Drácula (1931)
Directed by George Melford, Enrique Tovar Ávalos
Written by Bram Stoker, John L. Balderston, Hamilton Deane, Garrett Fort, Dudley Murphy, Baltasar Fernández Cué
Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., Paul Kohner
Starring Carlos Villarías, Lupita Tovar, Eduardo Arozamena, Pablo Álvarez Rubio, Barry Norton, José Soriano Viosca
Every evening succeeding Tod Browning’s diurnal photography of Universal’s premiere adaptation of Bram Stoker’s gothic novel found that production’s sets again occupied by an international cast and alternate crew who staged and shot a Hispanophone variant of the horror classic for Latino markets that both accommodated and reflected the ethos of its target audience. Melford was a veteran of the silent era whose broad framing better exploited the magnitude and stygian severity of those gloomiest stage settings than Browning’s efforts, and a latitude consequent of his movie’s secondary priority and the liberality of its intended demographic enabled him to intimate the tacit salacity of Stoker’s romance and define his characters with greater depth in a running time exceeding that of its similitude by near twenty minutes. As Browning couldn’t speak Spanish, uncredited journeyman Ávalos directed the cast, whose comportment is decidedly more theatrical than that of their Anglophone counterparts. Villarías’ Dracula hasn’t the ominous suavity that secured Lugosi’s legend, but he swimmingly alternates from allurement to monstrous menace. Likewise, Tovar’s luscious objet du désir (here Eva to Helen Chandler’s Mina) exudes a playful sensuality unimaginable in the English pic, while Rubio plays lunatic lickspittle Renfield with derangement of a shrieking delirium that Dwight Frye never mustered. Contemporary reappraisal often favors this as the superior picture; while its comparative merits are contestable, no viewer can deny that Melford’s vision disbosoms far more of Stoker’s spirit.

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