DRACULA (1931) B/W 84m dir: Tod Browning
w/Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Herbert Bunston, Frances Dade, Charles Gerrard, Joan Standing, Moon Carroll
From Variety's review of the film: "Treatment differs from both the stage version [by Dean and John Balderston] and the original novel [by Bram Stoker]. On the stage it was a thriller carried to such an extreme that it had a comedy punch by its very outre aspect. On the screen it comes out as a sublimated ghost story related with all surface seriousness and above all with a remarkably effective background of creepy atmosphere.
"Early in the action is a barren rocky mountain pass, peopled only by a spectral coach driver and shrouded in a miasmic mist. Story proceeds thence into a tomb-like castle. In such surroundings the sinister figure of the human vampire, the living-dead Count Dracula who sustains life by drinking the blood of his victims, seems almost plausible.
"It is difficult to think of anybody who could quite match the performance in the vampire part of Bela Lugosi, even to the faint flavor of foreign speech that fits so neatly. Helen Chandler is the blonde type for the clinging-vine heroine, and Herbert Bunston plays the scientist deadly straight, but with a faint suggestion of comedy that dovetails into the whole pattern."
From The Movie Guide: "Creak. The grandaddy of 'em all and ready for mothballs to be put in the coffins. An atmospheric opening is the best part --- moody and full of sinister potential. After that, it's stilted drawing-room talk, variably acted, except for the cultish, over-the-top dementia of Dwight Frye [as Renfield]. Still, DRACULA is the film that started the 1930s horror cycle, secured Universal's position as the horror studio, and made Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi a worldwide curiosity. ...
"While the first part of the film is quite cinematic, mainly due to the brilliant cinematography of Karl Freund, the movie bogs down once it gets to England, after which it appears that director Tod Browning was intent on making a documentary of the stage play. More likely, he lacked the creativity of James Whale, who directed FRANKENSTEIN. While the incidental music (mostly snippets from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake) is kept to a minimum, the sound effects are showing age, with the creaking of coffin lids, opening and slamming of doors, thudding footsteps, actors' voices, and howling of wolves beginning to seem like something out of a Bob Hope spoof. Studio heads felt that the film would do well abroad, so a Spanish-language version starring Carlos Villarias in the Dracula role and featuring a completely new all-Spanish cast, directed by George Melford, was produced with the same sets only days after the English version was completed. Reports have it that this version is even better than the Browning-Lugosi film. We should hope so. A remarkable sequel, DRACULA'S DAUGHTER, followed, featuring the stranger-than-true Gloria Holden."