(1931) dir. George Melford
Drácula, known more informally as “the Spanish language version of Dracula”, is a fascinating document, a fascinating thing to a great extent beyond its own qualities. Drácula is the Spanish language version of the 1931 Tod Browning Dracula, the classic Bela Lugosi film, the “Dracula” that launched a thousand or thousands of thousands of imitators, lampooners, images, and standards. Given the notability of the Tod Browning film, it was surprising to me when I first read about Drácula in a book by David Skal back in the 1990’s.
In the early days of sound film, Hollywood hadn’t quite settled on the best way to take the “talkies” to the markets in which English was not the language of use. With silent film, all that would typically be needed would be new, translated intertitles. But with sound technology so new, dubbing nor subtitling had taken over as the primary mode of translation. And so what was created in 1931 for this production was an entirely different film, with entirely different actors and crew, writers and directors, filming on the same sets at night that the English-language version used in the daytime. The result, though not so broadly known until recently, was an entirely different production made of a significant American Hollywood classic.
And, as I’d read in Skal’s book, Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, Skal even considered the Spanish version to be perhaps superior to the original. And I have to say, that there is something to that.
What is fascinating to someone who might really study these films in comparison is just that: it’s not a shot-for-shot sameness at all, though through the first couple of scenes you might think that. The film isn’t just a little racier, with more cleavage and showing actual “bite marks” and a vaguely more suggestive and suggestively violent, but shows images like Dracula rising from his coffin, putting a bit more out there than the original. It also gives room for Renfield, played by Pablo Álvarez Rubio, to develop his character.
Most of the more striking qualities have to do with shots or images that are forsaken in the Browning version, even the Gothic zombies that are Dracula’s wives (shown initially in a shot from Browning’s film) reappear not with their hair in buns and braids, but more wanton and with their long dark locks streaming over their shoulders. And they get to be the ones who feast on Renfield here, whereas in the English language one, Dracula shoos them away and feasts himself. While there is a loss of the homoeroticism of that, the scene is in many ways more visceral.
There is a lot to look at here and I won’t belabor it myself, since others have spent more time addressing the contrasts, variances, choices and performances. It’s somewhat of a moot point as to which is better, really. It’s only a matter of opinion anyways. The most important thing is simply that there is much to be drawn from this amazing anomaly, these two excellent films, so influential in one case, so nearly lost in another. And now there is the chance to really see them as part of a whole, which is really quite fantastic.