Movie Night: Dracula’s Daughter (1936) Movie Night: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
After the success of Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, Universal Studios was in full swing with sequels to the emerging Monster franchise it had... Movie Night: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

After the success of Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, Universal Studios was in full swing with sequels to the emerging Monster franchise it had stumbled upon due to the insistence of one particular horror movie geek who also just happened to be the son of the studio’s owner as well as the head of production: Carl Laemmle Jr. or just “Junior” as he was often called.

Besides being a superior follow up to the original, this film would mark the closing of a chapter for Universal in  more ways than one. This was the last of the films connected to the 1920’s horror films the studio started with and unfortunately, it would be the last horror film to be made under the supervision of the Laemmle’s before a new regime would take control of the studio. This was the ending of the first era in a franchise that would be put on hold for the next three years after this film’s release.

The development of this second sequel for the studio would be just as complex and fraught with changes as all of its’ previous horror outings. It begins with an excised chapter from Bram Stokers’ original 1897 novel that was cut for length but would be later published in 1914 as a short story called “Dracula’s Guest”, two years after his death. The story itself concerned an unknown protagonist (most likely Jonathan Harker) who, before leaving for Transylvania; is forced to take shelter in a tomb during a violent storm where he finds the body of a beautiful young woman sleeping inside. She’s identified as the Countess Dolingen of Gratz, Syria from an inscription on the tomb. A huge lightning bolt destroys the tomb and the woman screams out right before the protagonist losses consciousness. When he wakens, he sees a large wolf with red eyes peering at him just as military horsemen arrive to fend it off. They explain that they were warned of the danger to him via telegram from Count Dracula himself.

In 1933 (two years after Universal released Dracula) MGM executive, David O. Selznick bought the right’s to Dracula’s Guest from Stokers’ widow, Florence for $5,000. He then employed screenwriter John L. Balderston who had written the play version of Dracula and worked on the scripts for Frankenstein, The Mummy and Bride of Frankenstein. From the onset, he saw a chance to write a film that was much racier than the original and saw many opportunities to sneak a lot of things by the censors which he couldn’t do before with a male protagonist. He wrote his thoughts up in the original treatment entitled the Main Idea that expressed this approach. Click on the page below and take a look:

Balderston’s treatment begins not long after the ending of the first film with Von Helsing (instead of Van for some reason) returning to Transylvania to destroy Dracula’s three vampire brides which he does but overlooks a fourth tomb containing Dracula’s Daughter. Following him back to London, she takes the name Countess Szekelsky and attacks a young aristocrat, putting Von Helsing on her trail along with the man’s fiance. This leads them back to Transylvania where Von Helsing destroys her and rescues the young man. From the get go, this version had elements that would’ve never made it past the censors. In one sequence taken from the book and later used in Coppola’s version, the vampire brides are fed an infant in a sack. Also, in this version and unlike the finished film, the Countess enjoys torturing the men she captures and they in turn, enjoy it as well. There were also several shots of the Countess’s chambers being stoked with whips and chains with a strong implication of what they were being used for. Yep, this was actually a film idea being tossed around in the 1930’s.

Most of this was a moot point though, since the contract between Selznick and and Mrs. Stoker had stipulated that none of Stoker’s characters that did not appear in the short story could be used and this script had the Harkers come back. But it didn’t matter because Selznick never intended to make the film and only bought the rights to sell to Universal which he did for $12, 500. Not a bad little profit from his original 5,000.

Ruthless studio head David Selznick…”I drink your milkshake!”

Being back in the hands of Universal, Laemmle “Junior” immediately approached his favorite director, James Whale to direct it after the huge success he had with Bride of Frankenstein. Whale was waiting for Irene Dunne to finish shooting on Magnificent Obsession (1935) so she could star in his next project, Show Boat (1936). Very wary of directing yet another horror film (this would be his fifth), Whale convinced Junior to buy the rights to a mystery novel he wanted to adapt in exchange for his agreement to take on Dracula’s Daughter as his next project. Whale got the rights but secretly had no intention of making the sequel. Besides being done with the horror genre, Whale knew if he made Dracula’s Daughter next, the scheduling for Show Boat would be shot and he would most likely lose the project so he came up with a plan which would see him eventually outsmart Junior and leave him to direct Show Boat next.

