Thursday, 29 October 2015

The other Dracula

Carlos Villar as Dracula in the 1931 Spanish-language filmBack in 1931, Universal made a film version of Dracula.

And back in 1931, Universal made another film version of Dracula.

Silent films had been easy to translate into different languages, but talkies, in an age when mass media and globalisation hadn't made many people on the planet vaguely familiar with English, weren't as easy to sell. Because of this, studios would shoot back-to-back versions of films, with the English version being shot by day and a version in another language shot by night, with the same sets and costumes. As well as the famous version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, Universal made a Spanish version starring Carlos Villar as Conde Dracula.

I've got both versions as part of a DVD box set, and it's fascinating to compare the two. The Spanish crew would see the day's rushes of the English-language version, and adjust the lighting and camera angles if needed, which does help the overall look of the film.

The only member of the cast to see the rushes was Carlos Villar, and he doesn't really compare to Lugosi, though I did find myself wondering whether his Spanish had an Eastern European accent. Likewise, Pablo Rubio doesn't really compare to Dwight Frye as Renfield, though he is very good. To be honest, Dwight Frye's Renfield is so iconic it's almost more unfair to compare other Renfields to him. There have been many good Draculas over the years, and Christopher Lee is as significant as Lugosi in the role, but the only Renfield to come close to Frye's in 80-odd years has, I think, been Tom Waits, and I've always felt he was drawing heavily on Frye.
Carlos Villar as Dracula and Pablo Rubio as Renfield in the 1931 Spanish-language film
Lupita Tovar as Eva (Mina) and Carmen Guerrero as Lucia (Lucy) are, I think, better than their English-speaking counterparts. Lupita, in particular, has a sensitivity and likeability that I feel is lacking in Helen Chandler's chilly Mina. When she breaks off her engagement and voices her horror at what's happening to her, you really feel it. And Lupita is still with us, at the age of 105. Perhaps there was something in that bite after all.

Interestingly, the Spanish-language film is significantly longer than the English-language one. As the scripts are in most places word-for-word identical, and the Spanish film was the 'poor relation' of the two, it makes me wonder whether the extra pieces were in the original English language script but for some reason never made it onto screen. It certainly makes the Spanish version more coherent, and its characters more rounded. For one thing, you hear about the final death of Lucia, though the actual staking happens off-screen, whereas in the English-language version Lucy simply never gets mentioned again.

If you don't mind films with subtitles, and you like a bit of vintage horror, do check the Spanish-language version of Dracula out. I promise it's worth it!

6 comments :

  1. I think I would enjoy it! I have heard of Lupita and seen photos but have never seen her on screen. Someone gives loads of old foreign films to our local charity shop, mainly Russian and French. I prefer a vintage film ten times over to most modern ones, and certainly prefer to be in suspense than confronted eith gore. X

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  2. Interesting I had no idea this existed, mind it's been many years since I've seen the Bela Lugosi version.

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  3. A Spanish version of Dracula? You learn something new every day! :)

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  4. Very cool! I've never seen this one. Thank you for the spooktastically nice introduction, dear gal.

    Happiest Halloween week wishes!
    ♥ Jessica

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  5. Wow, I have never heard of this version. I am going to go and see if I can find it. There were some great Spanish horror films. Xx

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  6. Mim,
    You'll giggle, but: over here ALL the films have subtitles. :)
    You have given another amazing introduction, and a critical view-point to a film I have not seen, but I will.. surely.

    Marija

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