Dracula (1931)

Director:

Tod Browning

Cinematography by

Karl Freund

The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.

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A horror classic that still thrills and enchants! The most important and influential vampire movie ever made.

12 April 2003 | by Infofreak (Perth, Australia) – See all my reviews

It’s almost impossible not to love ‘Dracula’, a horror milestone that is the most important and influential vampire movie ever made. Bela Lugosi became a cinematic legend after this movie, and his portrayal of Dracula basically invented the modern vampire as we know it. Murnau’s silent classic ‘Nosferatu’ was an obvious influence on Todd Browning, but while Browning was no James Whale (the innovative British director who made ‘Frankenstein’ for Universal a few months after this) he added a lot of his own style and ideas to the project, and Counts Orloff and Dracula are completely different kinds of creatures. Lugosi made his Count sophisticated, attractive and sexy, and this is what made this movie such a sensation at the time, and what helps make it still a wonderful viewing experience. Lugosi’s performance is one of the greatest in horror history. Some of the other actors in the cast are a bit shaky but Edward Van Sloan as Van Hesling is excellent and Dwight Frye’s Renfield (a different character from the book) is also memorable. Both actors would reappear in ‘Frankenstein’. ‘Dracula’ is an important landmark horror movie, but even better, is still a fantastic viewing experience seventy years later. Don’t just watch it because it’s a classic, watch it because it’s wonderful

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I am Dracula….I Bid You Welcome

10/10
Author: (bsmith5552@rogers.com) from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
2 May 2004

“Dracula” is a true cinematic classic that still hold up well today more than 70 years after its initial release. Bram Stoker’s novel had been filmed before, most notably the 1922 German masterpiece “Nosferatu” with Max Schrenk playing the vampire as a monstrous rat like creature with no redeeming qualities.

Bela Lugosi rose to instant fame with his portrayal of Dracula, a part he had been playing on stage for several years. Lugosi’s interpretation is that of a suave and sophisticated nobleman with a hypnotic stare and a cultured Hungarian accent. This made the character more appealing to the ladies while at the same time terrifying to the audience when we see the monster revealed beneath.

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The story has the tragic Renfield (Dwight Frye) arriving in Transylvania to complete a transaction with the Count which will allow him to lease a English castle. Before they leave for England by ship, Dracula turns Renfield into a quasi-vampire who obeys his master’s every command. Upon arriving in England it is discovered that all of the ship’s crew have been murdered and only a raving lunatic of a Renfield remain alive.

Renfield is committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston). Dracula seeks him out and discovers Seward’s comely daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) and her friend Lucy. Dracula quickly “kills” Lucy and sets his sights upon Mina whose fiance Jonathon Harker (David Manners) is baffled by her sudden change in health and personality. Seward consults with a colleague Dr. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) who quickly identifies the source of the problem as a vampire. They soon expose Dracula for what he is and……

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The atmospheric sets of this movie set the tone for the story. Dracula’s castle is dark, damp and web filled and his cellar is positively scary. So too is his English manor with the classic winding stair case leading to the cellar. The opening theme I found to be equally foreboding and frightening. I wonder how many of those early film goers realized that it was adapted from the classic ballet “Swan Lake”.

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Bela Lugosi should have become a major star after this film, but did not. His first mistake was the turning down the role of the monster in “Frankenstein” (1931). He did enjoy moderate success in the first half of the 30s playing various mad scientists and criminal masterminds. But he also accepted roles in several “poverty row” quickies which did little to advance his career. He had a brief return to glory in 1939 when he played “Ygor” in “The Son of Frankenstein” and again in 1948 again as Dracula in “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”. With his well documented personal demons, Lugosi wound up his career in cheap “B’ movies ultimately becoming the “star” in some of Ed Wood’s “classics”. Oddly enough, though he was forever identified with the Dracula character, he only played him on screen twice, in 1931 and 1948 as noted. He did play “Dracula like” characters in MGM’s “Mark of the Vampire” (1935) and in Columbia’s “Return of the Vampire” (1943).

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Dwight Frye almost steals “Dracula” from Lugosi with his portrayal of Renfield. He takes him from a young ambitious businessman to a half crazed lunatic and back again. After this and his role of Fritz the hunchback in “Frankenstein”, this great character actor never again achieved such heights. A real tragedy. Oddly enough, Stoker’s book portrays Renfield as a minor character and it is Jonathon Harker who makes the unfortunate trip to Transylvania.

Also filmed in a Spanish language version.

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Bela is king! Great Universal classic!

9/10
Author: Kristine (kristinedrama14@msn.com) from Chicago, Illinois
10 January 2004
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Thinking back to 1931, it’s hard to imagine what going to the movie theater was like for people. It was something new and exciting; instead of having 6 movies open in one weekend, they were lucky if 6 movies opened in one month. Horror movies were nothing new in 1931, but one’s with sound were and Universal Studios cranked out hit after hit after hit, one of the first being was Dracula. Not too many people realize that these films created exactly what we think of the typecast today with the most popular monsters. Dracula, if you’ve read the book, is nothing like what Bela created: the cape, the accent, the charm, the presence, the looks, etc. This was the first time we ever had a romantic Dracula, the silent film released before called Nosferatu was a monster, Bela created a Dracula that could charm you one second and the next he’s draining the life out of you. Dracula is one of the most memorable movies of all time and it’s not hard to see why when you watch it.

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Renfield, a British solicitor, travels to the Carpathian Mountains. He enters a castle welcomed by charming but odd nobleman Count Dracula, who unbeknownst to Renfield, is a vampire. They discuss Dracula’s intention to lease Carfax Abbey in London, where he intends to travel the next day.