Collaborating once again with his Bride of Frankenstein scribe, R.C. Sherriff; a script was written that was so purposely outlandish that it would never see approval from the Production Code Administration. Basing his script partly on Balderston’s treatment, the script would take his elements of eroticism between vampires and slaves and implied sado-masochism and blow it through the roof along with huge set pieces, constant scene shifts and big special effects sequences that would require a huge budget. Added to that was a gay subplot that was much more strongly implied than what survives in the finished film or even what he had in Bride. This was a film never intended to be made but nevertheless, it would have made one hell of a tale and probably would have topped Bride.

Sherriff’s script starts in 14th century Transylvania with Bela Lugosi reprising his role as Vlad Dracula in this origin sequence where he is a cruel and sadistic ruler. In preparations for a pleasure party thrown for some noblemen at his castle, Dracula kidnaps several young peasant girls from the village to serve as entertainment. One of these is a beautiful, young village girl who was to be played by Jane Wyatt (yep, Spock’s mom). Meanwhile in the village, the locals have finally decided to take revenge on their ruler and enlist the help of Talifer, a powerful wizard who was to be played by Boris Karloff. He curses Dracula to eternal damnation upon the earth, transforming him into the vampire. Unfortunately, the peasant girl is in the wrong place at the wrong time and Dracula, now the King Vampire; desecrates her husband’s corpse in front of her before making her into one of the undead. The two would remain in the castle until modern day when two couples (brothers and sisters who have fallen in love with each others siblings) show up. The two guys, John Martin and David Hartley attempt to impress their girlfriends, Helen Hartley and Joan Martin; by exploring the castle ruins. Despite having been killed in the first film, Dracula is first seen scaling the walls of his castle much like he does in Coppola’s film and this discrepancy is never addressed. It doesn’t matter anyway since Dracula exits the film from this point, probably planned to appear in the next sequel.

One of the brothers comes across the peasant girl, now transformed into the seductive succubus who enjoys slow kills and the whips and chains from Balderston’s draft. She really enjoys her work her and her victims enjoy it too. She enthralls the brother ( to be played by Colin Clive) who disappears and leaves the other brother insane. This is a truly monstrous characterization that would not survive to the finished film but many agree, would have been perfect for Jane Wyatt.

A look at Whale’s version

Von Helsing is put on the case and tracks Dracula’s  “daughter” to London where the brother is her love sick slave, enjoying his “torture” and she has taken on the identity of Countess Szelinski. It takes most of the second half with the main characters discussing her and trying to find her before she appears again. When discovered, she takes her slave and books passage to the Orient aboard a ship which Von Helsing and three others are able to board, leading to a showdown during a violent storm in which the Countess is destroyed and her male slaves are released from their enslavement. The screenplay ends with a double wedding between the brothers and sisters.

Jane Wyatt, Whale’s choice for the Countess…

…yeah, her.

With all of it’s sexual elements and violent scenes, the script was first submitted to the British Film Board who commented that it “would require half a dozen languages to adequately express its beastliness”. The PCA in the U.S. had a similar reaction saying it was “utterly impossible for approval”.  Whale’s scheme was working so instead of toning his script down, he encouraged Sherriff to keep submitting even more wildly unapprovable versions so that by the fourth draft, the project was stalled and Whale was taken off the picture and allowed to pursue Show Boat.

Garret Ford, who had final credit on the first Dracula, would take over the screenplay a few years later when the project gained traction again. After losing another director over production delays, Lambert Hillyer who was known mainly for directing B Westerns; would finally shoot the finished film with a story much altered from the earlier, controversial drafts.

