Dracula

Year Of Release: 1931
Running Time: 75 Minutes
DVD Released By: Universal
Directed By: Tod Browning
Writing Credits: John L. Balderston (play), Louis Bromfield (uncredited), Tod Browning (uncredited), Max Cohen (titles-uncredited), Hamilton Deane (play), Garrett Fort, Dudley Murphy (additional dialogue-uncredited), Louis Stevens (uncredited), Bram Stoker (novel)
Filming Location: Los Angeles, California

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles K. Gerrard, Tod Browning, Michael Visaroff

Tagline 1: The story of the strangest passion the world has ever known!

Tagline 2: The Vampire Thriller

Alternate Titles:
I was unable to locate any alternate titles for this film.

Interesting Bits of Trivia:
The original plan was to make a big-budget adaptation of "Dracula" that would adhere strictly to Bram Stoker's novel. However, with the Great Depression, Universal didn't have the money to make such a sprawling film. Instead, they opted to adapt the much less expensive Hamilton Deane stage play. When this film was re-released after the Production Code, several deletions were ordered made to the soundtrack. The deletions include Renfield's scream as he is being killed and Dracula's moan as the stake is driven through his heart. These deletions have been restored. It was rumored that Bela Lugosi, who didn't speak English very well, learned his lines phonetically for this film. This however proved to be untrue as Lugosi had already learned English as well as he ever would by this point in his life. The role of Dracula was originally to go to Lon Chaney, but his death on August 26, 1930 forced the filmmakers to find a new actor to play the role. Ian Keith was one of the first choices for the part. He appeared in other notable films such as The Ten Commandments and It Came From Beneath The Sea. Fortunately however, it was Bela Lugosi who finally secured the role of Dracula, and went down in film history as the most famous Dracula of all time.

Rogue Reviewers Round Table Review: October 2003
Review Topic: "High Stakes & Silver Bullets"



Cast Of Characters
Count Dracula: Oh man, what a bizarre creep this guy is. You have never seen a creepy as hell smile until you've seen the smiles Bela Lugosi throws at people in this movie. Bela plays Dracula, a Transylvanian count that's been creeping around longer than he probably should have been. He only ever attacks women in this movie, and there's a reason for that. Seems that the studio was concerned about the gay connotations of him biting men on the neck, so they sent out a memo to the filmmakers telling them that he was only allowed to attack women, which totally screwed him over because it was the men that killed him. The women in this movie were all weak, helpless, and stupid and pretty much deserved what they got.

Mina Seward: You'd think the daughter of a doctor would be at least semi-smart now wouldn't you? Well, if you were talking about this dingbat, you'd be wrong. This is Mina. She's the daughter of Dr. Seward who runs the sanitarium right next to Dracula's new digs. Hey, that's funny...Dracula's digs. Dracula sleeps in a coffin on dirt from...um...yeah, never mind. Anyway, listening to her talk is kinda like when you were in the first grade and some stupid girl brought her Polly Prissy Pants doll in for show and tell and rambled on about tea parties and stuff for like an hour. Man, thank god for my Artemis Cloud Frog. Without him I'd have never made it through.

Jonathan Harker: What a dorky moron this guy is. He's Mina's fiance, and obviously a masochist as well since being married to her is about the greatest torture, at least mentally, you could ever put yourself through. He says he loves Mina and wants to help her deal with this whole vampire thing, and yet he always seems to do everything possible to prevent Van Helsing from helping her. Hey wait a minute, maybe he's not such a dork after all!

Renfield: Oh man, did this guy have a crappy time or what? All he started out to do was to draw up some lease papers for his client, Count Dracula, which he would then deliver to his castle in Transylvania. It was supposed to be an open and shut thing. Like an overnight trip to the castle and then back home to a cozy fireplace and warm cocoa. But is that what happened? Hell no! First he passes out and gets bitten by Dracula. Then, as if that's not bad enough, he ends up being Dracula's slave. Oh, but we're just getting started now. Dracula makes him pack up all his gear, (coffins, dirt, clothes, etc...) and put them on a ship headed for England. On the way the ship hits a massive storm, the effects of which were done quite well by the way, and the entire crew is killed. By the time the ship docks in England, Renfield's become stark raving mad and ends up in a Sanitarium right next door to Dracula's new place. Oh but that's not the best part. Now that he's become one of the undead himself, he's taken to eating flies and spiders and other creepy crawly things because that's all Dracula would allow him to eat. By the end of the movie, he finally gets to bite a real woman, which is something I'm sure he never did before in his life up to this point considering what a nerd he was, and then Dracula ends up strangling him to death and throwing him down a flight of stairs because he unknowingly led Jonathan and Professor Van Helsing back to the abbey where Dracula was now living. So basically, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for this poor schmuck. I do have to say though that once he went nuts, this was just an awesome character. This guy did an awesome job.

