Sunday, 7 June 2020
Girl On Girl Suction
USA 1936 Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Universal Blu Ray Zone B
Directed by the man who would go on to direct the first theatrical Batman serial seven years later, Dracula’s Daughter is one of those charming oddities which almost but, doesn’t quite, make sense when you inject it into the overall franchise. The next of Universal’s big ‘monster movies’ after Werewolf Of London (reviewed here), the film takes place literally seconds/minutes after the events of Dracula, with the one recurring character from that film returning... kind of. Once again, Edward Van Sloan does a wonderful job as Professor Van Helsing but, for some strange reason, his name has been changed slightly to Von Helsing for this one.
The film was originally supposed to have been based on the, then unpublished, Dracula short story (aka missing chapter) Dracula’s Guest by Stoker but I think legal issues surrounded it although, conveniently, Dracula had been accidentally left in the public domain and it was back to John L Balderston (among others) to pen a totally new, 'Dracula inspired' adventure... despite the screen credit that it’s based on a work by Bram Stoker.
So we start off quite bravely and unusually, I think, with Van Helsing (wearing a hat I’m sure he isn’t wearing in the prior film) being arrested by two policemen for the ‘murder’ he happily admits to, as they find him standing over Dracula’s corpse. They promptly take the corpse, which really is a poor waxwork’s dummy of Bela Lugosi in the few shots where you can catch a glimpse of the features, to the local lock up and there then ensues a truly unfunny and protracted scene of ‘comedy policemen’ shenanigans before Dracula’s corpse is stolen by none other than the title character, played by a young Gloria Holden.
Meanwhile, Van... sorry... Von Helsing enlists the aid of his former student, the main heroic lead psychiatrist, played by Otto Kruger, to help keep him from the gallows. Kruger looks quite a bit old for the part, honestly... but he’s pretty good in the role and the script between him and his secretary, played by Marguerite Churchill, is excellent. It’s as though the two stepped right out of a 1930s screwball comedy and the chemistry and dialogue is wonderful in the scenes they share together.
Actually there are quite a few good lines in this film, such as Gloria Holden’s lovely parody of Shakespeare... “There are more things in heaven and earth then ever dreamed of in your... psychiatry”. It’s an interesting story too as it follows Gloria Holden’s Countess Marya Zaleska... a reluctant vampire who seeks, coincidentally from the same psychiatrist, a cure for her vampirism. She doesn’t tell him why she keeps seeking him out but she wants to stop having to bite up some young man or woman each night to keep herself alive. She seems to be a strangely reluctant vampire and even goes to the trouble of burning her father’s staked body so he can never rise again (well, I guess that put a stop on anymore films being made about Dracula then, right?). She also seems to have a strange relationship with her truly sinister and, perhaps, somewhat out of place assistant Sandor, played by Irving Pichel.
The film soon becomes a straight ‘solve the murders and then chase the vampire back to Transylvania’ kind of movie by the last reel but there are things touched on such as the suggestion of an idea, at least at the start of the film, that the term ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ could metaphorically mean any young lady who Dracula has bitten and turned into a vampire. Alas, by the last act she has definitely confirmed she is the true heir to Dracula’s castle which is, perhaps, a little less interesting.
The film also features one of the earlier lesbian/bisexual seductions on screen as the countess, an artist, asks a ‘model’ played by Nan Grey to pose for her but can't help but give in to the blood lust which takes her and ends up vamping her up and, ultimately, providing the good guys with a clue as to her whereabouts. The scene doesn’t really pull any punches because the subtext of the thing is pretty overt even now and would have been a lot more stronger on its release in 1936... indeed, while some reviewers either missed it completely or turned a blind eye, others were more condemning in their reading of the scene as it plays out (it was very tightly controlled/censored before it was even shot, too).
The writers have gone out of their way to put in a lot of references to the 1931 Dracula, in ways you wouldn’t expect... especially as a lot of the references come quite late in the picture when the Countess is back at Dracula’s castle. For instance, the set at the start where Edward Van Sloane is recreating his final scenes from Dracula is reminiscent of the original (indeed, lovers of Dracula and Frankenstein will also recognise the hospital set in the film). There are also references to Borgo Pass in Transylvania and some ‘bit part’ actors you may remember from the first film... not to mention that same damned spider web across the entrance to the stairway when Otto Kruger finally arrives at Castle Dracula. One of my favourite references is when, in a party scene in the earlier part of the movie, Holden slips into conversation, in a completely different way to how Lugosi said it, the line... “I never drink... wine.” In that party scene, by the way, you may spot a young Hedda Hopper, who would start up her famous ‘Hollywood star career-killing’ gossip column in the same year.
Also, remember that time when I discovered (young thing that I am), on reading and reviewing the single issue Gold Key Doc Savage comic (review here), that Croydon used to have an airport back then? Well the same airport is referenced here, when the main protagonist takes a plane from Croydon to Transylvania.
And then we have the score... composed, uncredited, by Heinz Roemheld, who did such a good job on Werewolf Of London. Alas, he doesn’t do that great a job here during the comedy sections of the film... the way too ‘on the nose’ and ‘funny music hitting all the action and comments’ moments really don’t work that well here. That being said there’s a nice moment where Gloria Holden is playing the piano, heavily augmented by the orchestra somehow and, as she finds the music she is playing is getting more dark and sinister while Sandor fills her head with malevolent thoughts, she jumps up and shouts “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Well, not only the piano but all the orchestral augmentation stops too, like a bizarre, metatextual musical joke... so that was nice and, perhaps, a little unexpected.
That being said, I loved Roemheld’s score for the montage scene following the chief of police ordering a dragnet be thrown around London... because it’s the same music used for many of the fighting and similar montage scenes in the first of the three Flash Gordon serials (and possibly the two sequels too) released the month before. I’m not sure which of these two Roemheld actually wrote it for though... one was needle dropped (or possibly re-recorded in those days) into the other.
Looking at the film again now, I would say that Gloria Holden’s performance seems, at times, just a little over the top to me and perhaps a bit wooden but it depends what she... and her director... were going for. I could easily say it’s a highly stylised performance done to deliberately invoke a kind of off-kilter strangeness in the character but, either way, it’s certainly one people remember her by, I suspect.
Not much else to say here other than, with the exception of the first Mummy movie, out of all the Universal monster films it’s the Dracula franchise which is the most troubled. It doesn’t, past this one sequel, really hold up as a continuing franchise at all and has new starts and jumps in logic when Dracula reappears (and arguably doesn’t in one case, depending on your view of Son Of Dracula) over the following films... as you’ll see when I continue to review them as I slowly work my way through the Universal Horror franchises over the coming year. Dracula’s Daughter, though, is certainly a fun film and one I’m sure I’ll watch a fair few times more over the coming years.