Since its re-release in 1993 the Spanish version of Drácula (1931) has generated a debate regarding its merits relative to Tod Browning’s Dracula, filmed simultaneously on the same stages. There is no doubt that director George Melford surpassed Browning in many respects, and delivered a somewhat more robust film, but the absence of Lugosi ultimately consigns Drácula to second rank status.
However, Drácula can claim its place in history as the first sexy vampire film, thanks mainly to the female lead, Lupita Tovar and her costumer.
The movies did not introduce sex to Dracula. The novel had plenty of it, just take a taste of this sample:
“The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.”
But until Drácula, this aspect of vampirism was neglected. The only real vampire film prior to 1931 was Nosferatu (1922), which featured a repulsive vampire and a female victim who chastely kept her assailant at bay until sunrise destroyed him. Browning’s Dracula had no overt sexuality either, although thousands of women swooned over Lugosi’s commanding glare.
In Drácula, the vampire’s kiss unleashes Eva’s (Tovar) libido. She flounces around the house in a diaphanous gown with abundant cleavage, shocking her father and fiance, Juan. Moreover, she seems in a state of high arousal, and winds up pouncing on poor Juan, teeth bared.
In Browning’s Dracula, Helen Chandler’s Mina is safely bundled up in a gown that bares no significant flesh. Compare the two photos below to see what a dramatically different approach the two films took.
And unlike the vivacious Tovar, Chandler’s Mina seems more like a hungry chipmunk eying a walnut. Her attack isn’t even shown, we are just treated to an off-screen cry of shock from the effeminate David Manners.
It’s tempting to blame the difference in approach to the relative liberality of English-speaking versus Spanish-speaking markets. However, 1931 Hollywood was hardly awash in restraint. This was several years before a whole series of sexually frank films created a backlash that ended in the Production Code finally being seriously enforced.
Rather, I would blame Tod Browning for yet another failure in his execution of Dracula, along with his under-utilization of sound, and his over-reliance on the original stage-play material. David Skal, in The Monster Show, speculates that Browning’s auto accident in 1915 may have left him sexually damaged, which might explain his indifference.
Either way, let’s celebrate Lupita Tovar as the first sexy screen vampiress, worthy of consideration along side such stalwarts as Ingrid Pitt, Anne Parillaud, and Catherine Deneuve!Tags: Dracula, Lupita Tovar, Sexy Vampire, Tod Browning, Universal Horror