This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I'm actively flaring again, which includes (among other things) lots of lying down in pain. I slept most of the day, and awakened to a deluge of rain. It seemed the perfect time to revisit Dracula.
I recently wrote a blog piece for Flickchart, The Top 10 Universal Monsters Movies. It isn't my personal top 10, but rather the top ten from the global list generated by the entire Flickchart community. Dracula is #3. This was probably my half dozenth viewing of the film, and while I continue to be conscious of how static it is throughout, the sets are impressive and it's hard to resist the cast. It's Bela Lugosi who carries the picture, though he has a lot of help from Dwight Frye and Edward Van Sloan. I have to believe it's the appeal of the cast that explains why Dracula has endured these 82 years and stands at #3 on the Flickchart list.
Much as I adore the film, it really has been something of an overachiever. I don't fault the absence of scored music; that was common in the early days of talkies until King Kong in 1933. There are a few tracking shots that are energetic, chief among them that shot of Renfield's perspective up the stairs to see Dracula, but by and large Dracula feels like what it really is: a filmed play (based on the 1924 stage production written by Hamilton Deane & John L. Balderston).
What keeps Dracula from being a 5-star movie for me is how perfunctory its narrative is. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is how throwaway the character of Lucy is. She exists in just four scenes: Once meeting Count Dracula in the opera box, then swooning over Dracula to Mina, ravaged by Dracula, and then as a corpse being examined by Dr. Van Helsing. Mina mentions being approached by Undead Lucy in a subsequent scene, but since we don't see that for ourselves and since there's no follow-up of any kind with Lucy, that may well have been a hallucination. If so, it would be the only event chalked up to wild imagination that really was, which makes the subplot all the more glaring.
Why Mina? What made her so special to Dracula? We see him casually attack a flower-selling young woman on the streets of London his first night in town, and then Lucy seems to be more interesting to him, but what made Mina so extraordinarily special that instead of outright killing her, he dragged out the process? Was she being killed slowly? Or was she being turned into another vampire bride? For that matter, what became of the brides in Transylvania? It's just a bit too sloppy for my taste.
A scene of Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker finding Undead Lucy walking about and killing her was part of Bram Stoker's novel and the screenplay, but not filmed. A shame, because that would have dramatically improved the narrative in any number of ways, not least of which being the most powerful scene in the whole film!
Still, rather than dislike the film for what it isn't, I prefer to enjoy it for what it is, and what it is is pretty fun. Charles K. Gerrard, as Martin, cracks me up every time with his line: "They're all crazy. They're all crazy, except me and you. And sometimes, I have me doubts about you!"
Dracula Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#278/1584)
Dracula > The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad --> #278
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is livelier, certainly, but Dracula features that iconic performance by Bela Lugosi and that's enough for the win here.
Dracula > Summertime --> #278
I was going to say something about each of these two films but now all I can think of his how amazing it would have been if David Lean had made a Dracula movie.
Dracula > Wedding Crashers --> #198
While watching each of these, I probably was more entertained by Wedding Crashers, but I care more about Dracula.
Dracula > Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979) --> #99
Ouch! I love me some Universal Monsters *and* John le Carre. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a spot-on adaptation, creating the appropriate slow burn for that story. Dracula is simply sluggish at times, but somehow I find myself more fascinated by it.
Dracula < Braveheart --> #99
Though I do love Dracula, Braveheart is so full of win that I overlook its historical inaccuracies and can even set aside how offensive Mel Gibson really is while I'm watching it. Plus: Sophie Marceau!
Dracula < Batman Forever --> #99
Two personal faves here. Yes, Dracula is an icon of cinema and I love Lugosi in it. But here I favor Batman Forever. It annoys me when people retroactively malign it because of Batman & Robin. In 1995, everyone loved it.
Dracula > Toy Story 3 --> #86
Ask me the next time I watch Toy Story 3 and I'll probably pick that instead, but this time, I just re-watched Dracula and it gets the nod.
Dracula < Frankenstein --> #86
On 1 February 2010, I wrote: "Tod Browning's Dracula is too stoic; even though the cast is good (and Legosi iconic), it's never really an engaging picture to watch. James Whale's Frankenstein, on the other hand, is a standout of cinema in nearly every regard." I was probably harsh on Dracula there, but I stand by the overall reasoning for picking Frankenstein.
Dracula > Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol --> #83
This is another case where my answer will vary depending on my mood. Right now, I'm more in a Dracula mood.
Dracula > Sideways --> #82
"I never drink...wine."
Dracula < Up --> #82
I've never cared for the dogs in Up, but it's hard to deny the power of its opening and the emotional core of the story. It's compelling enough to best Bela Lugosi's iconic turn in Dracula.
Dracula was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #82/1584