Director: George Melford
Writer: B. Fernandez Cue
Cast: Carlos Villar, Lupita Tovar, Barry Norton, Pablo Alvarez Rubio, Eduardo Arozamena, José Soriano Viosca, Carmen Guerrero, Amelia Senisterra, and Manuel Arbó
Composer: Heinz Roemheld (Uncredited)
Release Date: 4/24/1931 (USA)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While visiting Transylvania in order to finalize a real estate transaction, Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio) is driven insane by and made the servant of vampire Conde Drácula (Carlos Villar). Upon arriving at his new home of Carfax Abbey, Drácula turns his attention to Lucía (Carmen Guerrero) and her friend Eva (Helen Chandler), the fiancée of Juan Harker (Barry Norton) and daughter of Renfield’s caretaker Doctor Seward (Herbert Bunston). Unable to explain Renfield’s craving for insects, Seward seeks advice from Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), who quickly proves to be a thorn in Drácula’s side.
Featuring a cast of Spanish actors, Dracula offers an assortment of unique elements to distinguish itself from the identically titled film directed by Tod Browning. Although the performances of Carlos Villar and Pablo Alvarez Rubio pale in comparison to those of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye respectively, this cinematic rarity will nonetheless appeal to Dracula enthusiasts.
Having been filmed on the same location as its English-language counterpart, this movie establishes an eerie atmosphere by highlighting a variety of ghoulish props and set pieces scattered throughout the corridors of Castle Dracula and Carfax Abbey. Additionally, a fluid range of camera movements should present a broader view of Drácula’s Transylvanian abode than what Browning included in his production, which will no doubt give audiences an opportunity to absorb the gothic surroundings that complement the eponymous character and his vampire brides.
Though visually superior to Browning’s interpretation, Dracula is hampered by one significant flaw: Villar struggled to embody the elegant terror that Lugosi brought to the role, so much so that unwitting viewers could realistically mistake his performance for a second-rate parody (the same can be said of Rubio’s portrayal of Renfield, albeit the demented personality of this character allows for a greater degree of exaggeration than does the title vampire). Villar’s flamboyant mannerisms and melodramatic facial expressions become especially distracting during the iconic mirror sequence, wherein Drácula spends an inordinate amount of time reacting to the reflective surface before violently shattering it with his cane; in contrast, Lugosi’s knee-jerk response to Van Helsing’s gesture emphasizes the subtlety of a man who would never deliberately draw attention to himself, but knows he must eliminate the mirror before it exposes his true nature.
A powerful message of good triumphing over evil is also apparent in this Spanish-language rendition of Bram Stoker’s novel, with Christian symbolism once again providing Van Helsing a means of uncovering the malevolent intentions lurking beneath Drácula’s charming veneer. In a sense, director George Melford’s take on the above premise may seem more impactful than that of Browning given the complex set of circumstances which precede Van Helsing’s decision to end the life of his adversary; however, while an extended narrative leaves enough room to flesh out the central conflict and thereby avoid an abrupt conclusion, there are times when Dracula tends to plod along at an insufferable pace due to Melford’s more expansive approach to character development.
Despite failing to overshadow its English-language twin, Dracula earns its reputation as a fascinating adaptation of Stoker’s source material. While those with only a passing interest in the Universal Monster series may lack the patience to thoroughly appreciate this offering, diehard fans of the Lugosi film are advised to view the Spanish Dracula as a companion piece to Browning’s version.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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