Directed By: George Melford
Starring: Carlos Villarías, Lupita Tovar, Barry Norton
Trivia: This Spanish-language version runs nearly a half-hour longer than the English-language version of Dracula that was being shot during the day
The Spanish version of Dracula was shot at the same time as Tod Browning’s classic 1931 film, and on the exact same sets. Yet, despite this, the movie still finds a way to distinguish itself from its more famous counterpart.
The stories are practically identical. After receiving a visit from a property agent named Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio), Count Dracula (Carlos Villarias), a vampire, leaves his castle in Transylvania and sails for England, taking up residence next door to a sanitarium owned and operated by Dr. Seward (José Soriano Viosca). Shortly after his arrival, Dracula meets Seward’s pretty daughter, Eva (Lupita Tovar), who’s engaged to be married to Juan Harker (Barry Norton). Secretly visiting her bedroom several nights in a row, Dracula slowly transforms Eva into a vampire. His fiendish plot is discovered, however, by Dr. Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena), a scientist who specializes in the supernatural. After realizing the Count is one of the undead, Van Helsing immediately sets to work trying to destroy Dracula and, if possible, save Eva in the process.
As mentioned above, the Spanish language Dracula features all of the set pieces seen in the English version (once Lugosi and company were finished for the day, director Melford and his crew moved in, shooting straight through the night). Yet even though Browning and Melford were working from the same script, they each managed to bring a unique quality to their respective adaptations. While Browning chose to keep the camera motionless throughout much of Dracula, Melford allowed his to move a bit more freely. When we’re first introduced to Dracula, he’s standing at the top of his castle stairs, just like he is in the English-language picture. However, in this film, the camera tracks in, getting closer and closer to the Count. This makes for a more dramatic entrance, and is one of several times Melford adds some visual flair to the movie.
While the style of the picture may feel like an improvement over Browning’s film, the same cannot be said for the performances. Clearly, Carlos Villarias was at a slight disadvantage, playing a role Bela Lugosi would make his own, but even still, Villarias’ Count comes across as far too friendly, never once matching the menace or dread that Lugosi brought to the part. And while Pablo Alvarez Rubio’s Renfield was interesting, what with his maniacal laughter and extreme mood shifts, the remainder of the cast is sub-par at best.
The Spanish Dracula is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 minutes longer than the English Dracula, with extended scenes that feature a lot more dialogue (most of which was unnecessary). Yet even with its faults, the Spanish Dracula does make for a fascinating companion piece to the Universal classic.