The Franchise Chronicles: Spanish Dracula

 By Edward O'Hare

Welcome to The Franchise Chronicles, a movie-by-movie look at the development and evolution of cinema’s most enduring sagas. I am currently exploring the classic Universal Monsters and this week’s movie is the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931) directed by George Melford.

This is a unique artifact of the transition period between silent films and talkies. Silent film was a universal medium and adding sound potentially made it harder to reach foreign language audiences. Before methods like dubbing or subtitles could be refined, some studios opted to shoot alternate versions of their major releases in Spanish and Dracula was one of the more notable films to use this process. So during the day Tod Browning would direct Bela Lugosi and his castmates, and at night George Melford (who did not speak Spanish and used an interpreter) would direct the Spanish versions using the same sets and effects as Browning. While the plot and dialogue is identical, there are differences in style and tone that give this film a unique feel. This is also a unique case for the franchise chronicles because it is not a sequel and was intended for a completely different audience.

In my post on the English Dracula I talked about how Browning shot it very much in the style of a silent film. The Spanish version is much more dynamic. I don’t mean that in the charismatic sense. I just mean that the camera moves around much more. Instead of holding still and letting you take in the production, Melford moves in more to puts the focus on the characters. The most notable instance of this is the Count’s introduction where the camera climbs up the stairs hand-held (you can see the bumps in the movement that you would not get with a dolly or a crane) and ends with a close-up on Dracula (Carlos Villarías).

The acting style in Spanish Dracula also differentiates it from the English version. Instead of Lugosi’s cold stare, Villarías makes his eyes seem enormous with a huge toothy grin. He seems more weird than creepy but is just as dangerous. Overall the other characters are portrayed with flamboyance and flair. They are much less reserved. Lupita Tovar’s portrayal of Eva convincingly shows us someone dipping in and out of madness. At times, she feels more like the main character of the film and the threat of the Count looms more in the background. Her revealing costume and let-down hair are reminiscent of modern Spanish soap operas.

From a “franchise” perspective, this film is part of a two-pronged approach to showcase the Dracula concept. It is one of the only examples where you can see 2 different casts and crews use the same script and sets. It makes one wonder how different these films would be if they swapped directors. Would Lugosi’s performance be more memorable with Melford’s camerawork? Would Browning let his actors be so eccentric? It can certainly be said that both films contain the core elements that have allowed the Dracula legend to endure to this day.

Next week we get to meet our next big monster and a prominent head on the Rushmore of Monster actors in Frankenstein.

Edward O’Hare, nickname TBD, has been poking around the deep caverns of pop culture for some years now. His hobbies include making Starfleet org charts and badgering people who haven’t seen the Adventures of Captain Marvel movie serial from 1941. He one day dreams of teaching Bill Simmons that superheroes and pro athletes are not all that different.

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