Lupita Tovar and Carlos Villarías star in DRÁCULA, directed by George Melford for Universal Pictures.

Drácula (1931, George Melford)

A lot of Drácula’s hundred minute runtime is spent with Eduardo Arozamena talking really slow to José Soriano Viosca and Barry Norton. Arozamena’s Professor Van Helsing (so nice to have such a familiar “brand” you can just talk about the characters and assume some passing familiarity) and Viosca and Norton are the guys who need to believe him about vampires. Dracula–played by Carlos Villarías–is after Norton’s fiancée Lupita Tovar. Viosca’s her father, though the film never really does anything with it.

Viosca and Norton are basically just around to hear Arozamena’s exposition. Director Melford does all right with it, actually. He seems to understand how much information they’re conveying because he usually breaks it up with some of Pablo Álvarez Rubio’s antics (as Renfield). Through some luck, screenwriter Baltasar Fernández Cué understands Rubio’s importance in the film. He opens the picture, he introduces the viewer not just to Villarías but to himself. Rubio is the only actor in the film to get a scene (or two) to himself. Everything else in the picture involves regular cast members. And Rubio’s really likable. It makes him a great tormented victim.

So Drácula is long. There’s no music and very little ambient sound. It’s often just watching Villarías walk around (in what appears–oddly–to be a London After Midnight homage). Melford’s lucky to have Tovar, who’s able to get enough sympathy from the audience just from her performance because there’s really not much character in Cué’s script.

As Tovar’s friend, Carmen Guerrero only gets two scenes and the script gives her more character. She’s good too (or gives the impression of having the ability to be good, but the film dumps her early).

Besides Norton, who’s terrible, and Viosca, who’s ineffective, Drácula is well-acted. Villarías’s got to play a walking, talking monster, which–when the film doesn’t give any character to said monster–might be the specific problem of Dracula adaptations, and he does stumble. But Melford gets a genuinely creepy conclusion when he finally kidnaps Tovar.

Tovar’s great. Did I already call her out?

Arozamena’s kind of fun as Van Helsing. He almost plays it like a comedy.

There are some editing problems (cutting in the footage from Tod Browning’s English language problems Dracula), but Arthur Tavares does well with this version’s footage. And George Robinson’s photography is magnificent. He’s so graceful Melford’s often employed dolly shots come off well.

Drácula’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Melford; screenplay by Baltasar Fernández Cué, based on the screenplay and play by Hamilton Dean, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort and the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Arthur Tavares; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Carlos Villarías (Conde Drácula), Lupita Tovar (Eva), Barry Norton (Juan Harker), Pablo Álvarez Rubio (Renfield), Eduardo Arozamena (Van Helsing), José Soriano Viosca (Doctor Seward), Carmen Guerrero (Lucía), Amelia Senisterra (Marta) and Manuel Arbó (Martín).



hollywoods-hispanic-heritage-blogathon-2

THIS POST IS PART OF THE HOLLYWOOD’S HISPANIC HERITAGE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY AURORA OF ONCE UPON A SCREEN.


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8 thoughts on “Drácula (1931, George Melford)”

  1. Love this commentary, Andrew and I happen to agree with your assessment and fantastic statement of it seeming like “a London After Midnight homage.” Spanish Dracula is – from what I’ve seen – highly regarded by most. I think your review offers a balanced commentary. While I love the look of the film, which might well have benefited by the night shooting I have to confess I have a problem with Villarias – he reminds me of Carl Reiner in Your Show of Shows!

    Anyway – thanks so much for contributing this to the blogathon!

    Aurora

  2. It’s been about a decade since I last saw this. I don’t remember it being great either but then not bad. Lupita is still around. Have you sent her a fan letter? I got an autographed photo. Also got a lovely one from her daughter Susan Kohner. I hear Lupita is doing well except for her eyesight.

  3. I think you summarise the flaws of the Spanish language Dracula quite well. I would say it is an entertaining movie, but not a great one. And may be it’s just me, but I actually prefer it to the English language version. I honestly think it flows a bit better and (I know this is blasphemy for many) I prefer Villarías to Lugosi. While Bela Lugosi would go onto many great performances in his career, for me his initial outing as Dracula was just so exaggerated and hammy as to verge on camp. Villarías is hardly scary, but I think he was more subtle. Of course, I have to also confess I adore Lupita Tovar (I do hope she lives many more years)!

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