Drácula
October 31, 2010 1:53 PM   Subscribe

It was 1931. Subtitles weren't practical, dubbing had yet to catch on, but Universal Studios wanted their lavish new production of Dracula to play in Latin America. The solution? Shoot a separate film in Spanish on the night shift.

Though Drácula's director, a silent screen veteran named George Melford, could barely speak Spanish, he had already mounted alternate language versions of Boudoir Diplomatique, East is West, and The Cat Creeps; he was comfortable working through an interpreter on a borrowed set. Tod Browning's English production had Bela Lugosi, but Melford had a keen grasp of photography, a game cast, and a surprisingly explicit screenplay. Arguably, he had the better movie.
posted by Iridic (20 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
3:18 in the "the night shift" link... Nicolas Cage is everyone!
posted by infinite intimation at 2:04 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Better? Maybe. It's certainly comparable. I'd say their Dracula isn't as good as Bela Lugosi's, but their Renfield is comparable and the supporting cast is, as a whole, much better. And while I am generally a fan of Tod Browing, his version of the film looks and feels stagy; it is a stage play put on the screen, after all, and he did very little to make it especially cinematic. The Spanish version in the meanwhile, generally has a more fluid camera and better framing. Browning's version feels flat, this feels lively. It's well worth watching.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:07 PM on October 31, 2010


Cool post. I'm planning on going to see this next month at the Three River's Film Festival. There's no subtitles available so performers are going to translate live in the theater.
posted by octothorpe at 2:23 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is very cool. I just watched Dracula for the first time last night. I love watching movies dubbed into other languages; many times it makes the movie feel more "right" to me, especially if it's an animated movie or in the movie's "native" language. Neither of those are the case here of course but I still enjoyed watching it.
posted by amethysts at 2:34 PM on October 31, 2010


I don't know why more movies don't do this, it seems like it would be easy to do extra takes of various scenes in various languages.
posted by delmoi at 3:16 PM on October 31, 2010


Speaking of Vampires that's exactly what Werner Herzog did with his version of Nosferatu - they'd film a scene in German and then do exactly the same scene with the same actors in English. Two almost identical films in two different languages without any dubbing needed!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 3:42 PM on October 31, 2010


They don't do this any more because subtitles are obviously cheap, and any cost-savings you would get be re-using sets and equipment would be swallowed up by increased labor costs of running a production constantly on off-hours. Dracula was filmed prior to the National Labor Relations Act, which gave Hollywood unions enormous leverage.

But besides cheap subtitles ... People want to see their favorite stars, not also-rans that happen to be native speakers, even if they are qualitatively better actors. The rise of truly mass media meant people wanted to see Clark Gable, not Carlos Gabrielino.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:47 PM on October 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


I remember watching this in Spanish class in high school. It was a very well done movie and I liked it. A good movie for students and educators.
posted by antgly at 3:50 PM on October 31, 2010


I don't know why more movies don't do this, it seems like it would be easy to do extra takes of various scenes in various languages.

This actually was common practice for a time in the early 1930s, at least for some studios. Here's a web page from 2004 talking about the multiple language versions of several Laurel and Hardy shorts from the early talkie period.
posted by briank at 3:51 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


This actually was common practice for a time in the early 1930s

For instance, for the Threepenny Opera: German and French.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:10 PM on October 31, 2010


I believe Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street/Tote Taube in der Beethovenstraße was filmed partly in English and partly in German and then dubbed to make an English version and a German version. (I believe the two versions have slightly different edits as well.) Irritatingly, I can't find clear confirmation of this other than my memory. The German version has scenes that are clearly dubbed and the English-language clip above appears undubbed. The only clip I can find from a German broadcast is an un-subtitled, un-dubbed scene in English.
posted by hoyland at 4:35 PM on October 31, 2010


I would like the brief-history-of-subtitles link even if it hadn't brought "sciopticon" into my vocabulary. But it did, so I like it even more. Sciopticon!
posted by Drastic at 5:41 PM on October 31, 2010


