Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dracula (1931)

Tod Browning
1931 • 75 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • Universal

Cast:  Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye
Screenplay:  Garrett Fort based on the book by Bram Stoker
Producers: Tod Browning, Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Cinematography:  Karl Freudn

Awards & Honors

American Film Institute
100 Years... 100 Thrills: #85
100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains: #33 Villain
100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: #83 - "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make."

The Essential Films
100 Essential Horror Movies: #45
100 Greatest Movie Villains: #46

National Film Preservation Board
Entered in the National Film Registry in 2000

There are far worse things awaiting man than death.


Renfield is on his way to Transylvania to lease a property in London to a mysterious Count Dracula.  After the Count reveals himself to be a vampire, he makes Renfield his slave, driving him to insanity.  Dracula arrives in London, meeting Dr. Seward and his daughter, of whom he quickly becomes enamored.  After Mina's friend Lucy dies from mysterious circumstances, Dr. Van Helsing is called in to investigate.


The silent masterpiece Nosferatu had been made without the permission of the then-deceased Bram Stoker's permission, and even though names were changed (Count Dracula became Count Orlok), the Stoker estate won a lawsuit that ordered all prints of the film destroyed.  Universal producer Carl Laemmle Jr saw enormous financial potential in the film, and quickly secured the adaption rights from the Stoker estate.  After some financial setbacks, the original plans to make an epic production in the tradition of the silent classic The Phantom of the Opera, the production needed to be trimmed down in scale.  Laemmle's original choice for Dracula, Lon Chaney, had succumbed to throat cancer and was not available. Bela Lugosi was ultimately cast in the role, having played the character to much success on stage... it would prove to be the most remembered portrayal of the character.

Bela Lugosi's most often remembered role would be that of Count Dracula.  Even though he only played the character twice on film (in the 1931 release as well as the hilarious Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), his portrayal remained so iconic that it is the most often remembered, imitated and parodied performance of the character of all time.  Many have played the role since, and with the exceptions of Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman, none have done the role as justice as Lugosi did.  His mixture of European aristocrat and lurking monster is captivating.  To many, this is the definitive Dracula performance.  Unfortunately for Lugosi, this role would typecast him for the rest of his career.  This was dramatized, in part, in the 1994 film Ed Wood.

Full-length horror films were not common in 1931, so this was a bit out of the ordinary for both studios and audiences alike. Executives were nervous about the box office potential on a film with a heavy reliance on the supernatural.  After it's premiere, newspapers reported that some audience members fainted at the site of the images on screen.  Publicity jackpot.  The studio wisely used this to sell the film in advertisements and it because big financial success.   Because of the success of Dracula, Universal plunged headfirst into the horror waters and produced a series of successful monster movies:  Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941) as well as a string of sequels: Dracula's Daughter (1936), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Dracula (1945) and Dracula made appearances in House of Frankenstein (1944) and the afore-mentioned Abbot and Costello crossover.  To this day, fans of horror everywhere celebrate the "Universal Monsters."  

Dracula's legacy, much like the vampire himself, will forever. The film is a classic of the pre-code Hollywood era and an icon of its genre.

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