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Dracula’s three wives suddenly appear and start to move toward Renfield to attack him, but Dracula waves them away, and he attacks Renfield himself. Aboard the Vesta, bound for England, Renfield has now become a raving lunatic slave to Dracula, who is hidden in a coffin and gets out for feeding on the ship’s crew. Some nights later at a London theater, Dracula meets Dr. Seward, who introduces his daughter Mina, her fiancé John Harker, and the family friend Lucy Weston. Lucy is fascinated by Count Dracula, and that night, after Lucy has a talk with Mina and falls asleep in bed, Dracula enters her room as a bat and feasts on her blood. She dies in an autopsy theater the next day after a string of transfusions, and two tiny marks on her throat are discovered. Later on Mina has the same bite marks and now the men call on Professor Van Helsing to take on Dracula and save Mina before she meets the same fate as Lucy.

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Despite the fact that it might not be as terrifying as it was back in the day, you have to consider that this movie made people faint in the theater and gave them nightmares for years to come. The film does have flaws, Lucy dies and that’s it, she never comes back which was interesting that Mina was becoming a vampire when bitten, but Lucy doesn’t. However, the atmosphere of the film still holds up incredibly well, Dracula’s castle has the perfect shadows and isolation that could send shivers down anyone’s spine. Makes you wonder how the heck Renfield could stay in that place? I would’ve camped outside, especially when Dracula comes down and says in that creepy voice “I bid you welcome”; would you trust someone like that while looking at your neck like it was a Thanksgiving turkey leg? Bela gave a terrific performance that will be remembered for all time. But also much credit to Dwight Frye who plays Renfield and still has one of the most horrific images of all time when they open the door on the ship to see him laughing manically with his eyes wide open. Not to mention his scene with the maid where he’s laughing at her, she faints and he crawls towards her. You know what? I lied; this is still a scary movie and I will continue to watch it every Halloween. Bela is king and made Dracula one of the most terrifying monsters in movie history.

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Lugosi’s Triumph

9/10
Author: Arriflex1 from Beyond The Cosmos
23 July 2004

Tod Browning’s film of the Stoker novel didn’t so much eclipse Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922) as shove it into antiquity. One big reason was the technological advancement of sound. Roughly three years old by 1930, the public embraced the talking picture wholeheartedly over silents.

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The other big reason for Dracula’s success was that the star of the stage play had been cast as the star of the film. And movie history was made. Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula is now a eighty-one year old icon, outlasting all other interpretations before or since. The twist is that this Dracula looks nothing like Stoker’s creation (read the book). Lugosi, either through his work with the playwrights or later at Universal with Browning, devised the most insidious form the character would ever take- a handsome, courtly, well-groomed, civilized aristocrat, so gracious and attractive that he projected an aura of well-being over the viewer. This was worlds away from the Murnau/Max Schreck approach of head-on abomination in NOSFERATU.

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Sensibly, no one in their right mind would stay within viewing distance of Schreck (or Kinski in NOSFERATU, THE VAMPYRE and Dafoe in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE) after the first glimpse. But Lugosi’s Count would have you chatting and drinking wine- until he began to drink of you. That cape and those evening clothes are the perfect deception. Browning’s Dracula is sometimes stagy and tentative in its continuity (it feels at times that the director was unsure where to go next in the progression of scenes). But Karl Freund’s photography summons up a persistent mood of heavy gloom and enveloping dread.

Two other assets in the film are Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing and Dwight Frye as Renfield. Van Sloan was Universal’s resident Learned Man, appearing as an Egyptologist in THE MUMMY (1933), and perhaps most famously as Dr. Waldman in FRANKENSTEIN (1931). A career-long character actor, Dwight Frye was an eccentric talent who appears to have worked exclusively at Universal. He had his best role as Renfield, producing a still blood-curdling, sneering laugh that seemed to come from the depths of a hellish insanity. If you haven’t seen this Dracula please do so. The Count awaits.

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Bela Lugosi in the role he was born to play!

7/10
Author: ACitizenCalledKane from United States
4 January 2005

While Tod Browning’s Dracula is not the definitive take on the most famous vampire of all time, it is possibly the most memorable one. This is not due to Browning’s technical achievements or directorial wizardry, by ANY means. It is due to Bela Lugosi’s career-defining portrayal of the title character. Born in what is now Lugoj, Romania, Lugosi brings to the part the flavor of his homeland, making him more believable as Dracula. This other-worldly aesthetic helped to make his performance what many consider the ultimate incarnation of Stoker’s Dracula. Having played the Count in Hamilton Deane’s Broadway version of Dracula, which started in 1927, Bela Lugosi was more than prepared for the role when it was time to commit it to film.

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Still struggling with the English language, however, he had to learn his lines phonetically. European accent in tact, he was able to deliver such memorable lines as, “I bid you welcome,” “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make,” and, of course, “I am Dracula.” His performance alone is reason enough to watch this monster movie classic. If only the rest of the film was as spectacular as Lugosi. Dwight Frye’s Renfield, while perhaps a little too over-the-top, is still another highlight to the film, and even Edward Van Sloan’s Van Helsing is enough to challenge the might of Count Dracula. The rest of the film is rather flat to me. Now, I know it was made in 1931, and that, at the time, it horrified audiences, but I still stand by my opinion that the overall movie pales in comparison to Bela Lugosi’s performance.

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Everyone else just seemed to be going through the motions, and it seems especially evident while Helen Chandler and David Manners are on screen. They just aren’t convincing. I’m not saying that their performances ruin the film. It is still a classic, and certainly worth a viewing, but if you are in the mood for a vampire movie that is worthy of Bram Stoker’s name, look no further than F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. It is much more convincing and even scarier than Tod Browning’s Dracula, despite being nine years older and silent. All in all, though, one cannot overlook the stellar performance of Bela Lugosi in the role he was born to play!

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