Dracula (1931)

Director: George Melford

Yes, the infamous Spanish version of the Bela Lugosi film that many will tell you is actually the better film… this was back in the days when it was deemed more practical to simply reshoot entire films in other languages than to shoot one and dub it into other languages; I gather the relatively few of these other-language versions of early talkies that still exist offer little more than historical curiosity value (cf. the Spanish versions of the Laurel & Hardy films). George Melford’s Dracula, on the other hand, has, for whatever reason, risen above this general mire of functional mediocrity to the point where it’s considered not just to bear favourable comparison with the English version, but to even improve on it. My first encounter with Melford’s Dracula was David J. Skal’s Dracula book, and it whetted my appetite… and yet when I finally did see it I wasn’t so sure it lived up to the hype. Melford and his team shot their version at night on the same sets as the Browning production, and the crew were inspired by Browning’s daily rushes to try and do better. And, indeed, the common consensus is that the Spanish crew succeeded, and that Melford’s version is better shot (hard to argue; Browning favoured static camera while Melford’s camera moves about a fair bit and probably shows the sets off better) and acted (maybe; as I think I’ve said before, I find it hard to judge acting in languages I don’t speak. I’ll just say Pablo Rubio seemed a bit more florid than I remember Dwight Frye being). Conversely, Carlos Villarias (the only one of the Spanish cast allowed to watch the English rushes) cops the most criticism, although I don’t think he’s that bad (insofar as I can tell, of course). The thing that Melford and his crew couldn’t surmount, of course, was the source material; they were working on the same material as Browning, and the end result is, frankly, still a 1931 talkie. Also, unlike some, I’m not convinced that the greatly extended runtime actually benefits the thing; it’s still the same material, just rather more plodding. It’s an interesting point of comparison, but I’m still not convinced the Melford Dracula is actually that much better than Browning’s.

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