sr. was head of Universal Pictures) saw the box office potential in Stoker's spine-chiller and the Deane-Balderston play, and he legally acquired the novel's and play's film rights for $40,000. Initially, he wanted Dracula to be a spectacle on a scale with the lavish silent films The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

The Garrett Fort screenplay for the 1931 film version drew inspiration from the Deane-Balderston play as well as Nosferatu. In fact, one scene in 1931's Dracula was lifted directly from a nearly identical scene in Nosferatu. In the early portion of the 1931 film, Renfield accidentally pricks his finger on a paper clip and it starts to bleed, and Dracula creeps toward him with glee, only to be repelled when the crucifix falls in front of the bleeding finger. This scene does not appear in Stoker's novel.

Lugosi was not the studio's first choice to play Dracula, even though he'd received kudos for his stage performance in the role. Lon Chaney was originally cast for the title role in the film, but died of throat cancer on August 26, 1930 before production began. Laemmle considered many other actors for the role, including Paul Muni, Conrad Veidt, Chester Morris, Ian Keith, John Carradine, John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe and William Courtenay. However, Lugosi lobbied hard and won the execs over by accepting a paltry $500 per week salary for seven weeks of work.

According to numerous accounts, the production is alleged to have been a mostly disorganized affair, with the usually meticulous director Tod Browning leaving cinematographer Karl Freund to take over during much of the shoot, making Freund an uncredited director on the film.

Tod Browning and Lon Chaney were friends and had made 10 films together. I believe Lon Chaney's death hit Browning very hard. He had just lost Chaney on August 26, 1930 and filming on Dracula began September 29, 1930. This may be the reason why Browning was allegedly on a drinking binge, sullen, and unprofessional during the shoot.

Many find this 1931 film flawed by its slow dialogue and static, stage-bound nature. I find most films made in the early sound era are stagy. They're like silent flicks with a little sound thrown in. Filmmakers didn't quite know what to do with the new technology yet.

I try to imagine myself watching the film 85 years ago. That helps me see it as Tod Browning and Karl Freund intended. The film features Freund's otherworldly lighting, smooth camera trackings, and a moody, shadowy atmosphere.

Cinematographer and director Karl Freund was born in what is now the Czech Republic. His family moved to Germany when he was 11. He was famously the cinematographer on the German Expressionist films The Golem (1920), The Last Laugh (1924), and Metropolis (1927).

Freund emigrated to the United States in 1929 where he continued to shoot many well remembered films such as Dracula (1931), The Good Earth (1937) (Oscar Best Cinematography), and Key Largo (1948).

He was the credited director of two fine horror films, The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935)

In the early 1950s, he was persuaded by Desi Arnaz at Desilu to be the cinematographer for I Love Lucy. Critics have credited Freund for the show's lustrous black and white cinematography, but more importantly, Freund designed the "flat lighting" system for shooting sitcoms that is still in use today. This system covers the set in light, thus eliminating shadows and allowing the use of three moving cameras without having to modify the lighting in-between shots. And where Freund did not invent the three camera shooting system, he did perfect it for use with film cameras in front of a live audience.

Freund and his production team also worked on other sitcoms produced at Desilu such as Our Miss Brooks.

In the early days of sound films, it was common for Hollywood studios to produce foreign language versions of their films using the same sets, costumes, etc. While Browning filmed during the day, at night George Melford was making the Spanish-language version Drácula, starring Carlos Villarías as Conde Drácula. Eduardo Arozamena played Van Helsing. Seductively-dressed actresses Lupita Tovar played Eva (Mina) and Carmen Guerrero played Lucia (Lucy). It is included on Universal DVDs featuring Dracula (1931). A clip from Drácula is below.

A third, silent, version of the film was also released. In 1931, some theaters had not yet been wired for sound and during this transition period, many studios released alternate silent versions with intertitles.

Due to technical limitations of the day, no musical score was composed specifically for the film. The music heard during the opening credits is an excerpt from Act II of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. During the theater scene where Dracula meets Dr. Seward, Harker, Mina and Lucy, the end of the overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg can be heard as well as the dark opening of Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony" in B minor.

In 1998 composer Philip Glass was commissioned to compose a musical score for the classic film. The score was performed by the Kronos Quartet under direction of Michael Reisman. Listen to the score below.

About Dracula (1931)

Note: Credit reads Carl Laemmle, Presient instead of President.
Joan Standing played Nurse Briggs. Credit is incorrect.
Top: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners
Center: Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston
Bottom: Frances Dade, Joan Standing as Nurse Briggs, Charles Gerrard
A Few #TCMParty Comments About the Film

Top L: If you were in a coach riding through the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania...
Top R: and you stopped at a quaint little village with a cross on the hill above it (note cross top L of pic)...
Bottom L: and an old Romanian peasant lady put a crucifix around your neck and you heard a group of villagers saying the Lord's Prayer in Hungarian (or maybe Romanian)...
Bottom R: and you approached a creepy castle atop a craggy peak... Would you go there?

The castle contains the following:
Top L: A spooky male hand coming out of a coffin.
Top center: A Transylvanian opossum (actually a Virginia opossum, only found in North America, subbing for a censor-disapproved rat).
Top R: A spooky female hand coming out of a coffin.
Center: A Transylvanian Jerusalem cricket coming out of a tiny coffin. (Actually it's a plain old Jerusalem cricket, native only to the western United States and parts of Mexico.)
Bottom L: A zombie-ish female sitting up in her coffin.
Bottom center: Another opossum stand-in for a rat next to a skeletal hand in a coffin.
Bottom R: A ghoulish dude wrapped in a black cape.

