julianblair’s review published on Letterboxd:
Classic Monsters list
Yes, four stars here. I think this is an extraordinarily effective horror from the era when "The New Universal" was starting to turn out pulpy and less accomplished product. It helps that Robert Siodmak, a future standout with films noir, was at the helm. Hans Salter and Charles Previn provide a pleasingly melodramatic score that seems to feature many original passages.
A German emigre in the wake of Hitler's ascent, director Siodmak drenched the film with beautiful shadows. The screenplay keeps things moving and packs a lot into the relatively short 80 minutes. It is a polished and handsome film.
The story was also novel for the times in that it featured a main character, Kay Caldwell, who is seeking to be vampirized in order to share immortality with the love of her life, her childhood sweetheart.
After a chance meeting with Dracula (off-camera) on a trip to Budapest, Kay manipulates Dracula into thinking she wants to be his vampire bride. She's like a grown-up, sophisticated Wednesday Addams (sans the humor). Dracula shows up in New Orleans (Kay is a member of the Plantation Aristocracy) and they get married. This causes her lover/fiance to go insane as she has not let him in on her plan: to marry Dracula, get "transformed" and then have her lover kill Dracula, become a vampire himself, and they both live happily ever after....for eternity. Of course, tragedy ensues for all concerned. The plot is sort of novel for it's day really reminding me of a film noir scenario with doom-laden schemes leading all concerned to oblivion.
Lon Chaney has been criticized over the years for his brusque, non-sophisticated portrayal of The Count. However, I disagree as I accept his rendition for what it is: he is an angry vampire, lonely and carrying a huge chip on his shoulder. Chaney was a big, strapping guy and his belligerent Dracula is highly intimidating. His Dracula reminds me of the feral, no-nonsense vampire in The Night Stalker, the Kolchak pilot film from 1972. I think Chaney's interpretation works in a Universal film that is already offbeat because of its plot and female protagonist.
I am also impressed with the emotive performance of Robert Paige as the fiance. His career was one of many B-films but this role required some real acting and his haunted character is unforgettable. He emerges as a hero yet his victory over Dracula is the very definition of a Pyrrhic Victory.....he loses himself and everything that he loves in doing what he must do to vanquish Dracula. His facial expression in the final scene is incredibly poignant.
Louise Albritton, a reliable ingenue in B-films, rises to the occasion as the benighted Kay. I'm guessing this is probably Albritton's best role.
To me, this and Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman are the last outstanding Universal horrors before the studio began to turn out more mediocre and formulaic films after 1943. These were still handsome and efficient but no longer had the heart of the earlier classics.