Professor Abraham Van Helsing: Someone get this guy an enema quick! This is Van Helsing, and he knows about vampires. Isn't that cool? Look how excited he is about this whole adventure. I know what you're thinking when you look at him too. Life of the party, right? Anyway, for some reason this guy is packin' wolfsbane and lots of it before he even knows there's vampires involved in all the weirdness that's goin' on. He said that wolfsbane only grows in Central Europe or something like that, so I really can't understand why he has so much of it in London with him. Maybe he's using it...oh man, wait a minute. I know why he's got all that wolfsbane with him. Herbal enemas! Jeez no wonder Dracula hates wolfsbane so much. I mean, how would you feel if Van Helsing was running at you with an enema bag in one hand and a nozzle in the other?

Dr. Jack Seward: This is the guy who helped bring Mina into the world. Now in my little world, that would be a hanging offence. I mean, when Mina was born, the IQ of the world dropped by about twenty points just from the aura of stupidity she was giving off. I guess all the smart genes this guy's carrying are recessive or something, because she sure as hell didn't get any. Anyway, Jack runs the sanitarium where Renfield is being treated. He's obviously not doing a very good job though, because Renfield seems to just kinda wander around at will and there's almost no security at all in this place.

Lucy Weston: This chick wasn't in the movie much. She was Mina's friend and Dracula's second victim after he arrived in London. Once she got bitten by the cloaked one, she became one of his vampire brides and started wandering around in the middle of the night in a white outfit, luring children in the park with candy so she could bite them on the neck. I dunno why she was bothering with kids though. I know a lot of guys who'd let her bite them on the neck for free. Hell, I could have saved her the candy money.

Martin: This is Martin, the wacky orderly who was charged with taking care of Renfield. Basically he's the comedy relief in this movie and he wasn't in it all that much, but he was in a couple of the best scenes in the film, so I had to throw him in here. The funniest thing about this guy, and you can't see it here because I couldn't get a good screenshot of it, is that he has the most obvious and bizarre looking toupee I've ever seen. It's almost like he's wearing a dead animal on his head or something.




Screen Shots

"What dat you say? You want me to give you moustache ride? What I look like to you? I no cab driver. You want ride, you call cab."

"Look out Dracula! That giant potato bug is gonna poop on your head!"

Man I really have no idea what the deal with this is. It's a tiny coffin with a bug coming out of it. There's a rabid looking possum in here too that I think people were supposed to believe was a giant mutant rat or something. Come to think of it, I guess that's what a possum is. A little later on we get to see a couple of armadillos coming out of a hole in some rubble inside the castle. I'm still waiting for someone to explain that to me. I didn't know they had armadillos in Transylvania.

Reviewer's Note: I received a mail from one of my readers, Jim Pierson, that explains the facts behind the weirdness in this scene. Thanks Jim!

Just read your DRACULA (1931) review and felt I should explain that director Tod Browning was from Texas, and insisted that Castle Dracula contain armadillos (dasypus novemcinctus, much beloved in Texas), regardless of the fact that they don't occur naturally in Central Europe. The big bug in the little coffin was an attempt at capturing something approaching a usable implied transformation type scene without spending any money (or requiring a process shot).

Ever notice how when you get several women together in one place, how they all seem to have their period at the same time? Now imagine three menstruating vampire chicks with cramps. Believe me, that's someplace you definitely don't want to be.

 

"Hey buddy, come on over here and let me chew your ear for a while."

I know this looks freaky, but it's really quite innocent. See this is Renfield after he'd been bitten by dracula, made into an undead slave, escorted Dracula to England, and then got himself put into a sanitarium right off the boat. Actually, it's been quite a trip for Renfield hasn't it? He's into eating bugs now. Flies mostly, but in this scene he's discovered how fat and juicy spiders are, so he's making a few dietary adjustments. He doesn't seem to want to suck the blood of people though for some odd reason. Hell, if I was a creature of the night, I'd be eatin' on people all the time. I hear they taste like chicken.

 

Renfield and Martin show off their latest Vaudeville act. It's a ventriloquist act where Renfield plays the dummy and Martin plays the ventriloquist. They're really great too. Notice how you never once see Renfield's lips move while Martin's talking? Isn't that great? Wait...what? That's not right somehow.




Best Quotes

"There are far worse things awaiting man, than death."

- Dracula talking to Mina after Lucy recites a morbid toast. - (Reviewer's Note: Oh there's lots of things in this world that would make you pray for death. Things like Barbara Streisand concerts, Hillary Clinton speeches, and having to hear for the fifty billionth time about Michael Jackson and what he's supposedly been doing to little boys again lately.)



Martin: "Aren't ya ashamed now? Ain't ya? Spiders now is it? Flies ain't good enough?!?"
Renfield: "Flies? Flies? Poor puny things. Who wants to eat flies?"
Martin: "You do ya loony!"
Renfield: "Not when I can get nice fat spiders!"
Martin: "All right. 'Ave it your own way."

- Renfield whining after Martin takes his spider away and tosses it out the window. - (Reviewer's Note: Man, remind me never to have dinner at Renfield's house.)



 

Video Clip
When prompted, enter bmovie for the username and central for the password.

