Director: Patrick Dromgoole
Dracula: Denholm Elliott
Man, if every episode of the Thames TV series Mystery and Imagination mounted this kind of creative response to low budgets and primitive facilities, I’m really bummed that three seasons are lost. But I’m glad this fourth-season episode (90 minutes, divided into three Acts) survived on YouTube. Although it shows much of the spoor of the hated Deane-Balderston play, writer Charles Graham seems to have been solving the same problems — limited ability to change scenes, small cast, short running time — with some originality. Shooting Harker’s visit to Castle Dracula in almost silent-movieola flashback must have saved money and it definitely pumps up the atmosphere while recalling Nosferatu (and moreso Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr). He keeps as much of the book as he can: Swales’ discursus on the suicide’s grave (more important in this version) and Dracula’s monologue on Transylvanian history, for example. And in some places, his changes — Dracula tele-operates Renfield to threaten Van Helsing! Lucy bites Mina! — rock you back on your heels with their implications.
But right now, you’re all tugging my sleeve and saying “But, but, but … Marcus Brody as Dracula?” Denholm Elliott is nobody’s Christopher Lee, but his Dracula — in goatee and smoked glasses at first, later in an Inverness cape of all things — has more than a little odious charm to him. It’s not Elliott’s fault that there’s no budget for effects or even a fight scene; his social menace and Orlok-style rat-fangs both work. Corin Redgrave’s Renfield is refreshingly upper-class, so it’s kind of a shame he turns out to be Jonathan Harker. (Whom Seward weirdly doesn’t recognize.) Bernard Archard’s careful, worried Van Helsing and James Maxwell’s angry, skeptical Seward play off each other superbly — if you must mount a stagy, talky Dracula, casting it with British theatricals is for the best, really. But the real standout is Susan George as the giddy, vivacious “Lucy Weston,” drinking in Dracula’s attention while alive and then drinking from Mina in Un-Death.
The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Saved from kinescopic destruction (perhaps by your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order classy British 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!