Lon Chaney Jr. stars in SON OF DRACULA, directed by Robert Siodmak for Universal Pictures.

Son of Dracula (1943, Robert Siodmak)

Son of Dracula doesn’t open well. The first scene’s all right, but once Louise Allbritton shows up–in the second scene–things start to go downhill. Allbritton’s one of the film’s constant problems. She’s a terrible actress and, in a film in desperate need of all the acting help it can get, it’s a significant defect. The second major problem pops up during the third scene (Allbritton’s in it too). It’s the music. Hans J. Salter’s music probably ruins Son of Dracula. The iffy performances hurt it, but the music just trashes the film’s potential. It works in direct opposition to Robert Siodmak’s direction (and one has to assume Siodmak had some say in the kind of score the film would use) and makes what should be sublime scenes loud and obnoxious.

Siodmak is a something of a bad fit for this film. His direction, for the most part, is fantastic. He brings noir composition to a horror film, which should work–in the Gothic sense–but it doesn’t. Some of it has to do with the music (most of it), but there’s also the special effects. With the exception of the vampires turning into vapor, which is awesome, the special effects are bad. I suppose the animated transition from bat to human form is fine, but the constant flying rubber bats is awful. Siodmak might use the bat in a different way, more of an active “character” in the film than most vampire pictures had done to this point, but it looks dreadful… and it looked dreadful back then too. What Siodmak does well is the non-special effects, but camera effects work. He’s got a beautiful scene of Lon Chaney floating across the water. Absolutely fantastic. It shows real innovation. But the film itself bucks such innovation….

The plot, eventually, reveals itself to be interesting. Except not with Chaney’s pseudo-Dracula running around. I say pseudo because a) it’s unclear if the character is Dracula or not and b) because Chaney’s performance is awful. His Dracula appears to be frequently confused and kind of weak. But he’s in it so little–if they used guest-starring credits in the forties, Chaney would have gotten one–it doesn’t really matter.

Most of the film follows Frank Craven on his hunt for the truth. A lot of it is fine, different old horror movie material. Son of Dracula frequently surprises. The story unfolds in interesting directions… except that music constantly brings it down. And the film also plays loose with its characters. Once J. Edward Bromberg arrives, Evelyn Ankers disappears. Bromberg’s performance is mediocre, but Ankers had some good material–and would have had even more had her character stuck around to see how the story unfolded.

Leading man Robert Paige is fine. The end isn’t quite sure how to use him, but Siodmak ends the film on a (somewhat) subtle note. Certainly one raising more questions than it answers and it’s fine; it doesn’t make up for the rest and the rest is a mess. The direction does, however. Siodmak’s approach makes Son of Dracula something to behold.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Eric Taylor, based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Saul A. Goodkind; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Ford Beebe; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Paige (Frank Stanley), Louise Allbritton (Katherine Caldwell), Evelyn Ankers (Claire Caldwell), Frank Craven (Doctor Brewster), J. Edward Bromberg (Professor Lazlo), Samuel S. Hinds (Judge Simmons), Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Madame Zimba), Pat Moriarity (Sheriff Dawes), Etta McDaniel (Sarah), George Irving (Colonel Caldwell) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Count Dracula).

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