Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931, USA)

    Dracula is the first in the line of iconic Universal monster movies and launched the image of Dracula in the popular imagination. While Dracula had appeared before, most notably in F.W. Murnau's silent classic Nosferatu, with Bela Lugosi's performance he was given a voice. The film was based on Bram Stoker's 1897 epistolary novel, but more specifically it was based on the 1924 stage adaptation written by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. Bela Lugosi made his English-language debut in the 1927 Broadway revision. The film adapts many of the changes made to Stoker's novel from the play, including the portrayal of the Count. In Stoker's novel, he is hairy and unattractive, but with Lugosi's portrayal, he becomes more smooth and seductive. 

  Lugosi was reportedly not the first choice of producer Carl Laemmle Jr., who had several other actors he wanted for the role instead of Lugosi. Lugosi was chosen because he was willing to work for very little money. He became very sick of the role over time, especially because he was typecast. The film was directed by Tod Browning, who was most notable for his collaborations with Lon Chaney during the silent era. His cinematographer Karl Freund, who had worked on several German expressionist films, brought this German expressionist style with him to America. 

  While the film feels a bit stilted at times, there is something about it that works in the film's favor. The awkward silences and long pauses are suited to the dreamlike and atmospheric setting that Dracula's world exhibits. The film's visual style, no doubt brought in large part by Karl Freund, also helps it overcome its largely stagey feeling. While Dracula is perhaps not the best of the Universal 1930s monster films, it is iconic in its own right and worthy of revisiting every Halloween season.


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