Well, not quite. They are, rather, the eyes of Drácula. Don't forget that accent; in Spanish, that would be a spelling mistake.
The coming of sound caused many problems for Hollywood in the late 1920s, but one of the biggest involved all those movie-goers south of the border: the exceptionally large Latin American market. Starting in 1930, Universal attempted to reach out to these patrons by filming many of their established hits with the same scripts now acted out by Spanish-speaking actors. (Indeed, the "Mexican spitfire" Lupe Vélez largely became a star through her lead roles in both the English and Spanish versions of 1930's East Is West and 1931's Resurrection.)
Only a handful of these films were made before 1931, but the most famous -- and certainly the only one of these films that is widely available -- is the curious case of Drácula. The Spanish version is largely the result of a cost-cutting measure executed by producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. to literally make two films at once: the English version, directed by Freaks auteur Tod Browning, would film in the daytime while the Spanish version, directed by George Melford (The Shiek), would film using the same script and sets that night. The Browning version catapulted star Bela Lugosi to international fame and is today considered a classic on its own terms.
Don't get me wrong: Lugosi's singular stare is the stuff made of legends and the man's debonaire interpretation of the Vampire-to-end-all-vampires is brilliant. As a movie, however, Drácula is far better.
I just finished watching both films at the same time, one on my television and the other on my computer and while both feature relatively similar scripts, the two are strikingly different. Lupita Tovar -- who plays "Eva" (not "Mina") and provides an introduction for the film for the recently produced multi-disc package done by Universal -- indicates that the actors even had the same blocking marks at night as the daytime English cast, but that means little when the camera is set up in a different place or is doing something very different. For example, one of the iconic shots of Lugosi comes early in the film when the camera slowly tracks into a close-up of Dracula's face, eyes highlighted by a band of very bright light. This happens to be the first time that we see him and it's a very effective shot. The Spanish version introduces Carlos Villarías simikarly but with no moving camerañ Melford saves it instead for an extremely impressive shot on the staircase when Renfield (played frenetically by Pablo Álvarez Rubio) sees him for the first time. Browning creeps us out with his magnificent moving shot -- but Melford puts us into Renfield's shoes in a far more effective manner by giving us a far more dynamic shot (shown here) when the narrative deserves it, not just because we should ooh and aah. In many ways, Drácula is also far more human than Dracula. Oddly enough, this is partially due to Villarías' hands, which are significantly smaller than the craws that Lugosi bends into shape. Mostly, however, the effect seems to come from how Melford frames Drácula and Renfield together as they interact rather than isolating them in individual (and isolating) shots.
But what about Eva? Ahh, here is where the real difference lies in the two pictures: the treatment of the woman. For all that she does in the English version, Helen Chandler plays Mina as cold and aristocratic, like most female roles of the time. In Stoker's novel, however, Dracula is far more sexual and the fact that mostly women fall under his thrall implies a certain explicit sexuality which is only implied in Browning's film.
Not so Melford's version. Freed from the binds of the fledgling Production Code, Melford was able to show much more of what Drácula does to Eva and, even if he doesn't show all-out sex, the evidence is far clearer. For one thing, the Melford version actually shows the bite marks as evidence to the viewer, something denied in the Browning version. And please: look at these images here. First, Eva is drawn to Drácula in the night. Helen Chandler would not be wearing the shapely, sheer dress with which Lupita Tovar saunters saucily onto the screen. Even from far away, we can see why Drácula wants her, not to mention what he wants her for. Of course, the implication here is that Eva wants it, too. This shot culminates, by the way, in Drácula lifting his cape and Eva coming under his wing, which he clearly brings down in order to "kiss" her on the neck. Yes, there is a lot of Eva-kissing in this film -- on the hand, on the neck, kiss-kiss everywhere. (Poor Mina never gets to have any fun in Browning's film.)
And just look at her after Drácula has finally had his way with her! Yowza. Doesn't she look like she's about to start singing "I Feel Pretty"? That's because she got some Drác blood in her! Tovar plays Eva in a far more carefree manner than Chandler throughout the film, but the looser attitude really comes across here with the plunging neckline, the loose devil-may-(literally)-care hair and a stance that says "I'm a WOMAN now!!" Her fiancé, Juan, says, "I can hardly believe it! You're a different woman now!" Guess what, bucko: she is. Maybe you should have gotten to her first. By showing us some of these scenes, Melford's version of the Stoker tale not only stays faithful to the novel with its implied sexual tension, but also simply makes much more sense. Give me Lupita Tovar any day... but only if she bites.
This posting is part of the 2006 Vampire Blog-a-Thon, featuring over 40 other blogs all talking about vampire movies. Thanks to Nathaniel at The Film Experience for putting forth the idea! Check this page for information on all the other blogs, although I particularly like these:
- As Little As Possible on Dracula: Dead and Loving It
- Gallery of the Absurd's take on the hypothetical Interview with the Antoinette
- Certifiably Creative's take on Countess Dracula
- Silly Hats Only and George Romero's Martin
- Low Resolution on From Dusk Til Dawn
- Goatdog's take on virtually all of Universal's other Dracula movies, an interesting companion piece to my own
- Burbanked's nostalgic look at vampire box-office gross predictions
- Queering the Apparatus and vampire lesbians
- Zoom-In's appeal for more critical work on The Addiction
- Stinkylulu's hilarious love for Blacula
- Nick's interesting pick of Bram Stoker's Dracula...
- ...which works as counterpoint to Screaming and Punching's take
- Tuwa tackling many vampire flicks
- Boobtubers consider that eternal question: Spike or Angel?
- Novaslim's what-the-hell-is-going-on-her? take on Grace Jones and Vamp