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Fascinating History of Dracula's Path to the Silver Screen.
on May 5, 2005
In "Hollywood Gothic" David Skal tells the story of "Dracula" that came after the classic of gothic horror was published in 1897. It's a fascinating, fact-filled tale of colorful personalities, legal battles, Hollywood politics, and a culture still captivated by the King of Literary Vampires. The book's seven chapters begin with author Bram Stoker, end with the Count's recent incarnations on stage and screen, and include the most insightful analysis of "Dracula"'s origins that I have read in the course of my minor obsession with the novel.
Chapter 1 explores "Dracula"'s literary and theatrical predecessors before moving on to discussion of the intellectual and sexual climate into which the book was published in 1897, the life and elusive character of its author Bram Stoker, and how the novel was received in its own day. David Skal does an impressive job of pulling together the relevant details, from diverse perspectives, of the novel's birth.
Chapter 2 details the legal battle waged by the Bram Stoker's widow, Mrs. Florence Stoker, to suppress the first cinematic adaptation of her husband's novel, 1922's "Nosferatu", the unauthorized German production directed by F.W. Murnau, now recognized as a masterpiece of silent cinema. Chapter 3 sees Mrs, Stoker finally authorize an adaptation to British dramatist Hamilton Deane, whose wordy, plodding "Dracula" play nevertheless achieved great financial success, attracting the attention of American theatrical producer Horace Liveright. Liveright enlisted journalist John Balderston to rewrite the play for Broadway and make it a smash hit on this side of the Atlantic.
Chapter 4 moves to Hollywood for the protracted negotiations over "Dracula"'s film rights. "Dracula"'s path through the early 20th century was mined with legal battles, and it is a credit to author David Skal that he is able to make interminable and constantly mutating negotiations into absorbing drama. Chapter 5 follows the winding road to the production of the first Hollywood "Dracula", the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, which, although made cheaply and lazily, was the first horror talkie and a financial life preserver for Universal Studios. Happily, Skal has dedicated Chapter 6 to the superior Spanish language version of "Dracula" that was filmed simultaneously, on the same sets, as the English version of the 1931 film, but with a different producer, director, cinematographer, and cast.
Chapter 7 tells us what became of the principle person's associated with the two 1931 films. Then it follows the legacy of "Dracula" from the 1930s forward, through its incarnations in film, plays, musicals, ballets, and other performances. Appendix A is a list of notable stage performances of "Dracula", 1897-2003. Appendix B is a list of about 200 films, 1921-2004, which feature the "Dracula" character or name. Thankfully, there is an index.
In outlining the contents of "Hollywood Gothic", I may have made the book seem dry. But the story of "Dracula"'s continuing life in film and on stage is as lively as the novel that inspired it -and it is written a good deal better. David Skal's tireless research and engaging style never fail to impress. "Hollywood Gothic" is an absorbing literary and cinematic history that "Dracula" fans shouldn't miss.