Count Dracula

In the film
Gigi (1958),
directed by
Vincente
Minnelli, and
based upon
Colette’s
novella, the
title character
played by
Leslie Caron
sees through
her grooming
for society and
confronts the
rich flaneur
Gaston played
by Louis
Jourdan.
“They’ve
pounded into
my head I’m
backward for
my age… but I
know what all
this means. To
‘take care of
me beautifully’
means I shall
go away with
you… and that
I shall sleep in
your bed.” Gigi
is a young girl
pimped out by
her
grandmothers
to Gaston,
although the
film tried to
sidestep the
issue. All ends
happily of
course in the
inevitable
acceptable
marriage,
although much
that was
thought
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charming and
delicately
risqué in a
1958 musical
leaves a bad
taste now, not
least of which
is Maurice
Chevalier’s
signature song
Thank
Heavens For
Little Girls.
Confused and
ultimately
decent as
Gaston, Louis
Jourdan seems
an unlikely
villain,
although he
would become
one as Anton
Arcane in the
Swamp Thing
movies, and as
Kamal Khan in
Octopussy.
Before those
career peaks,
however, he
effectively
transformed
the suave
amorist from
his romantic
leads, into the
sensualist
monster
lurking
beneath, to
play Count
Dracula in this
fairly faithful
BBC
adaptation
from the late1970s.
Adaptor
Gerald Savory
was head of
serials at the
BBC in the
mid-1960s,
and earned his
genre stripes
saving William
Hartnell from
being written
out of Doctor
Who in the
Celestial
Toymaker
serial, and
pushing for
the Dalek
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Master Plan to
be an epic 12
episodes.
For Count
Dracula,
Savory made a
few changes to
Bram Stoker’s
original. Mina
Murray and
her best friend
Lucy Westenra
are now the
Westenra
sisters. The
character of
Arthur
Holmwood is
lost; of Lucy
Westenra’s
three suitors,
Dr Seward, the
aristocrat
Holmwood
whose
proposal in the
novel she
accepts, and
the American
Quincey
Morris, only
Seward and
Quincey (now
Quincy
Holmwood)
remain. Lucy
is engaged to
Quincey.
Whether this
move was to
tempt sales of
the production
in the USA is a
possibility;
Quincey dies
of gunshot
wounds in the
book, here he
survives. The
other more
obvious
change, other
than editing
for pace and
concision, is
that Dracula
does not begin
the narrative
as an old man,
only regaining
youth and
vigour as he
sates his foul
appetites in
England; he
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starts as he
means to go
on, urbane and
in his prime.
The
compression
of the book,
for narrative
pace, means
we are spared
much of Van
Helsing’s
pious
glorification of
the character
of Mina.
Women, for
the Professor,
and the three
younger men,
John, Arthur,
and Quincey,
are there to be
worshipped
and protected.
Dracula views
them in a
different light;
they are his
nourishment
but potentially
his equals in a
companionate
marriage
lasting
centuries. It is
unsurprising
that academic
analysis of the
novel has
highlighted the
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mother and
domestic
paragon. Mina
is clearly
talented and
resourceful,
she teaches
herself
shorthand, she
sets out to be
archivist and
recording
angel for the
fellowship of
vampire
hunters,
despite Van
Helsing’s best
efforts to
sideline her,
both for her
protection and
because once
initiated into
the cult of
blood-letting
she is herself
already of the
vampire’s
party.
The
stereotypical
personification
of women as
either
Madonna or
whore is
exemplified in
Dracula;
contamination
as a vampire
brings out all
the repressed
sensuality in
Lucy as she
comes on to
her fiancé. Van
Helsing
repeatedly
refers to Mina
as ‘Miss’ Mina,
despite the
fact of her
marriage to
Jonathan, she
is Mrs Harker
and one
presumes no
longer a virgin,
but it is in the
Professor’s
interests to
maintain a
conceit of
perceived
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purity as a
bulwark
against the
attractions of
the Count.
While this TV
film spares us
much of Van
Helsing’s
fussing and
fawning, little
of the
psychological
power of the
original is lost.
Jonathan
Harker travels
to Eastern
Europe to the
home of Count
Dracula to
fulfil the
latter’s interest
in a property
in England.
Forewarned by
the
unspecified
concern of
fearful locals
Jonathan finds
himself a
prisoner in the
Count’s castle.
The Count
does not eat or
drink, he casts
no reflection
in Jonathan’s
looking glass
and, strangest
of all, he leaves
the castle at
night by
climbing headfirst
down the
castle walls.
Almost
becoming a
victim of the
Count’s
beautiful evil
‘brides’,
Harker
realises it is
his fate to
become their
victim. Having
been coerced
into writing a
letter to his
employer
claiming he is
returning to
England,
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Harker risks
all in an
escape
attempt. He
manages to
climb down
from his
bedroom
window, and
then makes
the
horrendous
discovery of
the Count and
the brides
sated and
lethargic in
their coffins in
the crypt of the
castle. Harker
attempts to kill
the Count with
a blow from a
shovel but,
instead of
decapitating
him, he only
gashes him
across the
forehead
before
continuing to
make his
escape.
