Friday, December 9, 2016

Drakula Halala -- the first filmed Dracula

Recap by Doug Gibson

"Drakula Halala," a 1921 Hungarian/Austrian film, is considered the first "adaptation" of the Bram Stoker novel. The film is lost; all that remains are stills and news reports, including a small novelization of the film. Above are the stars of the film, Paul Askonas as Drakula, and Margit Lux as Mary Land, the young lovely he menaces.

Scholar Gary D. Rhodes has the past several years become the man who fills in the pieces of a 50,000-word puzzle of the history of Dracula, Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood. Rhodes recently wrote an essay on the history of "Drakula Halala," which more or less means "Dracula's Death." He also translated the novella from the Hungarian.

I've always been fascinated with this film, and I am appreciative of Rhodes' essay, which will be the template for this post. The essay is part of a new book that Rhodes has co-edited with Olaf Brill, Expressionism in the Cinema, published by Edinburgh University Press.

Rhodes is the postgraduate director for Film Studies at the Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Brill is a German writer on film with an impressive resume. Rhodes notes that from his research, it seems that "Drakula Halala" was an expressionistic film. In what makes one ache to see this lost film, he sees similarities with "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." Certainly, the novella compares to Caligari in plot.

I urge readers to buy Expressionism in the Cinema and learn more about "Drakula Halala." I will present a short recap of Rhodes' translation of the novella and afterwards mention a few facts unearthed by Rhodes in the chapter.

The melodrama, suffering, despair and pessimism that is ingrained in the Hungarian culture is represented in Rhodes' translation. Mary Land lives alone, a seamstress working long hours to support her father, confined to a mental institution after the death of his wife. The family was once happy and wealthy, but all that is gone. Mary's boyfriend, a woodcutter named George, implores her to rest but Mary will not.

Eventually, Mr Land's death appears near and Mary and George travel to the asylum. Left there by George, Mary talks with Dr. Tillner. Left alone she is accosted by several of the inmates, including a sadistic man, Drakula, who believes he is immortal. Another, who laughs, is called the "Funny Man." Mary visits her father, who dies. Overcome by sorrow and the fear of Drakula and other inmates who visit her and pretend to be doctors, Mary is advised to spend the night in the asylum.

That night, alone, Mary is kidnapped by Drakula and taken to his castle, where he says, they will be married. Mary's revulsion, her cross and the light push Drakula away from her. He promises to return for their wedding when night comes. That evening there is an elaborate wedding ceremony prepared with other brides of Drakula. It's a strange ceremony, with elaborate lights, shrill music and flowers flowing from the ceiling. Just before Drakula kisses her, Mary pushes the cross toward him. Everyone flees, including Mary.

Outside the castle, Mary is rescued by a family. An attempt by Drakula to recapture her fails. A real doctor cares for her until he is led away on a fool's errand by Drakula. He returns to Mary before any harm can come to her. Nevertheless, thoughts of Drakula torture her in her bed, and seeking relief, she runs out of the house and into the cold snow.

We then cut back to the asylum, where Dr. Tillner is conducting his rounds. Mary is sleeping. The nurse informs the doctor she's had a terrible night of bad dreams.

Mary's kidnapping, attempted marriage and flight was all a dream.

Outside, in the courtroom, the mental patients are gathered. The "Funny Man" has a gun. Seizing an opportunity to prove his immortality, Drakula goads the "Funny Man" into shooting him. He does and Drakula dies.

George returns to gather Mary. They return home to a lifetime of happiness.  Mary requests that no one ever speak of Drakula, and asks that a manuscript of his be burnt. (Below is a still of the wedding scene in "Dracula Halala.")

The film, if the novella is correct, is hardly Stoker's "Dracula." Maybe they wanted to exploit the Dracula cultural sensation without paying any royalties to Stoker's widow, Florence. In later years, she would shut down "Nosferatu" and nearly destroy every print due to copyright violation.

The director of "Drakula Halala" was Karoly Lajthay, who acted in films with a young Bela Lugosi. It was shot mostly in Vienna but created by Hungarians. Interiors were shot in Budapest. Askonas had also played the sinister, mesmerizing Svengali in a 1912 version of "Trilby." Lux has appeared in the Mihaly Kertesz co-directed "Alraune."

Kertesz later became the famous director Michael Curtiz. He worked with Lugosi, his future expatriate, in Hungarian cinema. Curtiz was one of three screen writers credited for "Drakula Halala."

Rhodes' recounts publicity and advertising efforts for the film. There were expectations of a long showing of the film in Hungary. But that didn't happen. The film premiered in Vienna in 1921 but only played briefly in Budapest during the spring of 1921.

It's anyone guess as to why the film had a limited showing. Rhodes merits our appreciation for unearthing the information he has discovered. It may be that tucked away, forgotten in an Eastern European film vault, exists a print of "Dracula Halala." Only time well tell. Rhodes, nevertheless, has intrigued us enough to want to know more about the "first Dracula film."

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