Top L: The coachman is dressed all in black. He has strange, glowing eyes (thanks to Karl Freund aiming two pencil spotlights into Bela Lugosi's eyes).
Top center: A humongous bat is driving the carriage.
Top R: The castle interior is not exactly Windsor-like.
Center L: Bats are flying around the hot mess of a place.
Center R: Transylvanian armadillos! Actually, armadillos are from the Western Hemisphere. Did Tod Browning think we'd think they were gigantic rats? Was the German-speaking Karl Freund directing at the time? Maybe Freund's interpreter subbed the armadillos for Şobolans?
Bottom L: There's a freaky dude in formal wear with a hungry look.
Bottom center: There's a freaky dude in formal wear with an even hungrier, sinister look.
Bottom R: Three lupa-lookin' chicks are after you.
Why the hell did you go there, Mr. Renfield? Your life's not worth a Romanian leu.

Various Items to Listen to and Watch

Click here to visit a page on featuring .mp3 audio files from Dracula (1931). I made audio clips and extracted the soundtracks from the original film and the one scored by Philip Glass.

List of audio files:
  1. I am...Dracula.
  2. I bid you...welcome.
  3. I am...Dracula. I bid you...welcome. (My creation. A combo of the previous two .mp3 files.) :)
  4. Offstage: Wolf call Dracula: Listen to them...children of the night. What music they make!
  5. Dracula: A spider spinning his web for the unwary fly. The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.
  6. Dracula: I never
  7. Renfield: You will keep your promise when we get to London, won't you, master? You will see that I get lives...not human lives but small ones...with blood in them. I'll be loyal to you, master. I'll be loyal.
  8. Renfield's cackle.
  9. Dracula: To be really dead...that must be glorious.
  10. Original soundtrack to 1931's Dracula
  11. Soundtrack to 1931's Dracula with Philip Glass score.

Click here to visit a page on featuring video files from Dracula (1931). I made video clips and an original video featuring photos of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. In addition, you can watch both versions of Dracula (1931), with the Philip Glass soundtrack and without.

List of video files:
  1. Dracula welcomes Mr. Renfield to his castle.
  2. Mr. Renfield cuts his finger and Dracula reacts. Then Renfield discovers his host doesn't
  3. Renfield is now Dracula's slave. He begs for small lives with blood in them and promises loyalty.
  4. Renfield laughs wildly while in the Vesta's hold.
  5. Dracula in the theater with Mina, John and Lucy. He speaks of death and eyes up Lucy.
  6. Renfield and Martin having fun with a spider in the Seward Sanitarium.
  7. Van Helsing vs. Dracula. Weapon of choice is a cigarette case with a mirrored top.
  8. Renfield and his rats, rats, rats.
  9. Van Helsing vs. Dracula. Weapon of choice is a large crucifix.
  10. The death of Renfield at the hands of Dracula. Poor tormented Renfield. Dwight Frye's contribution to 1931's Dracula is not often as remembered as Bela Lugosi's but is no less impressive.
  11. My video featuring photos of Bela Lugosi as Dracula.
  12. Watch the original Dracula (1931).
  13. Watch Dracula (1931) with Philip Glass score.

Click here to read a Dracula (1931) dialogue transcript in .pdf format.

Bram Stoker's book is freely available. Click here.

Listen to the LibriVox version of Bram Stoker's book.


Quiggy said...

I think the way they lit the eyes of Lugosi on closeups was the most haunting part of the movie. And the creepiest was Dwight Frye's laugh when they find him in the hold of the ship.... Good review.

Silver Screenings said...

Thanks for sharing all your research with us! It's always interesting to discover the stories behind films, which are sometimes as interesting as the films themselves.

Can you imagine seeing this when it was first released in 1931? Like you said, many would have been terrified. (I probably wouldn't have slept at all that night...!)

Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for bringing Bela Lugosi's Dracula with you. :)

Caftan Woman said...

Impressive look at the character and those early films.

Those actors considered for the role after Chaney's death are all fine performers and it is fun to consider what each of them might have done with the role. However, it is certainly head shaking that the studio didn't immediately look to Lugosi after his stage success.

angelman66 said...

I totally concur!! Bela Lugosi IS Count Dracula to me, though I appreciate Max Shreck, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella and others who have played him. Lugosi's menacing energy, sensual sex appeal and elegance have made him the iconic face of vampirism.
Great blog, look forward to reading more!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interesting post, Meredy! I am definitely not a fan of Dracula (I'm completely creeped out by vampires of all kinds, to be honest), but I did enjoy reading all of the background information. Good stuff! Thanks so much for joining our blogathon this year!

Anonymous said...

When it comes to horror I'm a Dedicated Wimp, but Dracula has always been one of my favourite characters - I think it's because I read the book first and then when to visit a few of the places in Whitby that it's set. I think I've always been more fascinated my the motivation rather than scared by what might happen. Really enjoyed reading all the research in this post, I can never get enough of the Count ;)


I agree that Bela Lugosi is the quintessential Dracula. Although Nosferatu gives me more chills, the 1931 Dracula is a complete masterpiece, and we can't conceive vampires nowadays without the characteristics Bela put in the role.
Awesome background info!
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)