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Monday, February 7, 2011

FILM REVIEW OF ''DRACULA'S DAUGHTER"

The executives at Universal Studios didn't have long to mind the store after they produced the deplorable "Dracula's Daughter." Universal's principal debtor, Standard Capital Corporation, gave studio founder Carl Laemmle and his regime the boot after production wrapped on it. Laemmle and company should have gotten the boot far earlier for making such a lackluster sequel. Any sequel that doesn’t bring back the original protagonist—villainous or otherwise—can hardly be considered a genuine sequel. Not only does “Dracula’s Daughter” (*1/2 out of ****) refuse to reanimate Dracula, who had been impaled at the end of the original, but also Universal replaced their seminal male vampire with an entirely different protagonist—a female vampire! Unfortunately, Bela Lugosi didn't make an encore appearance; even though the Count’s supine corpse lies sprawled in his coffin at the police station. Not surprisingly, the corpse bears no resemblance to Lugosi. Indeed, Dracula plays only a peripheral part in “Dracula’s Daughter.” Conversely, Edward Van Sloan's Professor Von Helsing plays a major part. None of the other characters from the Tod Browning original participate in these new antics. Well, Renfield's body appears at the foot of the stairs in the opening sequence when the two London policemen discover him.

Presumably, since a supernatural horror movie like "Dracula" was so new to Hollywood, Universal Studios scenarists had no idea how to handle such a character. After all, “Daughter’s Daughter” came out in 1936, five years after “Dracula!” It makes you wonder why Universal waited so long to parlay a franchise out of the character. “Dracula’s Daughter” picks up where “Dracula” concluded in Carfax Abbey—a much cleaner Carfax Abbey--after Van Helsing had driven a stake into the Count as the bloodsucker lay in his coffin. Later Universal “Dracula” sequels, such as “House of Frankenstein,” would bring back Dracula even though a stake had been hammered through his body. Apparently, Universal didn't know how to handle its own merchandise. Consider if you will the inconsistency between Dracula’s corpse in “Dracula’s Daughter.” Dracula’s corporal body remains intact with the stake in him. In “House of Frankenstein” (1944), however, Dracula is a skeleton with a stake in his ribs. Clearly, the cinematic technology of 1944 enabled Universal to alter the rules that they had created for Dracula.

As Dracula's Daughter, the dark-haired Hungarian Countess, Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden of “Dodge City”), boasts the power to hypnotize the helpless. She accomplishes this feat with the use of an awesome ring. She is strong enough to put a victim into a coma with her hypnotic powers. Later, "Dracula's Daughter" waxes somewhat risquĂ©, particularly when the eponymous heroine seduces a young girl from the streets. Lili (Nan Grey), who had planned to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, has consented to be a model for Zaleska to paint. A strain of forbidden lesbianism permeates this scene when the Countess convinces pretty young Lili lower the straps of her slip so she can admire her neck and shoulders. This is about as scary as this movie gets. Like Dracula, the Countess possesses her own sinister assistant, Sandor (Irving Pichel of "British Agent"), who carries out her orders. The faithful Sandor found Lili. Comparatively, Sandor resembles Renfield because he performs some of the leg work for Zaleska. Ultimately, Sandor hopes that the Countess will reward him for his service. He yearn to be her lover for an eternality. Unfortunately, for Sandor, the Countess has her eyes set on somebody else who has far greater power than Sandor.

Initially, the Countess claims she is struggling to break free of ‘the curse of Dracula.’ After all, she steals Dracula’s corpse from the police station and cremated it in the wilderness. Meanwhile, the bulk of the action at the outset concerns Von Helsing turning himself over to two London policemen for the murder of Count Dracula. “Dracula’s Daughter” wins brownie points for this loyalty to the original. The police send Von Helsing to Scotland Yard where he tries to justify the ‘service to humanity’ that he performed by murdering Count Dracula. Commissioner Sir Basil Humphrey (Gilbert Emery of “Scandal Sheet”) warns Von Helsing that a jury will either convict him to be hanged or sentence to a mental asylum for the criminally insane. Von Helsing solicits the help of a former student, psychologist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger of "Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet"), and defines vampirism and the methods of dealing with vampires to Garth. A skeptical Garth assures Von Helsing that the jury will hang him at the mention of such folklore. Eventually, the Countess seeks out Dr. Garth, but she runs into trouble with Garth's jealous secretary Janet Blair (Marguerite Churchill of "Riders of the Purple Saga") who behaves like a comedian from a screwball comedy. Janet and the Countess clash from the get-go, and Janet does everything in her power to see the Countess doesn't get any time to be alone with Garth.

B-western director Lambert Hillyer replaced A. Edward Sutherland as director after several delays plagued the production. Hillyer helmed 161 films during his 32 year career as a director. Aside from “Dracula’s Daughter,” Hillyer is best known for his 1943 serial “Batman,” the first appearance of the DC Comics Caped Crusader on the big screen. Hillyer maintains forward momentum and the action never bogs down in complications. Mind you, George Robinson's glorious black and white lensing creates considerable atmosphere. For the record, Robinson went on to photograph the sequel to "Dracula's Daughter," "Son of Dracula" (1943) with Lon Chaney cast as the immortal count! Nevertheless, despite the first-rate photography, little that is spooky occurs this half-baked sequel.Hillyer and "Frankenstein" scenarist Garrett Ford try to whip up some fury in the last ten minutes as the Countess abducts Dr. Garth's girlfriend Janet and flies back to Transylvania with her as her hostage. A desperate Garth follows hot on their heels and following just as hot on Garth’s heels are Von Helsing and Humphrey. Despite some atmospheric moments, the eponymous heroine generates none of the chills that Lugosi conveyed. Moreover, despite her Hungarian origins, the Countess speaks English without an accent. “Dracula’s Daughter” would have qualified as an okay vampire yarn outside the “Dracula” franchise, but it is a disappointing “Dracula” sequel.

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