Dracula (1931) . . . Both Of Them
To celebrate my friend’s birthday, a group of us went to the local theater last night to see a double-feature of the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula and the Spanish language Dracula that was using the same sets and script. Well . . . we went to see the Lugosi film, and figured to stay for a few amusing minutes of what we generally thought of as a “contemporary re-make.” Instead, we stayed through the whole of BOTH films, and came away with some interesting lessons on filmmaking.
First, the Lugosi film is a classic, but it certainly FEELS like a movie from 1931. The filmmaking conventions of the era can give it a comical tinge to a modern audience. I’d seen it many times before, though never on the big screen . . . but the truth is that aside from the atmosphere that a theater brings, there was no substantive improvement to the quality of the movie itself by seeing it in so large a format. Still, it was just the experience I thought it would be, and would have made a fine evening on its own.
In the introduction to the show, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz explained that the two movies not only used the same sets . . . they were shot at the same time. Each night when production wrapped on the Lugosi film, the Spanish speaking production would take over and shoot their scenes. With both films based on the same script, you might think that means the Spanish version is a shot-for-shot remake, but that’s not the case. Director, George Medford (who, incidentally, did NOT speak Spanish), was able to see the rushes from the day’s work and thus was able to make adjustments and (in some cases) improvements.
As I said above, we thought we’d just watch a few minutes of the Spanish-language version and then go off for a celebratory dinner, but we quickly changed our minds. There was more than just a few incidental changes to script and shot choice . . . Medford was making his own interpretation of the material, and so were his actors. And it quickly became clear that this was going to be a substantially different experience. Indeed, after the viewing we were in unanimous agreement that the Medford version was the BETTER film (at least from a modern viewer’s perspective).
The funny thing is, I’m not sure that one would actually get the full impact of the differences simply by sitting down and watching Medford’s Spanish-language film . . . it is the direct comparison of the two in back-to-back viewings that really lets the variations shine. (Thankfully, they’re both about 90-minutes long, so even as a double-feature they’re shorter than some modern blockbuster epics.) And you’d have to be the sort of movie-goer who isn’t bothered by sub-titles to have such a positive reaction to the Medford film. And, in the end, it IS still a 1931 movie . . . so it will still seem somewhere between “quaint” and “cheesy” when compared to modern filmmaking.
Still I HIGHLY recommend the experience. It is, if nothing else, an object lesson in what difference a director can make when approaching the same material with the same resources. And THAT’S a lesson that will carry through into ALL your future movie viewing.