Like the previous story drafts, the film itself picks up moments after the first film ends with Edward Van Sloan reprising his role as Van Helsing which has been strangely changed to Von Helsing here. Two Policemen from Scotland Yard have just arrived on the scene (literally, the last scene from the first film) to find Renfield’s body with his neck broken and Von Helsing who is put into custody after the body of Dracula is discovered with the stake still in his heart.  From the huge role he had in the other story drafts, Lugosi’s part has now been reduced to a wax mask of him laying in the coffin. A “cameo” for which he was paid $4,000.

“It’s not what it looks like officers.”

Von Helsing is taken into custody to Scotland Yard along with the remains of Dracula and Renfield where one of the two British versions of the Keystone Cops is left alone to look after the bodies. That’s when a beautiful, regal and mysterious woman appears, looking very much in the Greta Garbo mold. This tall drink of water with impeccable bone structure is none other than Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula’s Daughter and played not by Jane Wyatt as Whale had planned but by Gloria Holden who makes quite a charismatic impression in the tittle role. This is also fitting as the biggest change now made in this final version of the story is to the lead character herself as is made implicit in the next scene where she and her stoically spooky man servant Sandor (Irving Pichel), burn the remains of Dracula’s body in an attempt to break her free of his curse.

Free at at last..kind’ve

Immediately, we see that this version of the Countess has morphed from Sherriff’s sadistic monster of a vampire into a woman who only kills out of compulsion and longs to be free of the life she’s had to lead for 500 years. Gloria Holden’s performance here, reminded me greatly of a female version of Louis from Interview With A Vampire. There’s the same remorse and horror for what one must do to survive and it turns out this was most likely intentional on Anne Rice’s part as she’s a big fan of this movie and sites it as one of the original inspirations for that book series, even naming a vampire bar in Queen Of The Dammned, Dracula’s Daughter as an homage. This was Holden’s first starring role and she was not at all happy about it, looking down on horror films as many actors did at the time. It also didn’t help matters that she had watched Bela Lugosi struggle with typecasting since the first films success. But ironically, her disgust for the role feeds and informs her performance in a way that strengthens it. As one critic put it, “Her disdain for the part translates into a kind of self-loathing that perfectly suits her troubled character.” This also puts her performance in the category of Karloff’s Monster, both being sympathetic performances despite the unspeakable actions of the characters.

Gloria Holden…another reluctant lead who nails it.

After the ceremony, the Countess revels in her freedom as Sandor brutally shoots down all of her hopes, insisting that nothing has changed and despite her new found optimism, it’s clear that under the surface; she believes it too. In this scene is probably the first of the homosexual undertones to emerge in the film and the most subtle. Irving Pichel is a stoically haunting presence throughout that finally builds to a crescendo by the end of the film. With the sense of fatality that he dishes out to the Countess in such a matter-of-fact delivery, you’re never really sure who is the slave and who is the master in this relationship as it seems he’s subtly manipulating her as she does her victims. His androgynous appearance here marks him clearly as an old queen much like Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein but without the campy swagger. He’s clearly a “fag hag” in this role, always reminding her that she’ll “never be one of their kind”. Pichel was not only an actor but a director as well and close friends with the great character actor of the time, Paul Muni who he had worked with on a few films and bears a striking resemblance to, so much so that I though this WAS Muni until I checked the credits. As A director, Pichel would go on to helm the science fiction classic, Destination Moon in 1950 for producer George Pal.

Irving Pichel as vampire fag hag, Sandor.

