by George Melford & Enrique Tovar Ávalos
Whether it was Melford and Ávalos's doing or they simply had a better cast, the acting is much better and much more natural. Carlos Villarías has a kind of scary desperation to him (thanks to Melford's zoom lens) though he's kinda goofy looking by modern standards, but he's the exception. The rest of the cast has a modernity and a flow missing from the Browning Version. Eduardo Arozamena's Van Helsing and Pablo Álvarez Rubio's Renfield are two types that still exist today, the mildly comedic rube. Both Rubio and Arozamena have scenes where they're surprised by the supernatural and genuinely seem so, instead of the overwrought ignorance and pomposity of their respective English language counterparts. See this film's Renfield actually get scared of seeing a bat driving his carriage to castle Dracula, and of his host passing through spider webs without breaking them (an excellent touch) and of the doors opening on their own. Marvel as Van Helsing is just as terrified as he is excited by Drácula's invisibility in a vanity mirror. That is how people would actually respond to the supernatural. We aren't immune to things, because we aren't characters in fucking pictures, are we? Van Helsing is just a doctor out to prove a wildly improbable hypothesis, not a priggish superhero. He's just as susceptible to the fantastic idea of their actually being a vampire and so his fishing for answers from Renfield and Eva makes sense: he wants credit for a discovery so his colleagues will believe him. Also, Melford's decision to make him fall under Drácula's spell is both wise and in character; it gives him an opportunity to show the villains' one weakness and the hero's cunning without totally deflating both of them and the film in the progress. And moving back to Eva for a moment, Lupita Tovar's posture, indeed the way she carries herself, is...well, people still walk like her today. She wasn't capital A acting, but she manages to be a heroine you can root for and actually picture off a film set. There is also a tenderness between her and José Soriano Viosca's Dr. Seward that is wholly absent from the Browning Version. You believe that he's her father.
The final point I want to mention is Melford's tackling of the sexual subtext of Stoker's novel. But for the plot making the point, Browning was content for his film to have zero sexual tension; Will Hays probably had a hand in that, but still, his film is as sexy as a rerun of Antiques Roadshow. Drácula, on the other hand, does something with its subtext. Well there's the inclusion of the Lucía subplot; the scene where Van Helsing and Juan leave the cemetery just having put a stake in her heart has a definite ring of violation and coming of age to it, as it did in Stoker's novel. And finally there is Lupita Tovar and her cleavage. Melford decides to make Eva Seward's falling under the spell of the vampire and his promise of sex out of wedlock visual as well mental (though I've never understood this about Stoker's novel; the dude has three wives who look bored as shit; is this a critique of divorce or polygamy or...what, exactly? The promise he delivers of loving Mina/Eva forever sounds an awful lot like marriage, so what's everyone so buggered about? That he's a foreigner? He's got money enough to buy Carfax Abbey and he's clearly more interesting than whitebread Jonathan Harker. The argument thus becomes marry the globetrotting romantic with the accent or the boring white kid from down the street? That doesn't sound like something you need to consult a doctor about, let the girl live for Christ's sakes, she's young!) As Eva falls under Drácula's spell she begins to dress in progressively provocative outfits. The dress she wears when Drácula calls her out into the yard shows her nipples and in the scenes preceding her abduction both the angle that Melford shoots from, the dress she wears and her constant heaving and jostling make it possible to see more than you'd get in an American film until the likes of Russ Meyer arrived on the scene more than twenty years later. So as I gazed at her neckline, I kept wondering just how much cleavage they were going to get away with. Granted the Spanish had no production code or anything else I guess and so as I stared I wondered what Melford and the others on set must have been feeling when they shot that scene of her breathless on the balcony. The scene screams as loud as it can, as if the director had just come and said "The movie's about sex, yeah? Well how about some!?" Did Melford know that no one who spoke his language would see his movie intact until some 70 years later when many would fail to grasp the significance of his daring? His understanding of the novel and his disdain for the standards of the time mean that Lupita Tovar's breasts are of the earliest and most enduring 'fuck you's Uncle Sam ever got.