XL Popcorn – Dracula (1958) / Scarface (1932)

We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”Title: Dracula
Director: Terence Fisher
Year: 1958
Country: UK

The 1001 list starts to get a bit confusing when they include two films using the same source material and the same title. I figured that with this pair of films I would get rid of two of these. Firstly, we have the Hammer Horror version of Dracula.

I have already seen the two versions of Dracula produced in 1931. Only the English language version with Bela Lugosi is on the 1001 list, I could not help but watch the slightly superior Spanish version that was produced in tandem. Compared to both 1931 versions I very much prefer this 1958 version with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. In fact, there is no contest.

I think many people tend to big up to 1931 version as the Bela Lugosi portrayal has become such an integral part of our culture. The thing is when you watch the 1931 version now all of the effects feel rather cheesy. Especially the plastic bat. At no point in this 1958 version do you feel they have had to resort to terrible special effects. In fact the entire production feels rather sumptuous.

What’s also interesting is how much more of a sexual being the Christopher Lee Dracula is. The idea of Dracula has always been sexual but this ramps it up compared to 1931. This is, regrettably, at the expense of keeping it creepy. So far I have yet to see a Dracula interpretation creepier than  Nosferatu from back in 1922.

What this film does have is tension. Christopher Lee actually feels dangerous as Count Dracula and Peter Cushing feels like a force to be reckoned with as Van Helsing. It feels more like a battle with a satisfying conclusion when compared to 1931 where it just feels like the studio ran out of money and needed a quick offscreen ending.

And so I have watched my first Hammer Horror film and I really enjoyed it. This is meant to be the best by far but I might have to track down their version of The Mummy as that is always good for a scare.

Title: Scarface
Director: Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson
Year: 1932
Country: USA

Quick preface: I have not seen the Brian De Palma Scarface film up, but I obviously know enough about it through pop culture as it is one of “those” films. Is interesting to note that whilst the 1932 version of Scarface provided a of the inspiration for the 1980s film of the same name they both turned out rather differently.

Scarface is a film with a very strong anti organized crime message. The moment that the film starts you are presented with screens talking about how the government has failed to stop the gangs. This message is later repeated partly through the film in what feels rather too didactic for my taste. I mean the film even has the subtitle “the shame of a nation”.

The thing is if this really was the message behind the film then it failed spectacularly. If Al Capone, upon his life this film is basically based on, liked it so much that he had his own print then you’ve clearly failed with an anti organized crime message. Similarly this film went on to be one of the key gangster films.

Then again the central idea of this film is that, in the end, gangsters will not win against the strong arm of the law. Where Tony Montana goes down in a blaze of glory, Tony Camonte dies a broken man. He loses everything because of his own hubris. I wonder if Al Capone ever got the irony of that when he was hauled up for tax evasion.

The most interesting thing about this film, however, was the timing. At the time producer Howard Hughes was already having trouble with censors over what they perceived as extreme violence (imagine their faces if they saw Al Pacino with that mountain of cocaine) and this was released before the Hays code came into effect. So much of what made this film interesting would have been lost. I mean how can you recreate the Saint Valentine’s day massacre under those conditions?

Interestingly this is the fourth Howard Hawks film that I have seen since my hand decided to be a little bitch. I now only have one of his films left in the 1001 list (he has 10 in total!) which is a world war one biographical film Sergeant York. I might have to wait on that for a while.

Progress: 564/1007

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