I saw this at Lincoln Center a few weeks ago, with live musical accompaniment (no extra cost), since one thing the movie is lacking is a score. I thought it started strong but dragged out a bit once the story moved to the city. Still, absolutely worth catching.
posted by mdn at 6:31 PM on October 31, 2010


Up until fairly recently, the strategy in Hong Kong cinema was to have all the actors speak their own language on the set (be that Mandarin, Cantonese, or even English) and then just dub over everything in post anyway. That must've made for some surreal on-set experiences.
posted by ErWenn at 7:35 PM on October 31, 2010


With the exception of Carlos Villarias, every actor in the Spanish version was in every way better than their counterparts in the English version. I very much prefer the Spanish version, but Bela Lugosi's performance in the English version is so mesmerizing that he somehow manages to take a stagy production to another plane, in spite of some of Tod Browning's least inspired directing. Too bad he couldn't have also starred in the Spanish version.

Oh well.
posted by motown missile at 9:51 PM on October 31, 2010


I don't know why more movies don't do this, it seems like it would be easy to do extra takes of various scenes in various languages.

Indian movies routinely do this. Most recent blockbusters have been made simultaneously in 2 or 3 languages, with usually the same crew and sometimes (but not always!) the same actors. The story, direction, flow, even the respective tunes of songs are often the same.

[A childhood fascination was these poetic translations; used to think it was the ultimate in literary feats to be able to retain the meaning and chords across languages. Still do, in fact. Even 'translated' a few classic country songs into Telugu. Different tale that. :) ]

Occasionally, they have in-jokes between two versions; in a recent flick shot simultaneously in Tamil and Telugu about a love-lorn wannabe movie-director, they showed the other version being shot by the hero in question. (That is to say, the Telugu version showed the protagonist directing the Tamil version; vice-versa for the Tamil version) I'm told the endings in both are marginally different; dude gets the girl in one version, but doesn't in another. Another upcoming movie will show the protagonist in the Telugu version playing the villain in the Tamil version, and likewise, the hero in the Tamil version playing the villain in the Telugu version. All good fun for us multi-linguals.

All of this is a reflection of a generations-old tradition of cross-language dubbing, simultaneous makes, remakes and so on. It goes all the way to the very first talkies in India; all started when a once errand-boy, and eventual revered cine-legend, LV Prasad, starred in the first movies in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil respectively.

I remember reading that close to 40% of all films registered in the respective South Indian languages are either dubs or simultaneous makes.
posted by the cydonian at 10:02 PM on October 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why? Why does the presenter of the night shift link have to shout?
posted by greymullet at 4:26 AM on November 1, 2010


Iridic: "Though Drácula's director, a silent screen veteran named George Melford, could barely speak Spanish, he had already mounted alternate language versions ... ; he was comfortable working through an interpreter "

I've always been confused about that. Whenever I see an English language movie with a significant portion in another language, I wonder if there's some shadow director actually doing all of the heavy lifting on those scenes. Even if you had a working familiarity with a second language, you wouldn't be able to pick out a stilted performance unless you were completely fluent, would you?
posted by roll truck roll at 8:10 AM on November 1, 2010


Whenever I see an English language movie with a significant portion in another language, I wonder if there's some shadow director actually doing all of the heavy lifting on those scenes.

I wondered about the same thing with Quentin Tarantino and Inglourious Bastereds. More than half the movie is in either French or German, including all of the key scenes. One scene hinges on three characters with three different German accents -- two real and one from a non-native speaker. I've always wondered if a native German would actually hear differences.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:19 AM on November 1, 2010


I wonder if there's some shadow director actually doing all of the heavy lifting on those scenes

I'm afraid I overlooked Enrique Tovar Ávalos , uncredited director of Drácula, and Baltasar Fernández Cué, author of the adapted screenplay, in my initial research. Note that both had worked with Melford on Don Juan Diplomático, Oriente es Occidente, and La Voluntad del Muerto - the aforementioned Spanish versions of Boudoir Diplomatique, East is West, and The Cat Creeps. The two probably had a lot to do with Drácula's success.
posted by Iridic at 11:31 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


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