Universal Monsters: Drácula (1931, Spanish-language Version)

Synopsis:

 A mysterious Transylvanian aristocrat, Conde Drácula (Carlos Villarias), moves to London, England. Dracula is really a blood-thirty vampire who begins to terrorize the city. An intrepid intellectual, Professor Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena), is determined to stop Drácula at any cost.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Silent films were a truly international product. Film distributors simply had to substitute the language of intertitles. The invention of sound created an unforeseen problem for Hollywood; how do you sell Amercan movies to non-English speaking countries? Early sound films couldn’t be dubbed (the technology wasn’t there yet), so major movie studios came up with an interesting alternative: they decided to produce foreign-language versions of their films using the same script, sets, costumes, etc., but different actors who could speak the country’s native language.

Meant for the Latin-America market, this Spanish-language Drácula was shot at night while its 1931 English-speaking counterpart was shot during the day. The film was thought to be lost, but a copy was found in the 1970s. Now fully restored, we all can compare both versions. A growing group of people insist that the Spanish movie is better than the English-speaking production, but I beg to differ — I watched them back to back and I still think Bela Lugosi’s movie is superior.

I agree that many camera setups are better. The cinematography is more fluid, which puts to bed the long-held view that early sound films were restricted by the then new technical discovery. Director George Melford allegedly kept an eye on the progress of the English-speaking movie and tried to do better. But, are camera calisthenics inherently superior to static camera setups? Unless you believe Michael Bay’s movies are better than Stanley Kubrick’s or Michael Haneke’s, that’s not necessarily true.

Some additional scenes should have been part of the Lugosi movie. You get to see Dracula emerging from his coffin. You also see the vampire bite marks. The women wear more provocative costumes (contrary to popular belief, it seems that Americans were/are more prudish than Latinos!). These are pretty cool things to see.

The movie, however, tends to drag on and on — it’s 34 minutes longer than Lugosi’s film! — and the much-anticipated confrontation between Drácula and Van Helsing is poorly shot & edited. I have no idea why this pivotal scene is broken down into small pieces. Above all, Carlos Villarias’s lack of “oomph” nearly ruined the movie for me. He doesn’t have Lugosi’s creepy elegance and mysterious charisma. It just show you how much we have taken Lugosi’s work for granted! Frankly, Villarias is by far the worst Count Dracula I’ve seen (so far).

I did like the supporting cast. Eduardo Arozamena is a spunky Van Helsing. Pablo Alvarez Rubio chews up the scenery as Renfield. My favorite was Lupita Tovar (mother of actress Susan Kohner, Imitation of Life, grandmother of filmmakers Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz, American Pie) as Eva/Mina. She’s very photogenic and it surprises me that Hollywood didn’t grab her — she has star quality!

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

What makes a movie great? The question has haunted moviegoers since the creation of cinema. Is it the script? Is it the actors? Is it the director? Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, a scene-by-scene remake of Hitchcock’s classic, tried to answer this difficult question. Van Sant had better technology at his disposal, yet the remake doesn’t work nearly as well as the original. Why? I don’t really know. From a technical standpoint, the Spanish-language Drácula feels more modern, but without Lugosi’s awesome performance this movie kinda sucks (no pun intended). Old Bela died destitute and forgotten, but he had the last laugh — his Count remains unbeatable. B&W, 105 minutes, Not Rated.

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7 responses to “Universal Monsters: Drácula (1931, Spanish-language Version)

  1. What a fascinating post Eric. First off I get a slapped wrist for having never seen the original Dracula! But how wonderful they had a 24hr production going on with two different teams. I like “The women wear more provocative costumes” lol. Interesting to hear that following the same script resulted in an extra 34 minutes! And how wonderful that the two different directors also had quite differing filming techniques.

    I came across a Norwegian film last year that filmed in dual-language, two different directors, one filmed the scenes with the actors speaking in their native tongue and then the other director came in filming the same actors speaking English. I had sat down expecting either subs or a dubbed version, for a little while I thought I was watching the best dubbed filmed ever lol.
    https://wolfmanscultfilmclub.wordpress.com/2017/06/25/orions-belt-1985-norwegian-cold-war/

    Liked by 2 people

    • “First off I get a slapped wrist for having never seen the original Dracula!”

      I’m not surprised. You lycanthropes have such huge prejudices against bloodsuckers! 😉

      Orion’s Belt (1985) sounds like a good flick. Interesting that they took the time to make two versions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahah yes indeed though damn bloodsuckers aren’t no friends of mine! LOL I will have to hide my prejudices soon though!
        Orion’s Belt is a good bit of 80’s low budget action and runs a long at a good pace. Very recommended if you can find it.
        Cheers Eric

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I never knew this film existed, you learn something new every day. From your take the Spanish version is not essential, and I’m better off sinking my teeth into the Bela Lugosi original! Sounds like the acting by Villarias deserves a razzie award 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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