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Customer Review

on March 2, 2000
First things first: there HAVE been better adaptations of the Stoker story (see my review of BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA)! Bela Lugosi is fine in the title role but it's not a character that gave the actor much of a stretch. He was largely picked for the Broadway play that this film is based because of his own heritage being remarkbly similar to the infamous Count's. When the film was cast and the great silent film star, Lon Chaney, Sr. (Universal's first pick for the role) died it left the role without an actor. As the commentary and documentary on this DVD relates, several other actors were considered, including Paul Muni and Conrad Veidt (THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI). But finally the studio decided on Lugosi. A wise move! He and Dwight Frye give what are easily the best perfomances here! And Although Lugosi gave one other great performance on film, Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (in this reviewer's opinion, his best work) he definitely leaves his mark on the character of the Transylvanian count. Very seldom has a actor been so strongly identified with a role. Dwight Frye is also excellent as Renfield! He is so convincing you believe his insanity every moment he is on the screen. Because of these features the movie warrants a 3 and a half star rating! However, the technical areas of this film are somewhat poor. At times the pinspot lights on Lugosi's eyes are way off the mark. Although the early scenes in the Count's native country are very atmospheric, once the action moves to London, the film borrows heavily from the stage play both in content and staging. The result is a very slow moving and talky production with only Lugosi and Frye to recommend it.
When it was decided to release this film in DVD format, MCA had an abundance of material to choose from and include. Fortunately for us they didn't leave much out. Besides the usual commentary (here very dry and lacking in spontaniety) and an interesting documentary, there are three count em', three versions of the film. First you have the original familiar version. It looks better than it has ever looked. Unfortunately, the soundtrack leaves something to be desired. Whenever there isn't dialogue or sound effects it is extremely scratchy sounding. The second version is a unique addition indeed. A new score by Philip Glass has been dubbed over the largely musicless original track. Although not always effective, and at times obtrusive, it is an original and interesting idea which might be explored further in other DVD editions of early sound films. The third version is actually a different version of the same script. When DRACULA was made in 1931 a fairly common practice was filming a separate version in another language, usually Spanish. This idea was used to great effect with DRACULA. It's inclusion on this DVD makes it easy to compare the two versions. Not surprisingly the Spanish version is far superior. The acting, staging and technical qualities make the Lugosi film look amateur in comparison. And thanks to some caring preservation the print used is in excellent condition. Releasing it with the other features on this disc was a fantastic idea.
So if you are looking for the definitive edition of DRACULA, look no further. This Count has found a permanent home on DVD!
11 helpful votes
12 helpful votes
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