Monday, June 29, 2009

Dracula (1931)



Dracula is a classic 1931 horror film directed by Tod Browning
and starring Béla Lugosi as the title character. The film was
produced by Universal Pictures Co. Inc. and is based on the stage
play of the same name by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston,
which in turn is based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker.

>>Summary:

On Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night), Renfield (Dwight Frye) goes
to the Borgo Pass where he is met by Count Dracula's coach. The
next day, Renfield and Dracula (Bela Lugosi) take 'the Vesta' to
England. Ship arrives in Whitby harbor in a storm, captain lashed
to boat, everyone dead, Renfield mad. Renfield is taken to Dr Jack
Seward (Herbert Bunston)'s sanitarium near London. Newspaper
clipping notes Renfield's strange desire to eat small living things.

Dracula arrives in London. He goes to a play where he is introduced
to Dr Seward, daughter Mina (Helen Chandler), Lucy Weston (Frances
Dade) and John Harker (David Manners). Dracula announces he has
taken Carfax Abbey which adjoins the Sanatorium. Shortly thereafter,
Lucy dies of blood loss. Professor Von Helsing arrives to examine her.
At the same time, Dracula visits, and Van Helsing notes no reflection
in mirror. While Van Helsing, Seward and Harker discuss vampires,
Dracula summons Mina outside. She is found in a faint on the lawn.



>>Background/Production:

Bram Stoker's novel had already been filmed without permission as
Nosferatu in 1922 by expressionist German film maker F. W. Murnau.
Enthusiastic young Hollywood producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. also saw
the box office potential in Stoker's gothic chiller. Unlike the German
counterpart, this would be a fully authorized version, since Murnau's
film had fallen under the wrath of Stoker's widow, who had tried to
destroy all prints of Nosferatu. He intended it would be a spectacle
to rival the lavish Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the
Opera.

Like those films, Laemmle insisted it must star Lon Chaney, despite
Chaney being under contract at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Tod
Browning was then approached to direct this new Universal epic.
Browning, incidentally, had already directed Chaney as a (fake)
vampire in the lost 1927 silent movie London after Midnight.
However, a number of factors would limit Laemmle's plans:
Firstly, Chaney himself, who had been diagnosed with throat
cancer in 1928, had succumbed to his terminal illness.

Furthermore, studio financial difficulties, coupled with the onset
of the Great Depression, caused a drastic reduction in budget,
forcing Laemmle to look at a cheaper alternative, which meant
several grand scenes that closely followed the Stoker storyline
had to be abandoned.



Already a huge hit on Broadway, the tried and tested Deane/
Balderston Dracula play would become the blueprint as the
production gained momentum. However, the question of who
should play the Count remained. This would fall to the then
current broadway Dracula, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, but
not without controversy. Originally, Laemmle stated he was
not at all interested in Lugosi, in spite of the warm reviews
his stage portrayal had received, and instead sought to hire
other actors, including Paul Muni, Chester Morris, Ian Keith,
John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe and
stage actor William Courtney. Against the tide of studio
opinion, Lugosi lobbied hard and ultimately won the
executives over, thanks in part to him accepting a salary far
less than his co-stars. The eerie speech pattern of Lugosi's
Dracula was said to have resulted from the fact that Lugosi
did not speak English, and therefore had to learn and speak
his lines phonetically. This is a bit of an urban legend.

While it was true Lugosi did not speak English at the time of
his first English-language play in 1919 and had learned his
lines to that play in this manner, by the time of Dracula Lugosi
spoke English as well as he ever would. Lugosi's speech pattern
would be imitated countless times by other Dracula portrayers,
most often in an exaggerated or comical way.



According to numerous accounts, the production is alleged to
have been a mostly disorganized affair, with the usually meticulous
Tod Browning leaving cinematographer Karl Freund to take over
during much of the shoot. Moreover, the despondent Browning would
simply tear out of the script pages that he felt were redundant; such
was his seeming contempt for the screenplay. It is possible, however,
given that Browning had originally intended Dracula as collaboration
between him and Lon Chaney, his apparent lack of interest on the set
was due to losing his friend and original leading man, rather than any
actual aversion to the subject matter.



>>Cinematic process:

The film/negative format used in the creation of this film was
35 mm. The cinematographic process used was the Spherical
film format.

This film represents an interesting transition from silent to
"talkie" films. The use of special effects is limited to fog,
lighting, and large flexible (rubber?) bats (although the poor
condition of the print makes it hard to see the wires).

Dracula's transition from bat to person is done off-camera,
though this subtracts surprisingly little from the dramatic effect.
The film also employs extended periods of silence and character
close-ups for dramatic effect.

The actors' speaking parts are usually brief explanatory and
narrative segments (i.e., story-telling versus chatting), much like
the dialogue paragraphs flashed on the screen during silent films.
In fact, one criticism is that the actors' performance style belongs
to the silent era.

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