Thursday, October 06, 2016
Dracula (1931 U.S. Film)
Based on novel by Bram Stoker and the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, Dracula is the story of a vampire who goes to Britain to stake claim on an estate while searching for fresh blood to feed on. Directed by Tod Browning, with additional work by Karl Freund, and screenplay by Garrett Fort, the film is an exploration into the vampire who lives in the night and drinks the blood of human as he is played by Bela Lugosi. Also starring Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan. Dracula is an entrancing and stylish film from Tod Browning.
The film is the simple story about this vampire who travels from his home of Transylvania in Hungary to modern-day London as he haunts for new blood to survive with the aid of a real-estate solicitor who becomes his slave. It’s a film with a simple premise where Count Dracula is this mysterious vampire living in the castle at Transylvania where he haunts its locals who stay far away from him. Upon his arrival to London, all hell breaks lose where the only person that can stop him is Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) who has been studying vampires. The film’s screenplay explores what Count Dracula wants as he targets a young woman named Mina (Helen Chandler) whom he wants to become his new bride. At the same time, he causes chaos in London as his new slave Renfield (Dwight Frye) is trying to do anything to help his master in the hopes he can get something in return.
Tod Browning’s direction is definitely stylish as it play into this conflict of the old world that is Transylvania and the new world that is London. Notably as there are rare moments where he moves the camera as he more prefers to create dazzling compositions that showcase the world that Count Dracula is in and what he tries to do. Most of the compositions are set in medium shots and close-ups with a few wide shots as Browning, with the aid of cinematographer Karl Freund, chose to maintain a simplicity into the action and drama that looms throughout the film. Especially as the moments where Dracula would bite someone would often be shown off-screen as it is more about the sound of horror rather than what is shown. Still, Browning maintains that mood in playing up the suspense as well as injecting some humor into the film to create a nice balance of chills and laughs. Overall, Browning creates a ravishing yet thrilling film about a vampire who haunts humanity in his thirst for blood.
Cinematographer Karl Freund does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white photography in the way he uses light and shadows to set a mood for some of the interiors at Dracula‘s castle as well as some of the nighttime scenes set in London. Editors Milton Carruth and Maurice Pivar do excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s suspenseful moments. Production designers John Hoffman and Herman Rosse, with set decorator Russell A. Gausman and art director Charles D. Hall, do amazing work with the look of the interiors of Dracula‘s castle with its spider-webs and creatures as well as the more clean and posh look of the home of Dr. Seward. Costume designers Ed Ware and Vera West do nice work with the costumes from the cape and clothes that Dracula wear to the period dresses that the women wear. Sound recording supervisor C. Roy Hunter does terrific work with the sound from the way bats sound as well as a few creatures and such while much of the music in the film is mainly operatic pieces that is played for a scene in an opera house.
The casting by Phil M. Friedman is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Joan Standing as Nurse Briggs, Frances Dade as Mina’s friend Lucy, Herbert Bunston as Mina’s father Dr. Seward, and Charles K. Gerrard in a funny performance as the hospital attendant Martin who provides some funny one-liners. Dwight Frye is excellent as Renfield as an estates solicitor who becomes Dracula’s slave as he does whatever he can to help his master. David Manners is terrific as Mina’s beau Jonathan Harker who tries to make sense of everything while unsure about the myth of the vampire. Edward Van Sloan is fantastic as Professor Van Helsing as a man who studies the myth of the vampires as he suspects Dracula where he would eventually prove his worth against the vampire.
Helen Chandler is brilliant as Mina Seward as the young woman who is targeted by Dracula as she comes to term with her condition as well as be under the spell of the vampire. Finally, there’s Bela Lugosi in a phenomenal performance as the titular character who is this vampire that lurks and haunts his victims where Lugosi maintains this chilling presence that is crucial to the character as it is really the definitive performance of that character.
Dracula is a spectacular film from Tod Browning that features an incredible performance from Bela Lugosi in the titular role. Featuring some gorgeous visuals, an intriguing premise, and a great supporting cast, it’s a film that is definitely a monster movie that is quite riveting to watch as it also showcases what was done during the pre-Code era of American cinema. In the end, Dracula is a sensational film from Tod Browning.
Related: Nosferatu - Freaks - Nosferatu the Vampyre - Bram Stoker's Dracula
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