Saturday, June 24, 2017
Dracula's Daughter the latest Scripts From the Crypt offering
Review by Doug Gibson
The latest BearManorMedia Scripts From the Crypt offering, "Dracula's Daughter" (buy it here) continues the high quality of the cult films books' series. Penned mostly by Gary D Rhodes, it satisfies a constant of our genre fans: it breaks new ground. New nuggets, big and small, of scholarship are unearthed. And, as with all the books, you have Tom Weaver's observations and opinions. Love them or hate them, they are unique and the product of an original mind. There's also an introduction and essay on the music of the film from contributors David Colton and Michael Lee.
The best reading comes from Rhodes' exhaustive treatment of the film's creation. Early on, he discusses the role of women in vampire lore, using Theda Bara and other vamps to explain that vampire once meant a woman who sucked the heart and soul out of their doomed male lovers. This is relevant because later we learn that early treatments for the film included a female vampire who was sexually aggressive and delighted in the torture, degradation and dissipation of her male captives. (I am assuming blog readers have seen "Dracula's Daughter." If not, do so now.) Gloria Holden's sympathetic yet resolute Countess emerged as a result of the watering down of the plot's actions.
As Rhodes' notes, "Dracula's Daughter," a 1936 release, emerged as the moralistic production code was gaining strength. Scripts and treatments for the film endured rough seas with the censors. John Balderston, Kurt Neumann, and RC Sherriff all had their hands on the typewriter. Eventually Garrett Fort's subdued, more sanitized script became the film. Milton Carruth, who edited "Dracula," also impacted "Dracula's Daughter" with his editing, Rhodes notes.
Some of the early treatments would have been interestingly daring. The Countess as a man hunter, entering the film after already killing a lover/slave. She nearly physically, spiritually and mentally destroys the hero before succumbing. Screenwriters assured the Laemmle overlords, soon to lose the studio, that a woman conducting such sexual sadism on men would pass code approval. Witness what Balderston wrote in his treatment: "The use of a female vampire instead of a male gives us the chance to play up SEX and CRUELTY legitimately."
At one time James Whale was slated to direct. He might have been able to convey such a film in a subtle manner to fool the censors. Lambert Hillyer, a talented, workmanlike, solid director who eventually got the role, lacked the Whale magic to do that had he even tried.
We learn that Bela Lugosi was once considered to be in the film. He was even paid $4,000. However, a reading of the fascinating screenplay excerpt, from Sherriff, of a prologue that would have featured Lugosi creating his daughter, is so bizarre and sexually depraved that I think it would have trouble getting made even in the pre-code era. Lugosi, and a bunch of sadistic companions terrorize the peasantry, kidnapping women, and with exaggerated faux grotesque courtesy, torturing and murdering them. "Dracula's Daughter" is made a vampire by the Count.
But that is not the "Dracula's Daughter" that we watch today. It's a fine film with a haunting performance by Gloria Holden. Otto Kruger and Marguerite Churchill are a better hero couple than David Manners and Helen Chandler. Kruger and Churchill actually have romantic chemistry. Irving Pichel is very creepy as Holden's mortal companion, and presumably her lover. His quiet rage at watching Holden prefer Kruger to him as an immortal companion is suitably sinister. Nan Gray (Grey) is great as a poor girl, perhaps streetwalker, who eventually dies, we assume due to the Countess' unquenchable thirst. And Edward Van Sloan is back as Van Helsing, inexplicably called Von Helsing in the sequel.
Yes, Dracula's Daughter is an above-average film. The book informs us that it received generally good reviews and appears to have done well at the box office. But as Weaver rather shrewdly notes, one can watch "Dracula's Daughter" and not be convinced that the title character is really a vampire. We know she is only because that is the script's design. But this is a bloodless film. As Weaver points out, she is killed by an arrow shot through her heart; anyone would die of that.
"Dracula's Daughter," as much as I enjoy it, is neutered by the production code. It's respected within the genre, but never will it be placed anywhere near the pedestal that say, "Bride of Frankenstein" has. "Dracula's Daughter" is not a film that takes risks or tries to pierce our deepest obsessions or fears as James Whale does. It's a worthy entry at a time when Universal was still making at least A-minus budgeted horror flicks. Perhaps its finest moment is that it takes the action back to Transylvania in the final reel, something that "Dracula," still a better film, did not do.
Lest anyone think I am ungrateful, let me reiterate my deep appreciation for writers such as Rhodes and Weaver, and others, as well as thanks to BearManor Media for publishing these types of books. They are manna for me and I'm sure so many others. So much minutiae to eagerly wade through -- we love it! We learn, for example, the salaries of the stars. Holden, incredibly, only received $1,450 for a performance that is almost iconic. Kruger did a great job, but really, $9,583.30 is out of whack compared to Holden. Churchill received $1,250, Van Sloan $2,400, Pichel, who really earns it, $2,950, and unbelievably, Nan Gray (Grey), who probably is second-most remembered due to the much-debated lesbian overtones to her scene with Holden, received a paltry $200!
The entire script as shot is in the book, and as I have mentioned, the many treatments are included. There's a section on contemporary reviews the movie received; there's a fascinating press book. As mentioned, the whole back story of the film is captured, including even a "Junior" Laemmle-inspired treatment for the end. There's dozens of photos, and a tender heart-wrenching letter from Holden late in life to film fan David Del Valle, in which she stoically talks about the tragic death of her son, We even get a treatment for an adaptation of "Carmilla," another female vampire tale. This one wasn't filmed
I could spend many more paragraphs detailing what's in these pages. But just go buy the book. It's a gem. I can't wait for the next one, which is slated to be about two unrealized films from "Dracula" director Tod Browning.