TThey came under the shadow of darkness, literally. Just as Dracula star Bela Lugosi was undoubtedly being tucked in for the night, director George Melford, the cast and crew headed to the Universal Studio lot in 1931 to shoot a Spanish version of the horror novel. by Bram Stoker 1897, shot using the same sets and costumes as Tod Browning’s much more familiar masterpiece.
Melford’s production of Dracula was what is known as a multi-language version – AKA MLV – which was a method by which the newly developed voiced “talkie” aimed to reach non-English speaking audiences. Initiated by the 1927 release of The Jazz Singer, which featured 15 minutes of synchronized singing and conversation, the producers created recordings in which the dialogue was replaced by foreign music and inter-titles, the “international sound version,” but this quickly became obsolete and near extinction in 1931. Instead, producers began making entirely new versions of the same film: Paramount on Parade, from Paramount Pictures, directed by Edmund Goulding and released in 1930, saw 13 different releases. , with Czechs, French, Dutch, Hungarians, German, Italian, Japanese, Romanian, Polish, Serbian, Swedish and Spanish, in addition to English. But the MLV was expensive and could rarely escape the perception that they were minor productions.
The Spanish Dracula, or Dracula, may be an exception. Director Melford had been a stage actor of some importance before making the leap to film, first as a character actor and then as a director. He was behind the camera for the sensational 1921 silent hit The Sheik, starring Rudolph Valentino. It has been said that Melford was given the Dracula concert due to his ability to speak Spanish. He had directed The Will of the Dead for Universal, a Spanish adaptation of The Cat Creeps, a year earlier. However, multiple sources claimed, including Mexican-American actress Lupita Tovar, who played Eva Seward (Mina Harker in everything but name) that the director couldn’t speak the language at all, only communicating through a translator.
Shot in half the time the Lugosi vehicle was allotted, and on a much smaller budget, Dracula contains telling differences. It’s 29 minutes longer than the Browning movie, with more dialogue: we see more of Dracula’s castle; and the framing of the shots is arguably superior, thanks to the fact that Melford’s team has access to Dracula’s diaries when they arrive at night, thus being able to make revisions to the lighting and camera angles.
More emphasis is placed on religion; Not surprising given the dominance of Catholicism within the markets Melford’s film was targeting; on the other hand, it is spicier, an early dawn for the erotic tropes that would come to define the vampire genre. Only when Tovar saw the American version did he realize how different their costumes were. “The dresses Helen Chandler was wearing were all covered,” she recalled in a 2014 interview for a bonus DVD. “What they gave me was great necklines, what you would call sexy. I hadn’t even realized it! “Tovar married the film’s producer, Paul Kohner, a year after Dracula was released. They remained a couple until his death, at age 85 in 1988. Tovar was the last of the cast to pass away, and he did so at the 106 years in 2016.
And what about the Count himself? Played by Cordoba-born Carlos Villarías, credited here as Carlos Villar, Dracula’s version of Spanish is less carnal than Lugosi’s, even chivalrous. He kisses the hands of the women he knows; shakes hands with their husbands. Less overtly monstrous perhaps, but this shroud of humanity is still chilling.
Like many MLVs, Dracula was long feared to be lost. Prints from many similar productions were often recycled for their silver content, and in the late 1950s it was assumed that Melford’s film had followed the same path. However, in the 1970s, a copy was found in a New Jersey warehouse, though large sections had long rotted. Then, in the early 1990s, it turned out that there was a copy in Cuba, a fact confirmed by the Cuban Cinematheque in Havana. Still, it took four meetings (the UCLA Film and Television Archive had to fly to participate in the negotiations) to arrange a temporary loan. As of 2015, the film is in the US Library of Congress, forever preserved in the National Film Registry. MLVs are long gone, but Dracula will live forever.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism