Hello. Since this is my first blog post for Black Gate, I feel that an introduction is in order. My name is John Miller and I am a writer. My name is a both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is short and simple and easy to remember, a curse because it’s common and as easy to forget as it is to remember. I have written under the name of J. J. Miller (only when I was young, and somewhat under the influence of E. E. Smith), as John J. Miller, and, finally, as John Jos. Miller, when I had to differentiate myself from the other John J. Millers of the world. (Also, as simply John Miller, but only for my technical archeological reports and papers. You can try to track down “Resource Allocation Strategies on the Navajo Reservation in the Early Twentieth Century,” but good luck in finding it.) I’ve been told that I probably should use a pseudonym (I did write one novel under a pseudonym, but that was not my choice.), but I am stubborn and bad at self promotion and John Miller is my name (along with tens of thousands of other Americans) and I’m sticking with it.
I read a lot of stuff and watch a lot of stuff and like to share my opinion of what I like and don’t like. Who doesn’t? I have my prejudices, which I will admit up front. I don’t like torture porn or most slasher movies. I don’t like most modern Rom Coms. I don’t like movies where the whole point is that the characters are stupid. Dumb and Dumber? I don’t think so. (Once I actually paid money to see an Adam Sandler movie and I’ve regretted that ever since.) I really don’t like movies where they shoot the dog. (The exception that proves this point is John Wick. I’ve seen it three or four times, but not the scene where they kill the dog. Sometime I’ll have to tell you about the discussion I had with George R.R. Martin as to why Old Yeller is a terrible children’s movie.)
Rating movies under a five star system is insufficient, even if you cheat by halving the stars. I use a modified IMBD 10-1 system, but to add a soupcon of nuance, I use a “plus,” so my scale actually runs from 10+ to 1.
I almost always finish everything, book, novel, or movie, that I start. Thing is, I’m willing to take the bullet so you don’t have to. That’s what I’m here for, but mainly I like to share things I like, so let’s get down to it already.
Back in the good old days when talkies were starting to be the rage, Universal Studios made a movie called Dracula. You may have heard of it. What’s less known is that the penny-pinching studio, having invested all that money in those fabulous sets, decided to film a Spanish-language version of Dracula, called Dracula (unfortunately, my keyboard doesn’t allow me to put the accent over the first “A”) at night, using the same sets, the same script, an entirely different cast, a different director, and a different cinematographer. For many years this was a “lost” movie with only an incomplete version known to exist until a whole copy was found in a Cuban film archive. It’s now readily available in the Dracula volume of the Universal Monster Movie Series. It’s no longer a lost movie, but since Dracula has 43,500 IMBD ratings and Dracula (with an accent over the first “a”) has about 3,800, the Spanish version does need a little talking-up.
So how’d that all work out? Pretty well, actually.
The English language version rates as 7.5 on IMDB, the Spanish-language version as 7.2, both low in my opinion. It’s become fashionable these days to downplay the Lugosi version as too static, too stagey, too hokey, but it has to be judged in the context of its time. Very few of the films made so early in the talkie stage are watched today, and there’s reasons for that. The industry was in its infancy, still finding its way and form. Dracula was an amazing piece of work for its time and had an incredible effect on me when I first saw it back in the 1960’s. The sets are magnificent. Browning, as a director was somewhat static, but I don’t watch films for fancy camera shots. Overall Karl Freund’s cinematography is, even today, spectacular. And Bela. You just can’t beat him with a stick. A stake, maybe. But his performance – alongside that of most of the cast – is stellar. (Okay, David Manners is a dork, but then his character is pretty much a dork, anyway.) If you don’t believe me, check out Roger Ebert’s review. He considers it a classic, and he’s right.
The Spanish language version is equal to the task. The sets are still magnificent. The cast does a good job. Carlos Villarias is a little chubby-cheeked and not as suavely sinister as Lugosi. Lupita Tovar (as Eva, not Mina) is fine as the Count’s love interest (Her boyfriend, Juan Harker, is something of a dork, too.). Eduardo Arozamena, as Dr. Van Helsing unfortunately reminds me of Eugene Levy, but that’s hardly his fault.
Carlos Villarias as Dracula
The cinematography is fancier. Director George Melford added some nice tracking shots that Browning’s version lacks, but then he had the advantage of seeing the rushes from the daytime filming and was constantly trying to improve on them. Melford helmed some 231 movies as director (most of them silents; he directed, for example, Valentino’s The Sheik) and appeared in 130 as an actor (most in small uncredited roles).
Lupita Tovar as Eva
The major difference between the two is that the Spanish language version runs 104 minutes, the English one 75, despite being made from the same script. Basically, there’s more dialog in the Spanish version, although it doesn’t seem overly talky to me. At least one scene from the English version is missing in the Spanish film (The scene where Lugosi preys on the flower girl before going to the concert.) and one scene lacking in the English version is added. (An important one where Dr. Van Helsing and good old Juan are seen coming out of a graveyard where they’d just staked Dracula’s first victim, who, in this version is named Lucia.)
Which film is better? Honestly, I can’t say. Sometimes you want a chimichanga, sometimes you want a steak sandwich. Both are great. Both score solid 10’s in my rating system, must-sees.
John Jos. Miller’s latest publication is “The Ghost of a Smile,” in Dreamforge Magazine #4, December, 2019 (Tangent recommended reading list 2019). Next up: “An Annotated Long Night at the Palmer House” at Wild Cards Blog, Tor.com (May 2020) www.facebook.com/john.j.miller.9883