Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lon Chaney as Dracula - Book Review

This is another script in the series started at MagicImage Press but now continued by BearManor Media, from editor Philip J Riley.

Having published all the classic Universal Monster movie scripts and others, Riley has continued his poking around in the crypts of Universal Studios’ history.

Many monster aficionados know that Lon Chaney was first in line to play Dracula, IN A TALKIE, for Universal when the studio acquired the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel from Mrs Stoker. However, sadly enough for us, throat cancer and death intervened. That’s part of why the role went to the actor who had been touring America in the stage play – Bela Blasco, aka Lugosi.

In this book Riley collects two scripts prepared for a Chaney portrayal – the second script cut short at the time of Chaney’s death.

One of the main changes in these early drafts from the finished Lugosi film is in the character of Dracula – no surprise here. The Dracula we meet in Transylvania is as described by Stoker – old, white-haired, slender, mustachioed, and hairy-palmed. The Dracula character presented in England is, just as described in the novel, a rejuvenated version, with black hair. He also travels under the nom de plume “Count De Ville,” not under his own name as in the final movie.

Also included in the book are the title cards text for the silent-film version of Dracula (for those theatres not yet converted to sound), and a script for FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, the unauthorized German Dracula film.

This latest series of script books by Riley is a sort of “What If?” thought exercise. There are myriads of scripts and treatments for movies that were never made for various reasons. The complete title of this book is, for instance, DRACULA Starring Lon Chaney: An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters. I have one earlier volume in this series, Wolfman vs Dracula.

If you’re curious at all about the book, then it’s for you!

There are a couple of negatives in my opinion of the book, but only minor ones. First off, Riley needs a proofreader for his introductory sections. It’s perfectly understandable to see, in a mimeoed script from the 1930s, a misspelling here or there.

But in Riley's Introduction -- a text piece generated and “typeset” by a computer -- THERE IS NO EXCUSE for saying that Lon Chaney was to play a “duel” role in a film. This happens twice, while alongside the text is a reproduction of a document from the 1920s/1930s that uses the word correctly!

Another rather jarring thing is to be reading along in the scripts and come across “the little box” – that tiny rectangle you see when you’re using a text character in a font that does not contain a certain letter or character. Instead, you get “the little box.”

This makes me wonder if the typewritten script pages have ALSO been “word-processed” into a typewriter font.

The more I think about it, the crazier I get. So, simply, get the book if you want to learn more about movie monsters, and the 1931 Dracula film in particular.

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