Director: George Melford
Dracula: Carlos Vallarías
Once silent films went the way of the stereopticon, Hollywood studios had to make foreign-language films for foreign markets. In 1930, while filming the Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi Dracula we’ll get to later, Universal hired (non-Spanish-speaker) George Melford to shoot a Spanish-language Drácula simultaneously on the same sets as the Browning production … at night.
That right there is enough to get the blood pumping. What a great setting for a one-shot horror scenario! And indeed, the lovely Lupita Tovar (who plays “Eva Seward,” the film’s Mina equivalent) says because she was nervous about her work she used to get to the set early, while it was still black and deserted, and it was just as scary as you’d think. The other great thing about Melford’s Drácula is that he and the crew got to see the rushes of the Browning version and think up better, more effective ways to shoot and block the same material. And to punch up Garrett Ford’s sad, clumsy script. And indeed they did; in almost every critical respect this version beats Browning’s. Almost. Sadly the lead actor, Carlos Villarías, also got to see Lugosi’s performance, and apparently adapted only the campiest and stagiest aspects of it. When combined with his “fierce and threatening” eye-popping bit, it badly weakens his suave, predatory Dracula. It’s a shame, because Eva (teasing, then drained, then manic), Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena in a pugnacious, almost cruel mood), and especially Mina’s father Dr. Seward (José Soriano Viosca, showing real paternal concern throughout) all put in far superior performances in better-written roles. (Agree to disagree, perhaps, about Pablo Alvarez Rubio’s weirdly oracular, schizophrenic Renfield.) Lots more to say about this one in Thrill of Dracula. TCM is putting it on movie screens in selected cities this month, so go see it and tell me how right I am in the comments.
The 31 Days of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Expanded after I see the rushes from this blog version (perhaps after reading your own thoughts and comments), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!