Most people are aware of the 1931 Universal Studios classic film Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. However, there is considerably less knowledge of a second version made in tandem for Spanish-speaking audiences. This article will discuss the making of both of these films.
Nosferatu and the Rights to the Novel
In 1922, German Expressionist filmmaker F. W. Murnau directed the silent vampire classic Nosferatu. This bore a strong resemblance to the 1897 novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. The similarities between the movie and the novel did not go unnoticed, especially by Stoker’s widow. She sued the German filmmakers for plagiarism and copyright infringement. The court ruled in her favor and all copies of the movie were ordered to be destroyed (they weren’t).
Subsequently, in 1924, Stoker’s heirs authorized a play version of the novel to be produced by playwright Hamilton Deane and writer John L. Balderston. By 1927, the play, which starred Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi as the titular character, was a tremendous success and traveled across the United States throughout 1928.
Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Carl Laemmle Jr, son of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle Sr., had his eyes set on making a spectacle to rival his father’s films The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1925) and The Phantom of the Opera (1928). Universal Pictures paid $40,000 for the screen rights to Dracula. This would be Universal’s first foray into monster-based horror in the sound age.
The studio decided to make two separate versions of Dracula. One would be in English and another in Spanish. By 1930 the studio concentrated on developing Spanish-language films for the foreign market. This was because the advent of sound made releases in foreign nations more difficult than during the silent era.
The English Language Version
The original choice to play both Dracula and Professor Van Helsing was Lon Chaney. Chaney had experience playing multiple lead roles in the same movie during the silent era. This was due to his makeup artist’s expertise allowing him to look different from each character. Unfortunately, Chaney died on August 26, 1930, from a pneumonia-related throat hemorrhage a month before filming was to begin.
Lugosi, who eventually won the role, was not considered at all after Chaney’s passing. Instead, actor Lew Ayres was cast. However, Universal soon put him in the film Many a Slip (1931) and scheduling conflicts caused the role of Dracula to be recast. Ayers was replaced by Robert Ames, who was in turn replaced with David Manners. It was then decided that Manners should play the role of John Harker in the film instead. This left the role of Dracula open once again.
Lugosi, who was in Los Angeles playing Dracula on the stage at the time, learned of this casting turmoil and lobbied hard for the part. When the actor agreed to a meager salary of $500 per week of filming, he was cast in the titular role.
Edward Van Sloan, who played the role of Van Helsing in the play, was also hired to reprise his role in the film. Bernard Jukes, who played Renfield opposite Lugosi and Van Sloan in the play, petitioned to reprise his role as well. However, he was replaced by Dwight Frye.
Tod Browning who co-produced the film with Laemmle Jr. cast Helen Chandler as the heroine Mina. This was based on her Broadway performance in the play The Silent House. Having appeared in several movies, she was the most well-known cast member. She was also the highest paid, earning $750 per week.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Louis Bromfield was brought in by Universal to write the adaptation of the novel. Bromfield’s draft was deemed to be too faithful to the novel and he was replaced. His draft included things such as Dracula being old at the beginning of the film and becoming younger as he feeds on the blood of his prey. Also, Jonathan Harker was in Transylvania in the film’s opening scenes.
Garrett Fort was brought in to write a new script. Fort’s version took the Dracula stage play and added elements from Nosferatu such as a scene at Dracula’s castle where Renfield pricks his finger on a paper clip and it starts to bleed.
Filming on Dracula began on the Universal lot on September 29, 1930. The 36-day production was extremely loose and disorganized with no true shooting schedule. Although Browning was the credited director, he shot very little of the movie. This left the majority of the work to cinematographer Karl Freund.
Lugosi was very distant from the other cast members during filming. He would often pose in front of a full-length mirror acting in character, which his cast mates found odd. Chandler, who was reportedly drunk during much of the filming, would often laugh at these antics in a loud and obnoxious manner.