Dracula
Martin and Renfield have a little spat over Renfield's eating habits. This is the scene from the quote above. It was so awesome, I just had to use it.



Summary and Conclusion

Let me just start off by saying that between yesterday and today, I watched both The Beast That Killed Women and The Monster of Camp Sunshine. Both of those movies are basically just nudie flicks with a monster thrown in just to add a hint of a plot to it all. There's a lot of movies like that, and most can be bought from Something Weird Video. Basically, what I'm saying is, that when it came time to do this review, I was really ready to watch a real movie.

I didn't really know what to expect with this film. To this point, my exposure to Bela Lugosi films has been pretty much limited to his work with Ed Wood. I own a lot of Bela's movies, but I try not to watch them until I get around to reviewing them. So this was the first really dramatic role I've ever seen him in, and let me just say that he was marvelous. Whoever had the bright idea to cast Lon Chaney in this role should have been bitch slapped into the middle of next week. I mean, Lon Chaney was cool and all, but he would have been totally wrong for this part. Bela wasn't even the second choice for this part, which really surprised me. I mean think about it. You have a count from Transylvania, so doesn't it make sense to have someone play the role who has the right accent naturally? Bela lent an air of authenticity to the role that very few, if any of the other actors of the time could have. His creepy smile and debonair manner really made him seem like he was who he was pretending to be, and to this day, I don't know anyone who doesn't associate Bela Lugosi with the role of Count Dracula.

The other stand out character in this film was Renfield, played brilliantly by Dwight Frye. While many of the characters in this film were somewhat forgettable, Dwight Frye made his character one that will haunt my dreams for years to come. He played the role of the madman beautifully, with an evil grin and a style of speaking that made you really believe that you were watching a mad man. It was really strange to see the way he handled this character, because at the beginning of the movie, when he was just normal and visiting Count Dracula to deliver some lease papers to him, he almost seemed like he didn't really have a grasp on how the character should act. It wasn't until he became Dracula's slave that he really grabbed a hold of his character and ran with it. Before that he seemed unsure about what to do with himself, and it showed a bit in his portrayal. And yet, I forgive him for that since he eventually became one of the most unforgettable characters that it has ever been my pleasure to witness on the screen.

Mina was played by Helen Chandler and I'm still trying to sort out whether the character of Mina was really that dumb or if it was just the way that Ms. Chandler played it that made it seem that way. I think I'm leaning towards the latter because I can't really pinpoint any one thing that Mina did in the movie that would lead me to believe that she was an idiot. She just came off that way.

Professor Van Helsing was played by Edward Van Sloan, and if I could pinpoint any one bit of bad casting in this movie, I think that would have to be it. Van Helsing is supposed to be Dracula's nemesis, yet Edward Van Sloan played him more like an old man that needed an enema. Even in the confrontation scene where Dracula tries to hypnotize Van Helsing, and Van Helsing resists, there's no real sense that there's a battle of wills going on there. Van Helsing just kinda ends up looking like he pooped his pants and forgot where he was for about a minute and a half. Now if they were going to cast Lon Chaney anywhere in this film, I think he'd have made a far better Professor Van Helsing than he would have a Count Dracula.

Jonathan Harker, who was played by David Manners, ended up being nothing more than another victim of the forgettable character syndrome. In this case though, it's not David's fault. It's more the way the role was written that made the character forgettable than anything he did. Unfortunately, Dr. Seward's character, played by Herbert Bunston, also falls into the same category.

There's a lot of really cool stuff in this film. Like when Dracula walks through a bunch of cobwebs without disturbing them, or when the ship was taking him and Renfield to London and they went through that incredibly well done storm. Those things were really sweet. But then there were other things in this film that almost made me wonder if Trey Parker and Matt Stone had written it. I mean, what's the deal with the potato bugs and possums and armadillos creepin' around in Dracula's castle? Those are the kinds of things that are really there for no other reason than to make you say to yourself, "What the hell???" The really cool thing about it though is that they don't detract from the movie. The goofiness that things like that add in those What the hell??? moments, only add to the charm and overall fun of the film.

So the long and the short of it is, I had a lot of fun watching this movie. I've always loved Bela Lugosi, and to finally see him in the role that basically became the defining role of his entire career, was a real treat. This film did have a casting problem or two, but overall it was solid and a whole lot of fun to watch. I had the pleasure of listening to the radio version of this story as performed by Orson Welles while I was sitting at Heathrow Airport in London on my way to visit my wife's family in Israel. After hearing that and now seeing this, I must say that this film held quite close to the radio play and really brought the whole story to life. It's just unfortunate that the film wasn't allowed to hold completely true to the story as Dracula wasn't allowed to attack any of the men in this particular version of the story, but still they did a great job with it. In spite of it's few minor problems, I'm really happy to be able to award this movie five bees. I think it would be more appropriate in this case to give it five bats, but it would probably just confuse people, so I'll stick to bees.

B-Movie Central's Rating: 5 Bees!

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