Sunday, 25 October 2015

I've Just Seen: Dracula (1931)

Dracula (1931)

Director: Tod Browning

I had attempted to watch this film many months ago; unfortunately, the copy from my local library was severely scratched, and stopped dead three-quarters through. Since then I have seen two versions of Nosferatu, so this time was consciously comparing the three films to each other. Clearly the figure of Dracula looms large over cinema history, and for a character whose main motivation is 'I want to suck your blood,' he has been portrayed in many different ways.

Bela Lugosi's portrayal is famous for its theatricality. Unlike the melancholy of Kinski's Nosferatu, or Schreck's gleeful portrayal, Lugosi is aristocratic but clearly menacing, wearing a dinner jacket as he goes about his business. The close-ups on his face, with their strategic lighting, can only be described as entertainingly camp. It is understandably iconic.

The other star of the film is the production design. Dracula's castle is wonderfully gothic, its huge spider's webs dwarf Renfeld, making him the fly caught by Dracula. The catacombs of Carfax Abbey are also great, highly suitable for Dracula's needs.

The problem with the film is the direction from Tod Browning. He has the camera look away several times, drawing attention to the action he deliberately avoids: Dracula emerging from his coffin. Why, I don't know. Perhaps Browning couldn't think of a way of doing it without it looking humorous. Or he wasn't very imaginative. The ending is another problem: we are denied Dracula's death on screen, leaving us feeling unsatisfied.

See the film to see Bela Lugosi's performance and the production design, two factors that have continued to influence vampire films throughout film history.


  1. I was not excited by this one. I saw it back to back with Frankenstein and in comparison that is a much better movie. Also Browning made better movies such as Freaks.

    1. Yes, Browning seems to have not made a smooth transition to sound films. I enjoyed this, but my inner filmmaker was fidgeting at the choices to deny the audience moments that they didn't need to be.

  2. This is one of my favorite movies! I bet I've seen it 30 or 40 times over the decades.

    It's hard to argue with the many criticisms directed at the sometimes haphazrd editing and direction. But when it's good, it's great!

    The entire opening Transylvania sequence is superb. How can you not love the opossum and the armadillos! Lugosi is great, as course, and what about Dwight Frye as Renfield! I also like the creepy brides of Dracula swarming over Renfield. And where Renfield looks out the window and sees a bat driving the carriage! WOW!

    I think my favorite scene is where Renfield is at the asylum running around loose, describing the vision that Dracula revealed to him of the rats. Each one a life! With their blazing red eyes, like his, only smaller.

    I also love Helen Chandler's performance as Mina. I see her in other 1930s movies from time to time and it's a shame she isn't better known outside of Dracula. I highly recommend The Last Flight, if you ever get a chance to see it.

    If you ever watch Dracula again, you'll find that the good stuff grows on you and the bad stuff matters less and less. The viewer is given a lot of blanks to fill in on his own.

    1. I did enjoy this. The Transylvania sequence is great, very creepy and gothic. I liked the nod to Murnau's version with the tempting bleeding finger.

      I should have mentioned Renfield more; he is great in this. His madness was a surprise, but a good change to the story.

      This is not my favourite Dracula film; that honour belongs to Herzog's film (very chilling), but this is great fun!