Dracula (1979)

Dracula (1979), directed by John Badham.

I recall this as being the first ambitious Dracula film after the mythology was exhausted by Hammer Films in its declining years. New life (so to speak), some gruesomeness, and especially a deeply romantic treatment with debonair Frank Langella, who had played the part on the stage. He insisted on doing it without fangs or visible blood-sucking.

At the time it seemed a deft production and fairly exciting. After all these years it's a bit clunkier. They try to pack in too much: the complete mythology plus a new romantic component that leaves us pulling for the lovers, undead or not.

The way the movie has always been presented on home video is a dilemma. On the one hand I want to respect the director's intent, but on the other I'd like to see it again as I remember it from the theater. Badham says he always wanted a desaturated look but couldn't get the film stock at the time. But ever since laserdisc days he's been able to color grade it to his liking. I recall the theatrical presentation was quite lush, but that is gone now.

[Later: the Shout Factory Blu-ray set includes both Badham's version and the original theatrical color].

John Williams score.

Available on Blu-ray with a fond commentary track by the director. In retrospect he finds the editing too stately and would jazz it up if he had the chance to do it again.

He says that Donald Pleasence was a noted scene-stealer. Here he plays a dinner scene with his mouth full, and roots around in a bag of candy at the most awkward moments.

Laurence Olivier had been ill but came back and worked another ten years.

Finally, Frank Langella said that for years afterward, men would come up to him and say, "Man, did I get well-laid that night after seeing your Dracula film!"