Edward Van Sloan
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Dracula's Daughter (1936)
11th Dec 08
Count Dracula is DEAD, not just un-dead but really really DEAD. He has been killed by his nemesis Professor Van, sorry Von, Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). But fear not, for there is more Transylvania vampire wickedness to be had, for the fanged one apparently had a daughter, the Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden).
The Countess isn’t happy about her future prospects, you know, nights out on the town looking for prey, living forever, that sort of thing – and as setting fire to Dracula’s body failed to free her of her affliction she takes to seeing a psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), who also happens to be treating Van, sorry, Von Helsing, with an eye towards breaking this cursed life that’s been afflicted upon her.
Review Dracula (1931), at that time, was the Universal’s biggest box office success. Dracula’s Daughter was its first sequel. After Universal hit the box office jackpot with their Frankenstein (1931) sequel, director James Whales’ The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), they came up with the idea that if a female variation worked for their lolloping Boris Karloff creation, then the same should work if they gave a female spin on their money-making Transylvanian blood-sucker.
The rather shrewd producer David O. Selznick, lurking over at MGM, had secured the rights to Dracula’s Guest, which was originally a deleted chapter from the original 1897 Bram Stoker novel. Deleted due to the book’s overall length rather than for artistic reasons, the chapter sees Jonathan Harker bump into a female vampire on his way to the Count’s castle. Selznick was paid a sizeable wodge of cash for the rights and with an eye to more box office business they enlisted James Whales to come up with a script.
Whale’s version was to have the original Dracula cast return but the studio was hesitant to part with the money his version would have required, given the financial state they were in at the time. From the original cast only Edward Van Sloan, known as Van Helsing in the original but now known as Von Helsing, returned.
Whilst Universal may have been keen to keep costs down on Dracula’s Daughter, the budget still came in as one of the studio’s largest at the time, coming in at $278,000. It didn’t help that the original’s star Bela Lugosi had a pay-or-play contract and earned a then considerable $4,000 for not even appearing in the sequel, he was meant to appear in a prologue and was still oddly he used to promote the movie. Lugosi wasn’t the only person not to work on the finished movie to get paid. Original director A. Edward Sutherland earned a whopping $17,500 for doing absolutely bugger all. He had moved onto another project by the time filming got started on the picture. His replacement Hillyer must have been smarting having earned a comparatively meagre $5,000 for his efforts.
Aside from Gloria Holden’s compelling and rather sympathetic lead performance, Dracula’s Daughter has become best remembered for its alleged lesbian overtone. The main reason for this comes as Holden’s Countess corners the timid Lili (Nan Grey). Lili is submissive, the Countess domineering, in control of all except her desire for blood, almost dribbling as the young Lili asks indicating the straps of her slip, ‘I suppose you’ll want these lowered?’
The attack on the girl is not seen, however the build-up and all its implications were enough for certain factions to drum this up as a key movie in gay cinema and Holden went on to achieve gay icon status for playing the first lesbian vampire. The filmmakers had some idea that that’s how the scene could be perceived, as they underwent a number of re-writes to appease the extra vigilant censors of that time. They worked their best to ensure that nothing in the scene would play as if it were an advance of a sexual nature.
Consequently the film has been looked at again and chunks of its dodgy dialogue read into. When the Countess talks about escaping from what she is – a vampire – some have chosen to look at this differently and see the Countess as meaning she wishes to be open with her sexuality.
It has been argued that the Countess also feeds on men and has an almost romantic relationship building up with the psychiatrist Dr. Garth so any implications of her alleged sexual leanings are just there for people that want to see it and read into it as such. It has also been pointed out that her victims tend to be a person of a lower class and besides isn’t it easier for a woman vampire to overpower another female rather than a physically stronger man.
Dracula’s Daughter was not favourably received at the time of its original release, but due in some small part to the sexual leanings particular parties have tagged the movie with, it has been more favourable re-appraised with time, and rightly so. Whilst it is far from perfect it has held up better than a number of the Universal horror output of that era. The camerawork is exemplary and Gloria Holden is an engaging lead, with a performance above par for a female horror lead. She is not the conventional lead and at the time of this movie was a relative newcomer to the field having yet to achieve the critical acclaim that her role in The Life of Emile Zola afforded her.
There are quibbles – the comedy cops just don’t work at all; why the name switch from Van Helsing to Von Helsing and the squabbling couple played by Otto Kruger and Margaret Churchill who aim for screwball but end up screwed instead – however its ambiguous nature and commanding lead pull it out of the mire that it felt destined to sink.
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