By calling its current late show series "Shock Week", WNAC-TV may have turned away many persons who would enjoy these fine movies immensely. Last night's Dracula's Daughter for example, was in every way an exceptional film. Made in the 1930's, it is limited in cinematographic technique, but its brilliant characterizations and universal theme of man's helplessness in a hostile universe give it a quality of genius. Professor von Helping, the German occult scholar and vampire expert, embodies the intellectual's plight of being disregarded by society. Otto Krueger turns in an admirable performance as the sensitive young psychiatrist who knows he is unable to understand or mediate the deeper workings of the mind. And above all is the towering tragic figure of Countess Elesca-Dracula's daughter-swept along like a bit of ash in a wind to her final agony in the Transylvanian castle where her heart is pierced by a deadly wooden shaft.
The Countess wants but one thing release from the awful curse that compels her nightly so drain the blood of an innocent person. In her struggle in symbolized men's attempt to free himself from his own instincts.
In this film, cheap horror is carefully avoided, and the blood-sucking scenes are all tactfuly done. The great theme is illustrated with an assembly of vivid episodes mounting in tension to the Transylvanian crescendo; the total effect is terrifying in the way an Aeschylus tragedy is terrifying. A representative scene is that in which a team of surgeons tries in vain to save the latest victim. "He has died of an unnatural loss of blood," says one over the corpse, and then after a chilling silence come the ominous words: "If only we knew what caused those two puncture marks just over the jugular vein."
The acting is generally good and in some cases superb. Countess Elesca is portrayed by an obscure actress who nevertheless does a remarkable job. She carries herself with the dignity of one enlightened through suffering, and in her periods of involuntary evil follows her unconquerable instincts with grisly resolution. She also achieves outstanding expressiveness with simple movements; merely sitting up slowly in her coffin at sunset she moves the viewer greatly.
A certain excess of irrelevant gaiety which distracts one from the somber business at hand is the film's only defect. One wonders if it is really essential to spend so much footage on the Transylvanian folk festival when what we really want to know is how things stand in Dracula's castle above the town. But this is at most a minor flaw in a generally excellent production. Dracula's Daughter, in short, makes fine entertainment, and tomorrow night's WNAC presentation - The Mad Ghoul-promises to be equally rewarding.