Monday, 22 June 2015

Dracula (1958 Version) (5 Stars)

This British film, released in America as "Horror of Dracula", is considered by many to be the best ever filming of Bram Stoker's original Dracula novel. There have certainly been a lot of them, more than 50 at the last count. That number only includes the novel adaptations, not new stories written for film only.

By the late 1950's most people considered Bela Lugosi to be the Count Dracula. This film changed everything. Christopher Lee's towering figure was so iconic that many considered him to be a more convincing representation of Dracula. Now, 50 years later, people are divided into two camps. Some prefer Bela Lugosi, some prefer Christopher Lee. I shan't take sides. Both are excellent in their own ways. All I shall say is that in the many, many representations of Dracula in films no other actor comes close to these two.

I've never read Bram Stoker's book. I ought to, one day. Every film makes its own deviations from the original story, and I don't know which film is the most accurate. Let me just state a few things that differ from other films I've seen.

In most films Jonathan Harker is an estate agent travelling to see Count Dracula to close a business deal. In the 1958 film he is an associate of Doctor Van Helsing who goes to the castle with the intention of killing Dracula, using the ruse of accepting a post as the Count's new librarian.

In most films Jonathan Harker lives in London. In the 1958 film he lives in the Austrian city Karlstadt (now part of Croatia).

The characters of Lucy and Mina have been exchanged. In most films Jonathan Harker is engaged to Lucy, and Mina is her best friend. In the 1958 film he is engaged to Mina, while Lucy is married to Mina's brother Arthur Holmwood.

In the 1958 film Jonathan Harker is turned into a vampire and staked by Doctor Van Helsing.

Doctor Van Helsing explains to Arthur Holmwood, who is a major character in the 1958 film, that it's a fallacy that Dracula can change his form into that of a bat or a wolf.

Peter Cushing has the main billing on the poster, since he was a big star at the time. This was the film that made Christopher Lee famous.

It's quite amazing to me that this film had problems with the UK censors when it was released. The scene where Dracula's bride bit Jonathan Harker's neck was considered too extreme, so it had to be removed. In the final version we see her fangs getting close to his neck, but then the camera pulls back and we see him pushing her away, so it's not clear whether he was bitten or not. The screenplay makes it clear that he was indeed bitten, and this is what was filmed, but the original footage has been lost forever.

Why isn't Jonathan looking at her teeth?

This is what happens if you're not careful.

Another problem was that when Dracula approached Lucy in her bed Lucy's facial expression looked too sexual, as if she were enjoying it. What a stupid criticism, even for the 1950's! The original footage still exists, but in the film this was replaced with a close-up of Dracula's face as he approached her.

Dracula's family crest written in bad Latin.

In England the film has been remastered and released on Blu-ray. The Blu-ray release includes a DVD disc, but it's not possible to buy the film on DVD only. This is a good step forwards. DVDs are an old technology. They can still be played by Blu-ray players, so there's no need for people to throw away their old DVD collection, but there is also no need for new films or new releases of old films to be released on DVD. It's totally unnecessary.

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