In Memoriam: Actress Lupita Tovar (1910-2016)

dracula-spanish-version

Lupita Tovar as “Mina” in the 1931 Spanish-language version of “Dracula”

Lupita Tovar, a Mexican-American actress who starred in the 1931 Spanish language version of Dracula, passed away last Friday.  She was 106.

Horror movie aficionados are well acquainted with Bela Lugosi’s iconic portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 version of that tale.  However, some of us may not know about a Spanish-language version which was released at the same time as Lugosi’s film.

In 1931, sound technology was still in the developmental stage, and dubbing was not yet routinely done.  Instead, Hollywood frequently produced foreign language replicas of English-language movies for Spanish, French, Italian, and German-speaking countries.

So it was for Dracula.  When the English-language cast finished their day time shift, a second Spanish-language group took over and worked through the night, using the sets and costumes of the previous shift.  The result was a film which duplicates, scene for scene, the Dracula movie that most of us are familiar with.

Well….almost duplicates.  The differences in characterization are fascinating.  For example, Ms. Tovar’s portrayal of “Mina” is much more sexual and assertive than that of Helen Chandler, who plays the English-language counterpart.  Unfortunately, Carlos Villarías as “Dracula” suffers in comparison to Bela Lugosi.

Regardless, I would strongly recommend viewing this film in both languages.  You can purchase a DVD compilation of both movies at amazon.com.  On the compilation is some fascinating commentary from Ms. Tovar about her role in the filming of the Spanish-language version of Dracula.

For more information about Ms. Tovar’s life and career, please see the following sources:

-http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-lupita-tovar-20161114-story.html

-“Lupita Tovar”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  16 November 2016.  Web.  16 November 2016.

– “Drácula (1931 Spanish-language film)” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 13 November 2016.  Web.  16 November 2016.

The DVD can be found through the link below:

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The Golem (1920, silent film)

golem2

Long before author Mary Shelley thought up the infamous Frankenstein monster, there existed a legend in Jewish folklore concerning an inanimate lump of clay brought to life in order to save the Jews.  This was the legend of the Golem.

The most famous version of this tale comes from medieval Prague:  The Jewish population is in danger of banishment by local Christian authorities.  In response, the head rabbi of Prague creates the Golem for protection against the oppressors.  The plan works, and the Jews are safe…for a while.  Unfortunately, the rabbi loses control of his creation, and the Golem goes on a murderous rampage.

The story of the Golem was first brought to the screen in 1915 by German director Paul Wegener, who also played the title role.  Although the 1915 film was lost, Wegener made another Golem film in 1920 which survives today.

The Golem essentially follows the old Prague legend, and is photographed in German expressionist style.  All of the scenes, especially the interiors, emphasize sharp angles and exaggerated form.  For example, in an early scene we see a spiral staircase descending within what looks like a cutaway of a conch shell.  Buildings and towers are vertically elongated to the point of surrealism.  The lighting in each scene is done in chiaroscuro, thus heightening the eeriness of the tale.  Even without subtitles or plot, each section in this film is fascinating to look at.

For those interested in early examples of cinematographer Karl Freund’s work, as well as examples of German expressionist film style, I would strongly recommend this picture.  Although I found a free copy on youtube.com, I must say that the print looked somewhat worn.  I checked out amazon.com and found that there is a restored version of the film on DVD.  Either way, it’s worth a view.

Note:  Karl Freund, who shot The Golem, was also known for photographing director Fritz Lang’s science fiction movie Metropolis (1927) and Todd Browning’s Dracula (1931).  He left Europe for America in 1929.  Freund, who was Jewish, returned to Germany in 1937 and brought his daughter Gerda back to the U.S.  By doing so, he almost certainly saved her from death in the Nazi concentration camps.

Pluses:  Magnificent cinematography, unique plot

Minus:  YouTube version not good.  Look for DVD on amazon.com

Cast:  Paul Wegener, Albert Steinruck, Lyda Salmonova, Ernst Deutsch, Lothar Muthel

Director:  Paul Wegener

Rating:  Unrated

Black and White

Length:  91 minutes

Sources:

“Karl Freund”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  8 October 2016.  Web.  28 October 2016.

“Golem” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  28 October 2016.  Web.  28 October 2016.

Image obtained through Bing Public Domain.

 

 

 

 

 

I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

I really, REALLY promise that this week, I will review a movie out in the theatres.  But Turner Classic Movies is showing some delicious classic horror movies for Halloween, and I simply cannot resist mentioning one of them.

I Walked with a Zombie was one of several low-budget, high-quality horror movies produced by Val Lewton during the 1940’s.  Although the title might indicate otherwise, the plot of this film is well-conceived, even thoughtful.  A nurse (Frances Dee) accepts a job caring for a zombie-like encephalitis patient on a tropical island.  The patient’s husband, a sugar plantation owner, is also the descendant of people who brought slaves to the island.  The descendants of the slaves make up the majority population.  The sorrowful history of the islanders is symbolized by an ancient slave-ship figurehead which stands in the courtyard of the plantation owner’s house.

During her stay on the island, the nurse encounters family secrets, as well as the consequences of the plantation family’s tense relationship with the rest of the islanders.  All of this is referenced in songs performed by a calypso singer (Sir Lancelot), who turns up during key points in the plot.

Look for a sequence involving the nurse walking the patient to a voodoo healing ritual.  The scene is about 10 minutes long and is performed without any dialog.  All you hear are the sounds of intricate native drumming cadences which accompany the women to their destination.  The sequence is sinister and poetic at the same time.

So if you’re into movie history, and would like to see an excellent example of what a talented producer and director can do with a small budget, please see this movie.  It’s worth your time.

Pluses:  Solid plot, evocative cinematography.  Love Sir Lancelot!

Minus:  Low production values.  Acting not bad, but not Academy-caliber

Cast:  James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett, Sir Lancelot

Director:  Jacques Tourneur

Rating:  Unrated

Black and White

This film will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on October 31, 2016, 8:30am.  You can also find it on amazon.com Prime or Instant Video.  In addition, amazon.com offers a $9.99 DVD including this film and other classic Val Lewton productions:  Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, and The Body Snatcher.  The title of the DVD is TCM Greatest Classic Films:  Val Lewton.  My personal favorite is The Body Snatcher (1945), based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel.  It stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and the wonderful character actor Henry Daniell. 

 

 

 

 

The Haunting (1963)

“….Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.”  The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

In general, the haunted house genre features homes infiltrated by ghosts, poltergeists, demons, et al.  The Haunting, a movie based on Shirley Jackson’s exquisitely written novel, is unique in that it concerns a dwelling which in and of itself is bad.

Hill House, an old Victorian mansion somewhere in New England, has been the scene of several ghastly deaths since its inception.  A professor of psychic phenomenon and three clairvoyants stay overnight in the house to find out why.  They get more than they bargain for.  One of them will not survive the experience.

Pluses:  All of the performances, especially that of Julie Harris, are fine.  Davis Boultons’ cinematography makes Hill House the central character in this picture.  Unlike modern horror cinema, all of the scares in this movie are implied, not explicit.  You don’t get to see one ghost or one drop of blood.

Minus:  I honestly can’t think of any.  If you have never seen this movie, please do so.  Just remember:  Don’t watch it by yourself.

Cast:  Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn

Director:  Robert Wise

Rating:  Unrated

Black and White

This film will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on October 31, 2016, 6pm.  You can also find it on amazon.com Prime or Instant Video.