Dracula (1931)

Directed by Tod Browning
Written by Garrett Fort

Having just seen Nosferatu, I entered Dracula with a bit of a comparing mind if you will. It is hard not to compare, especially with the viewing of each so close together, though I usually always say that comparisons shouldn’t carry much weight. I have never read Bram Stoker’s novel, so I can’t compare it to that. But if I had to make a decision between this film and F.W. Murnau’s 1922 effort, hands down Nosferatu would take it. There really is no comparing. The two films, while having many of the same characters and featuring much the same storyline, couldn’t be more different in my eyes, and much of that has to do with the tone/atmosphere of the film set by the director as well as by the lead actor in the film.

In this case, Bela Lugosi is the leading Count Dracula. His is a name I had heard before and instantly recognized in the credit, though I have no idea what else he was in in his career. Perhaps nothing else of note. But I was flabergasted by his performance in this film. Really I can point to him and the character of Dracula to pinpoint the reasons I did not care for this film at all. He was so stiff and lifeless. I know, a strange comment when critiquing the character of Dracula, but it’s true! Dracula may be stiff and lifeless, but Lugosi was robotic. I think I even fell asleep a few times in between his lines. So uninteresting is his delivery that it throws the entire film off. It just becomes so slow moving. Ironicly enough, one of the other majoy issues I had with the film was that it didn’t have stakes. Sure there were deaths and Mina was in peril, but the film just inched on at such a slow pace that it didn’t seem that way, and the tone of the film never really suggested there was a threat.

I have actually never seen Francis Ford Coppola’s interpretation either, and perhaps he does quite more, but Browning never frightens, or even entertains. The visuals are never arresting or even noteworthy really, but I think the biggest hurdle I faced with the film was simply the fact that the climax fell flat for me. And I think that had everything to do with the fact that I was never invested in any of the characters and never felt the true threat of Dracula. Bela Lugosi’s version of the character is certainly more cheesy, but maybe that is exactly what audiences in the 1930s wanted. It is quite possible that my disconnect from the context of the film is getting in the way. Not that I think people hold this film in rather high regard, but some times there are just things that are too difficult to overcome to buy into a film and ultimately enjoy it. This could have been one of those times. Either that or the film is just trash. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m usually Mr. find something to like about the film guyer.

**1/2 – Fair

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