Back in
England, filled
with
foreboding by
the lack of
news from
Jonathan,
Mina attempts
to enjoy her
sister Lucy’s
good fortune
in her
engagement.
Enjoying the
sea-air at
Whitby, the
girls are
witness to the
grounding of a
vessel after a
horrific storm.
Shortly
afterwards,
Mina discovers
her sister out
of bed,
apparently
sleep-walking,
where she sees
her in the
embrace of a
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tall dark
figure. Later,
pinning a
shawl around
Lucy, Mina
believes she
has pricked
her sister’s
neck for there
on the white
flesh are two
puncture
marks. Over
the coming
days, Lucy
sickens and
fails in health
causing Dr
Seward to call
in his old
Professor, Van
Helsing who,
after some
research,
proposes an
unusual cure
decorating the
girl’s bedroom
with garlic
flowers.
Unfortunately,
while this
action seems
to offer the girl
some
protection, her
mother’s
intervention
results in
tragedy when
they are
attacked by a
large dog
causing Mrs
Westenra to
die from a
heart attack.
With news
that Jonathan
has returned
following some
form of
nervous
breakdown,
Mina has
travelled to
join him and
she is absent
when Lucy
finally
succumbs to
the
debilitating
illness that has
left her so
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weak. Mina
returns,
married to
Jonathan, and
Van Helsing
confides in Dr
Seward and
also to
Quincey his
suspicions that
Lucy has been
preyed upon
by one of the
Nosferatu, and
that she
herself has
joined the
ranks of the
undead.
With the death
of Lucy, and
Van Helsing,
Seward and
Quincey’s
intervention to
save the dead
girl’s soul,
Dracula turns
his attention
to Mina,
consummating
their blood
pact while
Jonathan lies
in a hypnotic
sleep beside
them. Van
Helsing
proposes that
they must
destroy the
vampire to
save Mina,
isolating the
coffins he
brought with
him to
England and
sterilising
them with
sacramental
wafers, and
leaving the
Count with no
refuge in the
hours of
daylight.
Having done
so, the four
men and Mina
pursue
Dracula to his
homeland to
attempt to
destroy him
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forever.
A fairly
faithful
adaptation,
then, with
some 1970s
camera
trickery and
effects, the
screen goes to
negative,
blood-red
filters are used
to emphasise
Dracula’s
bloodlust. One
of the most
effective
scenes is
where Van
Helsing
confronts
Dracula with a
crucifix, the
shape of the
cross glowing
on the
vampire’s face.
The rubbery
bats flapping
against the
girls’ bedroom
windows are
pretty ropy but
you can’t have
everything.
The cast is
excellent, the
thoroughly
upright and
dependable
fraternity of
Seward,
Jonathan, and
Quincey are
somewhat
forgettable but
then the
characters
themselves are
merely ciphers
of decency.
Bosco Hogan
is Jonathan,
his first film
role was
George in
John
Boorman’s
terrific
Zardoz. Mark
Burns who
plays Dr
Seward had
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quite an
eclectic TV and
film career
before his
death, making
a final
appearance in
Matthew
Vaughn’s
Stardust.
Susan
Penhaligon
had made her
name the
previous year
playing the
doomed spoilt
daughter of
Frank Finlay,
in ITV’s
controversial
A Bouquet Of
Barbed Wire;
she already
had some
genre
experience
playing
alongside
droll-faced
American
actor Doug
McClure in the
Amicus
production
The Land That
Time Forgot.
The luminous
Judi Bowker
made her
name in kids’
TV playing
opposite a
horse in the
Sunday
afternoon telly
version of
Black Beauty,
but perhaps
she is most
famous for
being rescued
from the
Kraken by
Harry Hamlin
in Clash Of
The Titans
(1981).
Finlay himself
is excellent,
down-playing
Van Helsing’s
foreign
fussiness, and
Louis Jourdan
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is
commanding
as Dracula.
Perhaps the
outstanding
piece of acting
is from Jack
Shepherd as,
the lunatic
would-bedisciple
of
Dracula,
Renfield.
Believing that,
by consuming
the lives of
other
creatures he
can extend his
own life,
Renfield has
started small;
“Flies, spiders,
birds!” When
he is offered
Mina by
Dracula,
Renfield
resists and is
murdered by
the Count. A
tour-de-force
of sulks and
sudden mood
changes
Shepherd
makes
Renfield both
hideous and
pitiful.
Dramatic, and
quite
effectively
scary at times,
and gory in
parts, this
production
still makes
entertaining
viewing some
35 years after
its first
appearance