Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mystery and Imagination: Dracula (1968)

Denholm Elliot is Dracula.

Okay I'll let you ponder that a few moments.

Denholm Elliot-Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films- plays Dracula. Not just Dracula but a highly sexual one.

Forgive me its hard for me to get my mind around Elliot playing anything other than a nebishy sort of role, but here he is playing Dracula in performance that has a great deal of gravitas and senusality.

The plot of the film, actually an episode of a English TV show, follows loosely the plot of the novel with Dracula coming to England. There are however major changes, with much of the plot focused on Dracula lusting for Lucy (a young and stunning Susan George) and Jonathan Harker essentially becoming the de facto Renfield.

Its shot in a moody black and white that helps great a tension. For me it was so nice to have the over told tale create any sort of chilly feeling. Dracula's rising for the night from his grave is particularly eerie. And for once his teeth, more bat like and monsterous will scare the dickens out of you.

The real story here is Elliot. He cuts an a fine figure as the blood sucker. Fine? Actually he cuts a commanding figure. His first appearence is a quiet stunner, especially for anyone raised on all of the other versions. His appearence is simple, he stands up from a piano, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses, his face, adorned with a mustache and goatee quietly calm in the face of a crazed lunatic. There is a quiet strength that is lacking in the force of personality performances of Lugosi, Lee and Langella. To be certain all of those Draculas would give Elliot a run for his money in some areas, but in others, Elliot excels. I think Elliot is the more dangerous of them since his quiet demeanor shows clearly why he would have survived for centuries. His sexuality is also wildly amped up. Sure Lee or Langella have a pin up good look to them, but Elliot has something inside, the sort of thing that deepens ones lust from a simple desire to just bump uglies for a night into something more.

Its amazing.

Actually most of it is. The film has two flaws first is the over the top performance of the usually very good Corin Redgrave as the crazed inmate. The other problem is that the pace of the story excellerates in the final 20 minutes and the film becomes less than the previous hour. While it's not bad, it isn't the truly classic first hour. (And I groaned when the ending seemed to have been borrowed from one of the Christopher Lee films.)

A wonderful find and one I'm going to be loaning out.

(And I need to mention I love the way Van Helsing is portrayed, as a man who knows what is going on and what to do but is also terrified because of what the implications are.)

Currently out on DVD in the UK (with the remaining surviving episodes of the TV series). I picked up my copy from a dealer at a nostalgia show.

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