US Release Date: 02-12-1931
Directed by: Tod Browning
- Bela Lugosi, as
- Count Dracula
- Helen Chandler, as
- Mina Harker
- David Manners, as
- John Harker
- Dwight Frye, as
- Edward Van Sloan, as
- Prof. Abraham Van Helsing
- Herbert Bunston, as
- Dr. Jack Seward
- Frances Dade, as
- Lucy Weston
- Charles K. Gerrard as
Bela Lugosi in Dracula.
Dracula is one of the most popular villains in film history. The 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi was not the first time a vampire appeared on film but his portrayal became the standard. His accent, slicked back dark hair and black cape is what countless people try to imitate every Halloween when wearing a Dracula costume.
With some minor tweaking, the 1931 Dracula follows Bram Stokers novel fairly closely. Count Dracula moves from his decrepit castle in Transylvania to London where he goes after Lucy and Mina while Van Helsing tries to stop him.
Lugosi was born in Hungary and thus his natural accent served him well in this role. He has a few good lines that drip from his lips and are all the more menacing due to his voice."To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious!" And "The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly..." The dialogue is fairly good here. In one scene Mina's fiancé asks Van Helsing about the marks on Mina's neck, "What could have caused them?" "Count Dracula" a voice says. Everyone turns as a maid is announcing the Count into the room. There are even a few funny lines in the movie. At one point a sanitarium employee is talking to a maid and he says, "...they're all crazy except you and me and sometimes I have me doubts about you."
The movie is, of course, in black and white and this serves well to provide for fog and atmosphere. However, the special effects are so dated as to nearly be laughable. A bat will be shown in an open window. It is obviously fake and on strings. Then the scene cuts to Mina sleeping and then back to the window where Dracula is now standing having just changed to his human form. Also of note is that you never see Dracula's fangs.
Dracula is a true classic that definitely deserves to be remembered as such, even though it is terribly dated.
A classic horror moment.
This was the first of Universal’s classic horror movies and as Eric pointed out it is an iconic bit of celluloid. It’s also extremely well-paced. They took Stoker’s fairly long winded novel and turned out a taut script running just 75 minutes. The sets and overall atmosphere are wonderful and Lugosi is indeed perfectly cast as Count Dracula. He would later regret being typecast in a role he could never step out from under the shadow of.
Unlike Eric, I can easily forgive the primitive special effects. The bat is clearly fake but if you let yourself get caught up in the movie it is not so distracting. I also think the clever camera work minimizes the lack of sophisticated technology.
In many Dracula movies the title character gets little screen time. Here though, Lugosi is the star of the piece. He shows up unexpectedly in nearly every other scene and there are many great close-ups of his face with that trademark intense stare. Dwight Frye as Renfield created a standard character in horror movies. The evil sidekick groveling at Dracula’s (or Dr. Frankenstein’s, or some other mad scientists) feet and pleading to his “Master!”. Peter Lorre spent the last 20 years of his career in this role.
Some movies are so classic that even though they may be dated in some ways they are beyond reproach. Dracula is one such movie.
Iconic character and performance, but the movie lacks bite.
I don't know that this movie is beyond reproach, but it can certainly be forgiven for a lot. I too had no problem with the primitive bat effect (although I did keep thinking of that episode of Gilligan's Island where Gilligan thought he was bitten by a vampire), but the ending seemed really anticlimactic. The final resolution is so rushed and then it's just over. It's a fairly lame ending or at least it's filmed that way.
Stoker's "Dracula" novel isn't very good. It created the character of Dracula of course, but overall it's kind of boring. The script for this movie actually improves it in a couple of ways. In the book it is Harker, Mina's fiancée who travels to Transylvania. Here it is Renfield. In the novel, Renfield is just some nut living in the asylum who seems to sense that Dracula is coming. By making him the one who first falls under Dracula's spell, the story makes more sense. It also, as you say Patrick, trims a lot of the rest of the fat from the book as well.
Not only don't you ever see Dracula's fangs, you also never see him bite anyone nor any blood except for when Renfield cuts himself at the beginning of the movie. While Dracula is a great character, for a horror movie there's very little horror. The creepiest moment in the movie is when the maid faints and the camera cuts to Renfield crawling across the floor towards her. While the Count is all dapper and suave, Renfield actually looks crazy enough to really eat the maid.
As a character, Legosi's Dracula is iconic, there's no doubt about that. The movie as a whole never quite adds up to the sum of its parts. Memorable? Yes. Classic? Yes. Great movie? Not quite.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (1931)