December 26, 2009 § Leave a comment
If younger filmgoers know French actor Louis Jourdan at all, it might be from his role as the villain in Octopussy (1983), an entertaining but somewhat cartoonish Bond film, or a few daft adaptations of Swamp Thing in the eighties, the comic that was actually quite good when written by Alan Moore. Anyone delving a little deeper into his career will find he was in some notable films previous to that (including a Hitchcock film, The Paradine Case) and this, a made-for-TV BBC adaptation of Dracula, apparently broadcast on Halloween night. It must almost certainly be the first film to be quite faithful to the novel, which is enough to make it notable, never mind some impressive surrealistic touches that include blended images and amplified, distorted sounds that don’t quite match the visuals — the vampire women advance, but the sound of their footsteps carries on even after they stop. And for a TV film, it certainly doesn’t shrink from showing blood, or the scene where Dracula provides his vampire brides with a baby to consume. In fact, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) produces a handful of scenes exactly the same way, including the climactic chase at the end between Van Helsing’s gang and the villagers loyally trying to get Dracula back to safety. Any changes from the novel are fairly subtle, I think. It has been a while since I read the book, but I believe Mina and poor doomed Lucy aren’t sisters in the book.
Jourdan is an impressive Dracula — understated and arrogant. Other actors in the role have made a first appearance descending a flight of cobwebbed stairs, but Jourdan simply answers the door, appearing to be a fairly normal man, if perhaps extremely confident and somewhat eccentric. He later argues with Van Helsing when they burst into the room, saying something along the lines of “We all take life to live — blood for me, a cooked bird for you. What’s the difference?” The obvious difference is that Dracula takes human life, but it’s interesting that this particular villain is defeated at least partly because he seems surprised and irritated to discover he’s loathed. Between Jourdan and Frank Finlay as a charming rather than self-righteous Van Helsing, the performances more than make up for some video effects that really haven’t managed to stand the test of time. And a willingness to overlook an older set of production values is really all that’s required to enjoy a film that manages to be one of the more memorable adaptations.