“I can still see Lugosi, parading up and down the stage, posing in front of a full-length mirror, throwing his cape over his shoulder and shouting, ‘I am Dracula!’ He was mysterious and never really said anything to the other members of the cast except good morning when he arrived and good night when he left. He was polite, but always distant. I never thought he was acting, but being the odd man he was.”
– David Manners
Overall the cast didn’t think much of the movie while filming it, or after its release for that matter. Lugosi went as far as to vow to never play Dracula again. However, he would reprise the role in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
“No! Not at any price. When I’m through with this picture I hope to never hear of Dracula again. I cannot stand it…I do not intend that it shall possess me.”
– Bela Lugosi
“Overplayed — over-written — altogether lousy.”
– Edward Van Sloan
“It would be an awful fate, for instance, to go around being a pale little girl in a trance with her arms outstretched as in Dracula, all the rest of my screen career!”
– Helen Chandler
The special effects of the film were the same as what was used for the stage play. This essentially consisted of fog and rubber bats on wires since Dracula’s transformation from his human to bat form is done off-camera.
When filming on Dracula wrapped it came in with a total cost of $341,191.20. This was slightly under the production budget of $355,050.
The English language version of Dracula premiered at the Roxy Theatre in New York City on February 12, 1931, opening wide across the country two days later. It would go on to earn over $1,000,000 at the box office ensuring it a profit of over $700,000, making it Universal’s biggest hit of the year.
The Spanish Language Version
The decision to make a Spanish-language version of Dracula was not entirely based on dollars and cents. An ulterior motive also existed on the Universal lot. Studio executive Paul Kohner had a strong sexual attraction to a Mexican-born actress, Lupita Tovar, who was making movies for Universal at the time.
When Kohner learned that Tovar intended to leave Hollywood and return to Mexico City he devised a plan to keep her in America and at the studio. Kohner went to Carl Lamelle Sr. and told him that it would be a great idea to make movies for the Spanish language market and to use Tovar as their female lead. The first Spanish-language movie Universal made with Tovar was La Voluntad del Muerto (1930), which was an adaptation of The Cat Creeps (1930). Dracula (1931) was the second. Tovar and Kohner would marry in 1932, a union that would last until the latter’s death in 1988.
The Spanish language version of Dracula was officially announced on October 1, 1930, just two days after filming began on the English language version. At that time the cast included Tovar as Eva. This was essentially the same role as Mina in the English version. Carlos Villarias portrayed the titular character. American director George Melford was hired to direct.
Filming began on October 10, 1930. The sets from the English version were reused for the Spanish version even though they were shot concurrently. This was accomplished by having the English version film during the day and the Spanish version at night. Filming for the latter was completed in just twenty-two days.
Melford, who spoke no Spanish, used translators to communicate with the actors on set. Since the script was fairly close to the English language version (screenwriter Baltasar Fernández Cué adapted the English language script written by Fort), Melford would watch the footage from the English version and then develop his version based on what he saw. This resulted in a more sophisticated directorial effort than the English version.
Besides language, other changes between the two versions were that the Spanish one was twenty-eight minutes longer, with much more dialogue than the English version. Another difference was that Tovar’s costumes were allowed to be sexier and more low-cut and transparent than her American counterpart. This was due to censorship being much more rigid in the American market.
Dracula opened in Havana, Cuba on March 11, 1931, followed by New York on April 24, and Los Angeles on May 8. By the end of 1931 studios abandoned foreign versions of movies for not being financially viable. The Spanish language version of Dracula was largely forgotten after its release but in more recent decades the movie has reentered the consciousness of cinephiles and has gained an overall excellent reputation.
Dracula (1931) is currently available to stream on Prime Video, iTunes, as well as Vudu.
If You Enjoyed This Article We Recommend:
The Making of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Click Here)
Universal Monsters: A Legacy in Horror (Click Here)
The Making of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Click Here)
If You Don’t Want To Miss Any Of Our Content In The Future Like Us On Facebook and Follow Us On Twitter and Instagram
Source : https://cinemascholars.com/the-making-of-dracula-1931/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-making-of-dracula-1931