Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Tod Browning's Dracula – review

Author: Gary D Rhodes

First published: 2015

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Few movies in film history have resonated with audiences as deeply and for as many years as Universal’s original 1931 version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi as the vampire count. Filmmaker and film historian Gary D. Rhodes brings years of research to fruition, providing conclusive answers to everything you ever wanted to know this iconic film. Overflowing with newly unearthed information and fresh analysis, and fully illustrated, Tod Browning’s Dracula is one of the most in-depth books ever published on a single film.

Tod Browning’s Dracula by Gary D. Rhodes is the first in a collectible series of books on the world’s most iconic, classic horror films.

The review: If you ever wanted to know all you could about the development, pre-production, production and post-production of the original Universal version of Dracula then this is the book. Rhodes has written the book as a scholar, a fan and cinema detective – unearthing much never before revealed about the film. The film has been, as Rhodes recognises, maligned by modern critics (especially, Rhodes suggests, by Skal) – Rhodes comes at the film from a positive, supportive position and rescues the film from the negativity both scientifically (he can absolutely pull criticism of pacing, compared to contemporary films, and camera movement apart with statistical analysis), with journalistic research and with passion.

The first chapter actually looks at the vampire in terms of America (as Universal made their film primarily for an American audience) and suggests a use of the word vampire (in a newspaper) in English prior to any known use (by a matter of days). I don’t think Rhodes was aware of the significance of the date he quotes and (at time of writing) friend of the blog Anthony Hogg is trying to ascertain whether that date is accurate or in error. The book vividly draws attention to things such as the state, both, of the American economy and Universal’s profits when the film was made. This leads to a supposition as to why the Lucy resolution wasn’t filmed – one of the aspects I mentioned as unfortunately missing in my review.

Like myself, Rhodes does not subscribe to the Spanish language Dracula being superior but does walk the reader through that film. One nit that I must pick however was in Rhodes assertion that “the term does “Nosferatu” (sic) not appear in either Stoker or Deane-Balderstone, and so it is likely that the title of Murnau’s film prompted its usage in their script” (p132) – referencing the script prepared by Louis Bromfield and Dudley Murphy. This is simply not true as the word nosferatu appears in Stoker twice (though where the screenwriters took the name from is obviously not known).

That significant boo-boo aside, this is an excellent look at an essential part of filmmaking, not just within the vampire genre but in horror films generally. 9 out of 10.

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