One of the things I like about movies is to finally see parts that were excised, because the movie frequently makes so much more sense with these parts put back in. Over the years I’ve watched as more and more of the silent film Metropolis has been slowly added. We currently have an almost complete version of it. The same thing happened with the silent version of The Lost World. There are actually two different restored versions. Watching these restored versions, after years of seeing the criminally clipped versions, is a real revelation (Both films are still not complete. There seem to be some essential scenes still missing, some of which may never have been filmed.)
Over the past few days, I’ve been watching multiple different film versions of Dracula. Among these were the original 1931 version directed by Tod Browning, along with the simultaneously-filmed Spanish version with a different cast (but using the same sets), directed by George Melford. Comparing the two is interesting – the Spanish version is much livelier, with a more mobile camera. Dracula’s “wives” are more active and threatening. But comparing the two also gives significant clues to what’s missing from the English version, even if it’s not explicitly shown.
We know that the 1931 version was censored – after the initial run, they cut out an epilogue, delivered in front of a curtain by Edward Van Sloan, just as he delivered a prologue to the 1931 * Frankenstein*, released several months later. It was supposedly removed because the studio feared offending religious groups. The footage is presumed lost, which is a shame. Similar fears caused Universal to hide Colin Clive’s line “Now I know what it feels like to be God!” behind a thunderclap (although they cleared away much of that for the present DVD release)
But there are other things I can see from a comparison of the two versions:
1.) The Fate of Lucy Western – (they changed her name from Westernra, as it was in the book and the play, presumably to make it seem less weird) Lucy gets bitten by Dracula early on in the film. We see (presumably her) body being examined by Van Helsing and others, who comment on the two holes in her neck. Later, Lucy is seen my Mina walking around, and is the White Lady that newspaper reports tell of as attacking children. In Stoker’s novel, and in most screen versions, Lucy gets a stake pounded through her heart to release her from the curse of vampirism. But in Browning’s film, we never do learn what becomes of her.
In the Spanish version, however, we see Van Helsing and Harker standing in cloaks by a gate, commenting on how they’ve just put a stake in Lucy. There’s a similar scene in Browning’s version, when Van Helsing and Harker are standing outside near the same gate when they chance to see Renfield going from the asylum to Carfax Abbey. It’s never explained what they’re doing outside when it’s known that Dracula is around and active. Almost certainly there was a similar scene in the English-language version where they talk about using the stake on Lucy, but it was excised. Surely not for time considerations – the film is only 85 minutes long, not even an hour and a half. I suspect it was concern for the sensibilities of the audiences, especially those religious ones.
Dracula’s own death by staking is discreetly done off-camera (in fact, Dracula’s groans on being staked were suppressed, according to Wikipedia and others). It wasn’t so in the play, where the staking takes place in a “trick” coffin, with the actor’s head showing through while a dummy body was staked, then turned to dust. The movie spares audiences even this amount of fake death. But they carried it further in the case of Lucy, where they don’t even talk about it. At least Spanish-speaking audiences knew what happened to Lucy.
An aside – After the “Lucy Staking”, in the English-language version Van Helsing and Harker just happen to see REnfield fleeing to Carfax Abbey. In the Spanish version, for no good reason, Van Helsing says to Harker “Let’s go to Carfax Abbey” – they don’t see Renfield. Later, at Carfax Abbey, Dracula turns on Renfield when Van Halsing and Harker show up, thinking that he must have lead them there (not a great leap of intuition, in any case. Dracula talked of buying Carfax Abbey – where else would they expect him to be?) Renfield protests that he is loyal, that he DIDN’T lead them to him. In the Spanish version, he’s right, but the English-language versiuon has him guilty, which seems more likely. It doesn’t matter to the count – he kills Renfield in both versions.
2.) The Ending – At the very end of the film, Harker and Mina walk triumphantly up the Infinite Stairs that Dracula killed Renfield on, to the accompaniment of bells on the sound track. But why? Van Helsing and Harker entered at the [bottom of the stairs. If Mina and Harker want to get out of the Abbey as rapidly as possible, they’re going the wrong way! Of course, there’s something to be said for the symbolism going upwards at dawn, into the light. But if the door’s locked at the top, they’ll just have to go back down again.
In the Spanish version, we see Dracula bringing Mina in through the upstairs at Carfax Abbey before taking her to the door at the top of the Infinite steps. They apparently built a set for the upstairs that the English-language version never used. Dracula brings Mina in through the basement, at the bottom of those stairs, in Browning’s version.
So, from the Spanish version we see that the walk UP the stairs makes sense – Mina knows that id they go that way, they’ll reach the Ground Floor level of Carfax, because that’s how she came in. In the Browning version, it makes no sense.