by Jaime Grijalba
“Fixing a Hole” is a new series whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for October is “Universal Horror.” Some spoilers are discussed below.
While Joel has selected all the titles, certain films have been assigned to guest writers. This week, Exodus 8:2‘s own Jaime Grijalba digs up the two Draculas: the English- and Spanish-language versions, shot simultaneously in 1931.
Dracula (1931/United States/directed by Tod Browning)
stars Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Helen Chandler, David Manners
written by Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Max Cohen, Dudley Murphey, Louis Stevens from the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston, Garret Fort from the novel by Bram Stoker • photographed by Karl Freund • designed by Charles D. Hall, John Hoffman, Herman Rosse • no music • edited by Milton Carruth
The Story: On a dark and stormy night, an Englishman arrives at a gloomy castle in Transylvania and meets Count Dracula, who would like to invite him for a drink.
Drácula (1931/United States/directed by George Melford)
stars Carlos Villarías, Pablo Álvarez Rubio, Eduardo Arozamena, Lupita Tovar, Barry Norton
written by B. Fernandez Cue, Dudley Murphey from the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston, Garret Fort from the novel by Bram Stoker • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by David Broekman • edited by Andrew Cohen
The Story: En una noche oscura y tormentosa, un inglés llega a un lúgubre castillo en Transilvania y cumple con el Conde Drácula, a quien le gustaría invitarlo a tomar una copa. (Forgive the Google translation! – Joel)
‘I am Dracula’/’Yo soy Drácula’
The only survivor of a practice that was more common than anyone would admit, Drácula, the Spanish version of the Tod Browning film Dracula, is also from 1931, filmed at the same time with the same sets and the same script, but with different actors, directors, DP’s, everything. Universal, of all the studios, used to do this all the time, not to expand the film to foreign Spanish-talking regions (that was more of a consequence) but more to appease the growing Latino population that began not only to populate the United States. And also to compensate with work the many Latino-related actors and actresses that came to Hollywood to find a work and a way to shine in the movies, even if they didn’t really speak any English, which I don’t know if it’s the case of this particular case, but I’m pretty sure there are some who are.
Anyway, back to the films. Dracula may be one of the most famous movies in the world, much like Frankenstein, because you don’t need to actually see it to know what it’s about. You can sometimes predict what the acting, the framing, the sets and all the little details will be: countless parodies, remakes and maybe a genetic memory have been important when we give this film the status of legend. Maybe it’s Lugosi, or Browning, or Frye, or who knows what it is, maybe the cinematography has something familiar that resonates with us when we see it for the first time, as if it were a world that we already know, but that we longed to return to, a film that has always played in our minds until we see it for the first time, and that’s when the film will start playing in your heart.
And maybe that’s the reason why Drácula, the Spanish version of the classic film, is so fresh to the eyes and the mind. It’s different. You react to it in a different manner; the film feels like when you remember a half-forgotten dream, when you see a full vision of what a parallel universe could’ve been if you’d chosen the blonde and not the brunette. Because it is the full vision and scope of what Dracula, the legendary character and its story, can be, this version being far more complete, especially when you watch these two back to back in what can be one of the most splendid double features. While you are in awe due to the visual and poetic nature of the English version, then you are surprised and admiring the longer and more paused plot of the Spanish version, as well as its bold visual and camera style.
It’s funny when you see a film you love so much, like Dracula, and then you end up watching Drácula, particularly when you do speak Spanish, natively, with no aid of subtitles. You recognize most of the characters and you remember which actors played what in each version, and then the needed thing begins: comparisons. While they are not always fair, it’s impossible for a Universal fan to not begin to compare between these two equally great films (I needed to say that now). And it’s not because I speak Spanish, but I’m tending to favor the Villarías starring film over the Lugosi shining acting vehicle, but just by a hair.
I’ll say that it’s more fun to watch Drácula than Dracula. The performances in many of the supporting roles are more complete and they feel as real characters, with really good supporting actors to support the information scenes (specially the nurses and wardens of the nuthouse), and for me, the Spanish Dr. Van Helsing is superior to the English speaking actor. Then we have the point that is always taken into account when you compare both of them: the camera moves and positionates in different and more interesting places in the Spanish-talking version. Who knows why, I’m guessing that they saw the dailies of the film that shot during the day, and they shot during the night knowing what to improve. It feels as a greater film in that sense, because you can live in the decorations that surround the characters, and that is something you don’t see every day this early in cinema.
This game deserves a better fame than it has today. But I’ll have to say this much: Dracula has Lugosi, and nothing in history will change the impact it had on horror cinema and our minds forever.
Jaime Grijalba has been writing for Wonders in the Dark for over a year. His work can also be found on Exodus 8:2, where he is currently wrapping up a horror-month retrospective called “31 Days of Horror”. (Look on the sidebar for language translation if you are not a Spanish-speaker.)