As we’re being introduced to the Countess and her manservant, Von Helsing is running into some legal problems at Scotland Yard but instead of calling his lawyer, he enlists the help of one of his star students, psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffery Garth (Otto Kruger) who in turn is assisted by his plucky and incredibly cute secretary, Janet (Marguerite Churchill) who throws off a really strong Lois Lane vibe. These two have a real Spencer Tracy/Audrey Hepburn thing going on or to put in a more modern context, a Han Solo/Princess Leia relationship. She playfully teases him as she ties his bow ties for him and he scowls at her willfulness but it’s clear these two are one champagne bottle away from jumping each others bones. Otto Kruger does a great job here of the somewhat reluctant hero who is being tugged and pulled between the two lead women of the piece. He was an actor best known for the Douglas Sirk film Magnificent Obsession (1954), as the judge who tries to talk Gary Cooper into skipping town in High Noon (1952) and as the villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942). I even saw him just recently show up in an old episode of Science Fiction Theater, Marked ‘Danger’ (1955) and he would later show up in the science fiction cult classic, Colossus of New York (1958) and in both cases he played a scientist.

Otto Kruger as Dr. Garth is liking what he sees

Marguerite Churchill is the perfect combination of sexy and cute as Janet and is the perfect, wholesome foil to Gloria Holden’s Countess as they both fight for his affections. She was mainly a B movie actress in the 30’s and 40’s appearing in westerns, a Charlie Chan film and a few horror films like The Walking Dead with Boris Karloff the same year as this film. She would later leave Hollywood in the early 50’s and move to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma with her husband, actor George O’Brien until her death at the age of 89.

Marguerite Churchill as the spunky Janet

Pick one Kruger…

This odd couple arrives at a dinner party thrown by a Lady Esme Hammond who is played by none other than Hedda Hopper who was still acting at the time and only two years away from getting her gossip column in the Los Angeles Times.

It’s here that Dr. Garth (not of Izar) mulls over the problem of Von Helsing with colleagues and is introduced to Countess Zaleska and she’s taken with when he begins to explain his theory of release in which “treatment can release the human mind from any obsession” and cure the patient. She also has a great little callback line at the party when she’s offered a drink and responds like Lugosi once did saying, “I never drink…wine”.

Convinced that through her own will and Dr. Garth’s treatment she can beat the curse of Dracula, the Countess invites the doctor to her home where she explains the “power from beyond the grave that fills her with horrible impulses” and Dr. Garth suggests a 1930’s “cold turkey” approach explaining how he puts alcoholics in a room with liquor for hours alone without letting them touch it. Something tells me AA wouldn’t approve of this method but nevertheless, the Countess takes his advice with disastrous results and this may be the first film that approaches vampirism as an addiction akin to drugs and alcohol.

Dr. Garth demonstrates his “tough love” therapy.

Sandor procures a victim for the Countess, beginning the films big “lesbian scene” which it’s become famous for. After luring Lili (Nan Grey), a young girl whose desperate and wandering the night streets of London, The Countess promises her warmth food and money back in her artists studio, in exchange for modeling for the Countess who will paint her. After giving her wine, the Countess asks “You won’t object to removing your blouse, will you?”. She explains that she’s doing a study of a young girls head and shoulders and Lilli lowers her blouse straps as the Countess offers her more wine to “warm her.” Standing next to the fireplace with her top ready to fall off, Lilli is hypnotized by the Countess with a jewel. Unable to move , she still begs Zaleska not to come any closer and to not look at her “that way” before letting out a scream as the seduction becomes a rape. The subtext of this scene is hard to miss even by todays standards and the contrast between the young, beautiful blonde with Zaleskas “bull-dyke” qualities is hard to mistake. The trope of the older artist seducing the young girl into sexual favors is tweaked here as the artist, traditionally a male becomes a woman. In fact, all of the Countess’s victims in this film will be women. This scene caused a lot of discussion in the Production Code Authority’s offices with PCA head, Jospeh Breen writing about the sequence: “This will need very careful handling to avoid any questionable flavor”. Then a day before the scene was to be filmed, Breen was sent a draft of the scene and responded: “The present suggestion that Lili posses in the nude will be changed. She will be posing her neck and shoulders and there will be no suggestion that she undresses and there will be no exposure of her person. The whole sequence will be treated in such a way as to avoid any suggestion of perverse sexual desire on the part of Zaleska or of an attempted sexual attack by her upon Lili.” If you see the final scene and the following one with Lili in the hospital, I would say these decrees from the PCA have been successfully skirted around.

