John Badham’s „Dracula“ (1979) is half of a good film. If the director, the author and the producers would have put more effort into this movie, it would have been the best Dracula movie ever. John Williams’ score to “Dracula” is a masterpiece and with “The Fury” among his best scores.
Everyone who read Bram Stokers “Dracula” Gothic horror classic from 1897 is enthusiastic about the great dramaturgical structure of this novel. The plot is mostly told in epistolary format, as a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships' log entries. The narrators are the novel's protagonists. Even though Stoker’s book was not the first vampire and was perhaps influenced by Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel “Carmilla” (1871) about a lesbian vampire and also by John Polidori tale “The Vampyre” (1819) who portraited a vampire as an aristocratic man, Stoker’s novel became the ultimate Vampire novel. The book is still a great read, but it lacks a very good showdown. Therefore, every movie tries to create a new one, but just a few succeeded in this approach. In my opinion, Francis Ford Coppola failed by turning the ending too much into a love story and the adaption becomes a little trashy.
Here is the trailer:
John Badham’s movie was not based on the novel. It was based on famous Dracula actor Bela Lugosi’s movie which was based on the stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. Frank Langella received a Tony Award-nomination for his performance in the play that runs over 900 times. Even though Badham’s movie is not based on the novel, it is still one of the best “Dracula” movies because Badham did not focus so much on the horror elements, he adapted “Dracula” as a love story.
Interesting is that in 1979 three major Dracula films were released simultaneously around the world: Werner Herzog's re-telling “Nosferatu” with Klaus Kinski, not a good one, George Hamilton’s “Love at First Bite”, a so-so parody of the vampire genre with a wonderful performance of Richard Benjamin as the Van Helsing character, and John Badham's “Dracula”.
W.D. Richter’s adaption of the story highly emphasized on the love aspects, but also caused some irritation by changing the names of the female characters. Now Lucy is haunted by Dracula and not Mina. There is no reason for doing so. Richter created also a new showdown that brings the story to a surprising end.
Two years ago, John Badham directed “Saturday Night Fever” and made John Travolta into a star. For “Dracula”, Badham brought a terrific cast together: Donald Pleasance turned down the part of Van Helsing and played Dr Seward, Laurence Olivier played instead Van Helsing, and Kate Nelligan played Lucy.
Frank Langella did not show any vampire teeth during his performance and was much younger than Christopher Lee when he first played Dracula. When Lee is approaching women in his movies, you sometimes get the feeling that these women want to sleep with their father because of the age difference. Langella played Dracula as a very well-educated and elegant man with manners and a touch of tragedy mentioned in the dialogue with Lucy when they are having dinner at his home. He also can act immediately very brutal and violent, as you can see in the beginning, the killing of Renfield and in the showdown. I chose one scene to show the elegance of Frank Langella in this movie:
The movie is wonderfully photographed by Gilbert Taylor. The love scene is very romantic but also a bit trashy. Anyway, if you have not seen this “Dracula” movie, I highly recommend watching it.
John Williams’s music is amazing, one of his best soundtracks even though there is just one main theme. This theme is haunting, darkly melodic, gothic and just beautiful. The balance between the string and the brass section in the first track of the score is truly a sign of the great composing qualities of John Williams at his best.
The score has a lot of great tracks, and it is difficult to mention just a few of them. Another highlight is the second track, “To Scarborough”, a fast-moving Scherzo piece with a high emphasis on the brass section. The highlight is “The Abduction of Lucy”: Here you can hear again the haunting Dracula theme in the string section, but listen especially to the use of the flutes and the percussion in that track.
We now have finally “The Love Scene”, a surreal wedding scene, and if you listen carefully, you can hear one of the few musical ways to transform a sexual orgasm into music. The last two tracks “Dracula’s Death” and “End Title” bring the album to the musical climax and a satisfying ending, wonderfully played by the London Symphony Orchestra. I like especially the first seconds of the last track with the flute before the brass and strings enter the stage with the gothic Dracula theme before a clarinet takes over.
People on Amazon criticize that this album has just one theme, and that the whole music is composed around this theme. That is right, it is a very efficient way to compose a soundtrack, but also typical for Williams’ soundtracks in general.
I found one video with the seduction scene, and here you can really see why I think that Frank Langella is such a great Dracula and gives an amazing performance in the video, it is a shame that the movie is not better, otherwise it could have been the best Dracula ever.
In the end, you have to admit that the movie is a big disappointment. It was a good chance to tell the Dracula story in a new way but failed in his approach; too much violence, too much awkward scenes and too much trashy ones. Langella’s performance of Dracula is truly remarkable, and his and John Williams’ music are responsible that this movie is still not forgotten.
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