Monday, November 1, 2010

"La Sangre es La Vida"

Since I'm the parent who stays at home on Halloween to dispense candy to the neighborhood children, I often find myself in need of something to do during the lulls between the doorbell rings. Because that happens often enough, I can't do anything that demands too much attention, like reading, so the solution I came to is that Halloween night is perfect for watching movies -- horror-themed ones, naturally.

Last night I decided to pop in the second DVD in Universal Dracula set, which contains the Spanish language version of the film, made contemporaneously with the English language one, using the same sets. In the earliest days of film, Hollywood would just dub their movies into other languages for overseas distribution, but, as the industry became more sophisticated, it was common practice to concurrently make several versions of the same film, each with a different cast who spoke different languages in order to both save money and make movies that held a wider appeal in foreign markets than did dubbed versions.

Many of these foreign language versions of famous American films no longer exist, but Drácula survives, albeit in a slightly less than pristine condition (some of the scenes are a little choppy and grainy). Even so, it's eminently watchable and I quickly found myself enjoying it a great deal, so much so that I started to resent the ever more frequent occasions I had to pause the action to go to the door. Eventually, I just decided to give up and rewatch the movie from the beginning after the children went to bed, because Drácula deserved my fuller attention.

Without the benefit of immediately understanding the dialog, I was left primarily with the visuals and that makes for a very different experience in viewing a film. Drácula is longer than its American counterpart, adding nearly 30 minutes. Consequently, it felt slower paced to me, though that might simply have been a trick created by my lack of linguistic understanding. Even so, the camera did seem to linger longer over many scenes, particularly those in which its female cast were onscreen, something about which I can hardly complain. Lupita Tovar's Eva Seward is a much more vibrant presence than Helen Chandler's milquetoast Mina in the American version:

Of course, Carmen Guerrero's Lucy Westenra's all-too-brief appearance is likewise notable, especially this scene where she prepares herself for bed before becoming Dracula's next victim:

Also not to be forgotten are the three Brides, whose portrayal in Drácula is as predatory, almost bestial creatures (and it is they, rather than the Count, who drive Renfield mad):

As I understand it, there are critics who feel the Spanish language version is superior to its English language twin. I can certainly see why one might hold that opinion. Drácula has a lot to recommend it beyond eye candy. Its performances are, on the whole, more emotionally charged and immediate. They're no more realistic than the English versions, since I find both films very "archetypal," which is to say, more like a Greek drama than a scene from life put on the big screen. However, I think the Spanish language actors turned out better performances overall.

Of course, any version of Dracula rises or falls based on the actor in the central role. Carlos Villarias is no Bela Lugosi, despite some superficial physical resemblance between the two. He has no problem portraying the suave, alluring side of the Count, but he lacks the menace that Lugosi could project. When he attempts to do so, Villarias generally isn't very effective and, occasionally, it's laughable. I suspect that it's my lack of fondness for Villarias that prevents me from judging Drácula as the superior to its twin. (And I should state, for the record, that Christopher Lee gives my favorite portrayal of Dracula)

Despite that, Drácula is a superb film and I'm glad I sat down and watched it after meaning to do so for so long. Rather than see it as a "rival" to the English language version, I prefer to see it as a complement to it -- another take on the same movie, which is exactly what it is. It really is amazing how much alike the two movies are, so much so that the differences are easier to notice and, my preference for the women of the Spanish version aside, it'd be impossible to pick one over the other.

Fortunately, I don't have to.

8 comments:

  1. "Of course, any version of Dracula rises or falls based on the actor in the central role."

    Agreed, and that is my problem with this one as well. I'll also agree with you that Lee is the best as long as we leave out Count Orlock, whose name change isn't fooling anybody.

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  2. Just watched Horror of Dracula on Thursday night, probably hadn't watched it in 30 years or so. I was very impressed by Lee. There was way too much Peter Cushing in that movie though. He did a well enough job, but Christopher Lee was so very good, and had so little screen time.

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  3. The spanish version of Drácula had better cinematography, but the portrayal of the character was a little goofy. Still it's an interesting version, I've got both on dvd.

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  4. The Spanish language version is usually credited with superior direction, which I can well understand. Todd Browning (director of the English version) was not at all comfortable with using the supernatural with American audiences, and in a previous vampire film ("London After Midnight," I believe) inserted a "Scooby Doo" ending where it was all a hoax. The Spanish version is more daring, has more gusto about the material, and I daresay for its time has less discomfort with the underlying sensuality of the story (the play, actually, more than the novel). While I think this boils down to a difference in Latin/Catholic culture in contrast with Anglo-Saxon/Puritan culture, that is a whole other kettle of fish!

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  5. The Spanish version is more daring, has more gusto about the material, and I daresay for its time has less discomfort with the underlying sensuality of the story (the play, actually, more than the novel). While I think this boils down to a difference in Latin/Catholic culture in contrast with Anglo-Saxon/Puritan culture, that is a whole other kettle of fish!

    I certainly think there's something to this opinion, though I'm far from qualified to assert it with any degree of certainty.

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  6. As much as I enjoy the Spanish version of Dracula, I think the original with the Philip Glass score is much stronger. The work of Kronos Quartet really brings some new life to Dracula in my estimation and Lugosi really can't be topped.

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  7. Two Words:

    Lupita Tovar

    That puts all arguments to rest. She MAKES the Spanish version the clear winner.

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  8. It seems that you are not the only James with that opinion:
    http://cinemassacre.com/2012/09/19/best-horror-films/

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