“Tell me about that one time in college with your roomate”.

Dr. Garth is called in to look at the patient finding bite marks on her neck bringing Von Helsing back into it. They attempt to hypnotize Lili and get enough information from her before she dies to close in on Countess Zaleska but she’s one step ahead of them, kidnapping Janet and returning to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania with the two men in hot pursuit.

“Okay, where did the vampire lady touch you?”

Apparently, the Dracula set was still standing and the Production Designer redressed it, allowing the staircase with the giant spider web from the original film to make a second appearance. There’s even a small re-use of the Frankenstein village set thrown in. This is where the film’s final act will take place. Right before the calvary arrives we have another short scene that adds to the homoerotic subtext of the film where the Countess hovers over the unconscious Janet just inches from her face leading to this scene becoming known as the “longest kiss never filmed.”

The final showdown

The ending itself is a nice minor twist and it feels very satisfying, the way everything is finally resolved.  Not bad for a film that was rushed into production without a completed script due to a deadline clause in the studio’s option of the short story from Selznick at MGM. The script actually wasn’t completed until three weeks into shooting. As a result, the film ran seven days over schedule and $50,000 over budget.

Sophie’s Choice for dudes

The filming itself seemed to be chaotic and rushed even under the direction of Lambert Hilllyer who, coming out of the B-movie world; was used to shooting quick and cheap. Despite that, the director was sent to the hospital when a free-standing fill light toppled over on his head, causing the production to lose half a day of filming. The film does feel like an eclectic mix of a B-movie with an A budget and Hillyer does an adequate job even if it feels somewhat workmanlike. Jack Pierce does his usual outstanding job even though there’s nothing here quite as eye catching as his previous works. Working together with special effects supervisor Jack P. Fulton,  they combined special lighting with a greyish-green make up for Holden’s end sequence, giving her a skin tone that contrasted with the other actors. There are also some strange inconsistencies in the story with the curious absence of the Harkers and others from the first film that you would think would come to defend Von Helsing. It’s also not clear what Countess Zaleska actually means when she declares herself Dracula’s Daughter near the end. Does this mean she is his biological doctor or a supernatural one through being made a vampire by him? All we learn is that she’s 500 years old. Despite all of this, it’s still an engaging film that will best be remembered for being the first to feature a homoerotic-lesbian approach to the vampire myth and to treat it as an addiction with a reluctant vampire that would echo into the modern remaking of the vampire myth, starting with the Anne Rice novels.

Dad comes by to check on his little princess

Unfortunately, the end result of this film was a sad one. Universal had been in trouble and had been running into cost overruns on a number of pictures, forcing Junior Laemmle to take out a 1 million dollar loan from Standard Capital Corporation and filmmaker Charles R. Rogers who owned an independent production house. Just before Dracula’s Daughter wrapped, the loan was called in and the Laemmle’s were unable to pay it, losing their own studio. Just 6 days before filming was completed on the picture, the Laemmle’s were removed as heads of the studio and replaced with Rogers who didn’t like horror films and suspended production on them to focus on musicals and other more standard fare. Universal’s horror films would be put on hold for three years when they would finally return with Son Of Frankenstein. Even then, the Universal horror films would never be the same, becoming B-Movies after Son Of Frankenstein.

Dracula’s Daughter marked the end of an era and the first cycle of the Monster Franchise this studio is so famous for. Junior, the first horror geek, created an artistic legacy that still stands up today and still influences the studio he and his father first brought into fruition. These were iconic monsters that we are still reminded of every Halloween, 80 years later. They may have lost the studio but they won the cultural war. Not bad Junior.

The Laemmle’s…Pops and Junior

 

 

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