Dracula. … No, the other one.
Much to my surprise, I ended up celebrating my birthday with a small group of close friends by watching the 1931 Dracula, which I had never seen on the big screen, at a local theater.
I hadn’t really realized how much of that movie is staring contests.
Or how much they lovingly focused on the stupid flappy-bat puppets. I am AWARE of the level of technology available in 1931, but I found myself thinking this looked worse than the same thing would have in person (relevant because Bela Lugosi originated the Dracula role in the stage play the movie is based on), and that it was a bad call to keep focusing on it for stretches of multiple seconds. In short, I strongly felt that even in 1931, they could have done better.
And then, the next part of the evening proved me right.
Because in addition to the Bela Lugosi Dracula, the movie theater was showing as a double-feature the Spanish-language Dracula which was filmed by Universal at the same time, on the same sets, with much the same scripts, but at night. When the English-language crew left at sundown, the Spanish-language crew showed up, and stayed until dawn.
I’ve been aware of the Spanish Dracula movie for years, but have never seen a single scene. Since we’d all just watched (and occasionally laughed at) the English, “classic” version, we agreed we’d give the Spanish version 10-15 minutes to appreciate the experience, then go eat.
Instead, we all sat enrapt for the full, longer running time.
No, it’s not a perfect film. I feel Carlos Villarías (credited as Carlos Villar) smiled way too much, but that might well be a cultural expectation of the time or the audience the film was made for. And while Lugosi has well-illuminated staring scenes, Villarías has the forehead-crinkle- extreme-close-up-cam. And some goofy things from the English language version’s script make it into the Spanish one.
But overall, it’s just a stronger film. Some is the fact it’s lighting is working with the schedule of shooting at night, and some was the director could literally watch the dailies of the English language film and see what did and didn’t work. The longer running time also works better for a bit of backstory (though not TOO much, since it still has an out-of-the-blue “It’s a good thing we killed that vampire, offscreen, without even suggesting we might do so” scene). But it’s also just a better shot, better acted, better directed film.
And the silly, floppy bats are used MUCH better. They are flashed by the screen so fast you don’t have time to notice how stupid they look. Or they create shadows, and we only see that sign they exist. What they DON’T do is hover in screen shot after shot, driving home how undangerous, undramatic they are.
A neat experience I never would have managed back in OK, and that I didn’t plan much in advance. A great birthday outing.
Then, we went to Shari’s and had birthday pie.