Thoughts on “Son of Dracula (1943)”

“Son of Dracula” is the third movie in that pack of classic Universal movies.  However, it isn’t as good as the other two.

The scene moves to America, with the son of Dracula moving there at the instigation of a young woman who owns a plantation and is very afraid to die.  She wants to live forever, and he wants to move to America to tap into its youth and vitality after draining Transylvania.  She is engaged to a man, but after the son of Dracula arrives she breaks off the engagement, marries the son of Dracula, and is in the process of being turned by the son of Dracula when her beau bursts in and tries to kill the son of Dracula, but the bullets pass through him and kill his former fiance.  He is booked for murder, but as it turns out the process was completed with her, and she comes to him and offers to turn him into a vampire as well if he kills the son of Dracula.  He does so, but then comes to her in the day and burns her coffin as well.

The main plot is actually not all that bad.  The characterization of the woman and her fiance work and the interactions with the other characters really bring out their tragic love story, which is one that really works and while it’s not surprising that he’d kill her as well and not want to be turned into a vampire, it also wasn’t a foregone conclusion either.  The actors themselves have some decent chemistry and pull off the relationship and their roles.  So from that perspective the movie is pretty good.

The problem, however, is with the son of Dracula himself.  He’s played by Lon Cheney (EDIT:  actually, Lon Chaney Jr), and after the movie I was surprised that that relatively well-known horror actor did so poorly in the role, before remembering that he was best known for the Wolfman, while Bela Lugosi was famous for Dracula (and played the character in the first movie).  The problem with Cheney is that he has absolutely no charisma at all in the movie, and doesn’t even have an exotic accent to support the rather stilted way of talking he has.  Now, in watching the first couple of movies and then this one, it seems to me that you don’t need to have an incredibly attractive actor to play Dracula.  In fact, for that character I think it works better if the actor is attractive, but a bit more ordinary, because we should feel that the character isn’t really attractive enough to simply seduce the women to highlight that their appeal is supernatural, not natural.  I think that this doesn’t work as well for female vampires because we really need to feel from the start that they are ethereally beautiful to explain why the men find them so attractive and more attractive than the alternatives.  So I think that for men the supernatural attraction should be from overwhelming charisma rather than simple looks, while for women the supernatural attraction should — and can be — expressed with just how incredibly and exotically attractive they are.  While this may seem a bit sexist, I do think it reflects the way things at least used to be in my day:  on an initial attraction, men more notice a woman’s looks and overall style, while women more notice things that reflect that sort of charisma.  Thus, men are more likely to find the supernatural charisma in her looks and style, while women are more likely to find that in their manner and even manners.

But as noted above, Cheney doesn’t do any of this.  He looks a bit dumpy.  He doesn’t have any kind of exotic carriage or manner.  His words are formal and stilted without there being any real reason for that.  He’d have to literally be hypnotizing her to get her to be interested in him, and even though it turns out that she actually isn’t interested in him he’s supposed to be a reasonably successful vampire.  If the movie had played it up that he needed to find new areas and new ways because he didn’t have the charisma of his father, that might have explained it, but the plot wouldn’t work that way, so he just really seems to be miscast.  And since he’s a major part of the plot we just keep getting reminded of that in every scene he’s in.  So he’s a major impediment to enjoying the movie.

Still, the movie isn’t bad, and is better than some of the modern movies that I’ve watched.  As I said, the plot with the main characters works really well and is pretty interesting.  It’s just that it’s attached to a Dracula that doesn’t have the charisma for the role that really causes the problems here.  I might watch it again at some point.


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