Sunday, July 25, 2010

June 24, 2010: Psychobabble recommends Philip J. Riley’s ‘Lon Chaney asDracula’

Before Bela Lugosi forged his iconic performance as Count Dracula, another horror legend was slotted to play the role. Having risen to superstardom by playing grotesques in silent pictures such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phantom of the Opera, and London After Midnight, Lon Chaney Sr. was to play the vampire in what would have been his second talking picture. The film was well past the planning stages—with Tod Browning hired to direct and Dudley Murphy and Louis Bromfield penning the script—when Chaney’s death by throat hemorrhage in 1930 halted it. Losing little time, Universal replaced Chaney with Bela Lugosi and hired Garrett Fort to write a new script in time for the film to be released less than six months after Chaney’s death.


Long thought to be lost, Murphy and Bromfield’s unproduced Dracula script is the latest discovery of cinematic archaeologist Philip J. Riley, whose Alternate History for Classic Monster Movies series continues to marvel. This latest volume is a more eclectic affair than the ones about James Whale’s Dracula’s Daughter and Wolfman vs. Dracula. Beginning with Riley’s brief introduction to the subject, the book moves on to Bromfield’s extensive, 50-page treatment, complete with long stretches of dialogue. Chaney was adamant that his film-adaptations remained faithful to the novels on which they were based, and the treatment reveals a picture considerably closer to Bram Stoker than Fort’s script based on the Dracula stage play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. The Count is also described in more animalistic terms, with his hairy body, wolfish ears, and long fangs, than Lugosi’s vampire, probably to take better advantage of Chaney’s makeup prowess. After the treatment comes the opening passage of Murphy and Bromfield’s script, which draws out Jonathan Harker’s arrival at Castle Dracula for 20-pages, suggesting a more epic film than the one with Lugosi. The script ends abruptly during Harker’s initial meeting with Dracula because of Chaney’s death, but Riley’s book still has several more treasures in its crypt: a complete cast, crew, and title list for the 1931 Dracula, F.W. Murnau’s complete shooting script for Nosferatu, which includes numerous notes by the director (Bromfield was given a copy of the script to help him along with constructing his vampire tale), and most valuably, Lon Chaney’s 12-page autobiography originally published in the September 1925 issue of Movie Magazine. While any classic horror enthusiast should be sufficiently lured by Bromfield’s fascinating treatment, Chaney’s autobiography is a clincher, offering a rare opportunity to read the man’s story in his own words, not to mention a wealth of terrific pictures.

Buy it here: Dracula Starring Lon Chaney - An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters
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