9 Classic Movie Actors Who Played Dracula
Say the name Dracula and who do you see? Most likely Bela Lugosi.
The Hungarian actor remains the face of Bram Stoker’s iconic character, even for some who have never seen him in the role. So here’s a surprising fact to remember: Lugosi only played Count Dracula twice in film: first in Universal’s 1931 original, then 17 years later when he donned the cloak again in the comedy Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948).
In contrast, Christopher Lee played Count Dracula 10 times and he remains equally memorable.
But maybe it’s because Lugosi has been in so many horror movies that we equate him with the face of Dracula. He was also in two other non-Dracula vampire movies, Mark of the Vampire and The Return of the Vampire. Whatever the reason, Lugosi has owned the character since he took the stage in the 1927 Broadway production of the Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderson play. (Just look at the face on Halloween plates and decorations and tell me it doesn’t look like Lugosi.)
Lugosi is credited with creating the makeup, dress styles, and mannerisms for the stage and bringing them to the Universal films. (Stoker’s original description of his creation was a “tall old man, clean-shaven save for a long white mustache.” For this look, see Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)
There are hundreds of vampire films, but a significantly smaller number of retellings Dracula or use the character, not a generic creature. And while we love Bela Lugosi, let’s take a quick look at other actors who have played Dracula. This list only includes films made up to 1980, my improved cutoff for the classic film genre, otherwise there would be entries for two of my favorites: Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Luke Evans in Dracula Untold (2014).
Max fright in Nosferatu (1922). OK, this is the only movie here without Dracula in the title or as the vampire’s name. But it’s a Dracula film, as evidenced by the fact that Bram Stoker’s widow fought the production in what could have been the first case of copyright infringement. This led to an order to destroy all copies of the film. Decades later, copies reappeared and the once-lost film was found. Shreck’s nightmarish portrayal of the vampire is notable for its demonic look. He’s a repulsive creature with rat-like features – a ghastly contrast to the sensual cinematic vampires that will follow. Orlock’s makeup would be recreated for the 1979 remake by Werner Herzog Nosferatu: The Vampire with Klaus Kinski.
Carlo Villarias in Dracula (Spanish, 1931). The advent of talkies caused more than one adjustment for the motion picture industry, including opportunities to reach the foreign language market. For some studios, including Universal, that meant making a second version of the film in Spanish Dracula. During the day, Tod Browning filmed the Lugosi Dracula; At night, the sets were turned over to director George Melford to create a Spanish-language version of the film. At times, the cast even used the same markings for actors used by the Browning crew. Dracula would be the most famous role for the Spanish-born Vallarias. His portrayal was met with mixed reviews, but received universal praise. His co-star Lupito Tovar recalled in interviews how Vallarias would rehearse alone and when he got on set, “he was absolutely wonderful…you never had to do a second take,” she said. Tovar’s grandsons are filmmakers Chris and Paul Weitz, who announced earlier this year that they would be writing and directing together Spanish Draculaa film about her grandmother and the making of this film.
Christopher Lee in several films. Though Lugosi’s halting speech pattern and hypnotic gaze captivated audiences in 1931, it wasn’t until Hammer Films launched its vampire franchise that the creature became overtly sexual. Thank you to the cast of handsome, aristocratic and imposing Christopher Lee for making his Dracula both sexy and terrifying. His first of seven appearances as Count Dracula for Hammer was in the 1958 film Dracula (released in the States as Terror of Dracula). His screen presence could be so intense that you could watch Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965), unaware that Lee never spoke a word. In all, Lee played the role ten times during his illustrious career.
John Carradine in several films. Tall and gaunt, Carradine is not the typical physical representation of Dracula. But he has this hypnotic “stare down” look and that’s a big part of the character. Carradine played Dracula twice for Universal Pictures in the monster mash-ups House Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945); later he was part of the campy horror westernBilly the Kid vs Dracula (1966).
Jack Palance in Dracula by Bram Stoker/Dracula by Dan Curtis (1974). Jack Palance is a creepy guy and that seems to indicate that his portrayal of Dracula would be evil rather than romantic. However, this adaptation of Stoker’s novel by Richard Matheson used the idea of
Franz Lederer in The Return of Dracula (1958). Lederer was tall, dark, handsome, and stoic as the Count, who assumes the identity of an artist he murders and then visits his American family on his quest for “freedom.” As a nice gesture, Lederer wears his coat like a cape on his shoulders. The actor is from Prague, so his accent and halting speech will remind you of another Dracula.
Louis Jourdan in Count Dracula (1977). This BBC mini-series is clearly a 70’s product with psychedelic graphics used to enhance spooky moments. Jourdan puts an intriguing twist on the Count: he’s handsome, elegant, and hip in his black suit, but his face has an expressionless intensity that makes him appear soulless.
George Hamilton in Love at first bite (1977). If you like your Dracula tanned, handsome, regal and with a sense of humor, here he is in this parody by director Stan Dragoti.
Frank Langella in Dracula (1979). Like Lugosi, Langella brought his Count Dracula to life on Broadway in the Hamilton Deane/John L. Balderdash play. Langella said he wanted to separate Lugosi and Lee in his portrayal, and he succeeded: “I decided he was a very vulnerable and erotic man, not cool and distant and with no sense of humor or humanity. I didn’t want him to come off as stilted, overly loud, or authoritarian as he’s often portrayed. I wanted to show a man who is evil but lonely and capable of falling in love,” he is quoted as saying in Film Review magazine (1979). His alluring and graceful performance made the film more of a gothic romance than a horror film. Langella’s performance is echoed by the magnificent yet menacing score by the great John Williams.
– Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.
Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, NY, is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love of classic movies on her blog, Watching Forever, and is a member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was the President of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now runs the Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs spin-off group. She’s proud to have spotlighted Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown competition. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.