Monday, October 31, 2011

Drácula (1931)

Dracula: The Telemundo Cut

- Back when sound was first being introduced into motion pictures, a studio would frequently use the same sets, costumes, etc. of their English-language picture for a Spanish-language picture starring Spanish-speaking actors in hopes to make an extra buck in Spanish-speaking countries. So in 1931, it would have come as no surprise when Universal Pictures created a Spanish-language version of the Dracula film that starred Bela Lugosi. Most Spanish-language alternate films would be forever lost or destroyed by time or neglect but Drácula has survived and is actually quite accessible, available right now on many DVD versions of the Lugosi-starred film.

It is a big enough feat for a 1930s Spanish-language alternate film to survive deterioration, let alone to actually be accessible on DVD in the 21st Century. However, Drácula has gone further than simply survive, it has even come to be considered by many film fans as the superior Dracula film. Unfortunately I could not tell you why, as I found it to be quite inferior to the Lugosi-starred Dracula.

Carlos Villar plays Dracula in the Spanish-language version of the film and does not begin to hold a candle to Bela Lugosi's performance. Lugosi was chilling, one-of-a-kind, excellent, commanding - Villar has neither the acting chops nor the screen presence of Lugosi and his Dracula looks like a bad impression of the Count. But there is more than just the absence of the great Bela Lugosi performance in this film that makes the Spanish-language version inferior to the English-language version, other performances fail as well. For one thing, Eduardo Arozamena's stereotypical-looking overweight Hispanic man look does his role of Van Helsing no good and pales in comparison to Edward Van Sloan's excellent portrayal in the English-language version. And wow - I thought Dwight Frye overdid his role of Renfield in a few scenes in the English-language version - Pablo Álvarez Rubio is absolutely awful as Renfield in the Spanish-language version! Rubio's overacts his role as Renfield to levels so incredible that it is painful to watch - it is easily one of the most overacted performances I have ever seen. *Ugh*! Terrible.

The visuals in the Spanish-language version of Dracula are also not nearly as effective as the English-language version. While the Spanish-language version's cast and crew used the same sets, etc., they were unable to attain the same level of creepiness or atmosphere that the Lugosi version does. Many boast of the Spanish-language version's more mobile camera or more sound effects but it was the wide-shot and silent nature that made the Lugosi version so effective. And I do not know where the idea that Drácula has more atmospheric lighting than the Lugosi version came from. The English-language version used light far better, in my opinion.

While Drácula is, in my mind anyway, undoubtedly worse than the Bella Lugosi Dracula, it does offer some interesting features that make it worthwhile. The film's style, while not as effective as the English-language version, does make an interesting comparison piece to the original. Also, while most of the film's acting is far below the bar set by the English-language cast, Barry Norton is infinitely better in Drácula as "Juan" Harker than David Manners was as John Harker in Dracula. Finally, while I prefer the original Lugosi-starring English-language version of Dracula, the ending in the Spanish-language version is better: much more clear and including a better final shot.

Quite simply, I do not understand where those who prefer the Spanish-language version to the Bela Lugosi-starring version are coming from. Drácula has neither the atmosphere nor cast to compete with Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan's acting or Browning/Freud's visuals of its classic Dracula film cousin. The Spanish-language version of Dracula does make for an interesting viewing and/or double feature with the original Lugosi-starred Dracula - but there is a reason why the original English-language film is the influential, unforgettable classic and the Spanish-language film is not.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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