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Dracula (1931 film, Bela Lugosi)
Category> The Vampire Database > Movies


Director: Tod Browning
Release Date: February 14th, 1931
Run Time: 75 minutes (corrected run time)
Rating: 7.7/10 (IMDB rating)
Retail Price: Varies on packaging and format
Sound Mix: Mono
Colour: Black & White (tinted)
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1

Dracula is a 1931 horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Béla Lugosi as the title character. The film was produced by Universal 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.

Bram Stoker's novel had already been filmed without permission as Nosferatu in 1922 by German expressionist film maker F. W. Murnau. Bram Stoker's widow sued for plagiarism and copyright infringement, and the courts decided in her favor, essentially ordering that all prints of Nosferatu be destroyed.[2] Enthusiastic young Hollywood producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. also saw the box office potential in Stoker's gothic chiller, and he legally acquired the novel's film rights. Initially, he wanted Dracula to be a spectacle on a scale with the lavish silent films The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Like those films, Laemmle insisted it must star Lon Chaney, despite Chaney being under contract at MGM. Tod Browning was then approached to direct this new Universal epic. Browning had already directed Chaney as a fake vampire in the (lost) 1927 silent 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. The screenwriters carefully studied the silent, unauthorized version, Nosferatu for inspiration. One bit of business lifted directly from a nearly identical scene in Nosferatu that does not appear in Stoker's novel was the early scene at the Count's castle when Renfield accidentally pricks his finger on a paper clip and it starts to bleed, and Dracula creeps toward him with glee, only to be repelled when the crucifix falls in front of the bleeding finger.

Decision on casting the title role proved problematic. Initially, Laemmle was not at all interested in Lugosi, in spite of good reviews for his stage portrayal. Laemmle instead considered other actors, including Paul Muni, Chester Morris, Ian Keith, John Wray, Joseph Schildkraut, Arthur Edmund Carewe and William Courtney. Lugosi had played the role on Broadway, and to his good fortune, happened to be in Los Angeles with a touring company of the play when the film was being cast.[2] Against the tide of studio opinion, Lugosi lobbied hard and ultimately won the executives over, thanks in part to him accepting a paltry $500 per week salary for seven weeks of work, amounting to $3,500.[2][1]

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,[3] 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.

The scenes of crew members on the ship struggling in the violent storm were lifted from a Universal silent film, The Storm Breaker (1925). Photographed at silent film projection speed, this accounts for the jerky, sped-up appearance of the footage when projected at 24 frames per second sound film speed and cobbled together with new footage of Dracula and Renfield.

Today, Dracula is widely regarded as a classic of the era and of its genre. In 2000, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

To many film lovers and critics alike, Lugosi's portrayal is widely regarded as the definitive Dracula. Lugosi had a powerful presence and authority on-screen. The slow, deliberate pacing of his performance ("I … bid you … welcome!" and "I never drink … wine!") gave his Dracula the air of a walking, talking corpse, which terrified 1931 movie audiences. He was just as compelling with no dialogue, and the many close-ups of Lugosi's face in icy silence jumped off the screen. With this mesmerizing performance, Dracula became Bela Lugosi's signature role, his Dracula a cultural icon, and he himself a legend in the classic Universal Horror film series.

However, Dracula would ultimately become a role which would prove to be both a blessing and a curse. Despite his earlier stage successes in a variety of roles, from the moment Lugosi donned the cape on screen, it would forever see him typecast as the Count.

Tod Browning would go on to direct Bela Lugosi once more in another vampire thriller, Mark of the Vampire, a 1935 remake of his lost silent film London after Midnight (1927).

This film, and the 1920s stage play by Deane & Balderston, contributed much of Dracula's popular iconography, much of which vastly differs from Stoker's novel. In the novel and in the German silent film Nosferatu (1922), Dracula's appearance is repulsive; Lugosi portrays the Count as a handsome, charming nobleman. The Deane-Balderston play and this film also introduced the now iconic images of Dracula entering his victims' bedrooms through French doors/windows, wrapping his satin-lined cape around victims, and more emphasis on Dracula transforming into a bat. In the Stoker novel, he variously transformed into a bat or a wolf.[2]

The now classic Dracula line, "I never drink ... wine", is original to this film. It did not appear in Stoker's novel or the original production of the play. When the play was revived on Broadway in 1977 starring Frank Langella, the line was added, presumably because audiences had come to expect it.

Date Added: November 15 2010
Added By: Rastaferal
Times Viewed: 5274

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