My notes on Purple Playhouse presents Dracula (1973)
Though presumably not lost, this Canadian Broadcasting Corporation adaptation of Dracula is hard to see in its entirety – though three of presumably four acts are available in timecoded chunks on youtube.
It’s a curio, but it’d be interesting to see the whole thing … indeed, it’d be nice to have a look at the whole Purple Playhouse series, hosted by novelist Robertson Davies, which includes adaptations of Victorian theatrical melodramas like Sweeney Todd (with Barry Morse), The Ticket-of-Leave Man and The Bells. In his introduction, Davies talks about Bram Stoker’s theatrical affiliations and positions Dracula as a theatrical piece – Norman Welsh, sporting enormous fangs and and English accent, is made up to look like Henry Irving and is given quite a lot to say, including an unusual final moment as he pleads with Jonathan (Dan MacDonald) and Mina (Blair Brown, later of Altered States and Fringe) not to stake him because he’s kissed them both (as in the Orson Welles radio version and the Coppola film, it’s Mina who wields the mallet).
Rod Coneybeare’s script is a radical cut-down of the book to fit into an hour slot, pruning even more than the Mystery & Imagination version – we lose Renfield, Arthur, Quincy, one bride, all the travelling and have to take locations for granted since they’re never specified. And there’s still room for a feint whereby Van Helsing (Nehemiah Persoff) concludes that the death of Lucy (Charlotte Hunt) – who seems to be Mina Murray’s sister, since she’s lurking in the Murray tomb – and the biting of Mina is Jonathan’s doing and that he was transformed into a vampire in Transylvania. It’s only when the cross has no effect on the traumatised estate agent that the savant wonders who else is a likely suspect.
It takes place on a few decent sets with some video insert exteriors, including a quite decent depiction of the crawling-down-a-wall business which still cops a trick from the 1960s Batman TV series (no window gag, though). Vampires here fade in and out through in-camera dissolves and director Jack Nixon-Browne stages one neat effect as Dracula appears in frame as a large dog and then transforms off-camera into Welsh who manages to loom up as if shedding animal shape. Otherwise, there’s an attempt to play some games with studio drama – an introductory shot is through the distorting lens of a brandy balloon, with the white-taloned hand of Dracula reaching in to pick it up. Some elements seem odd – like the light-catching sparkly bling crosses wielded by the vampire slayers – and there’s a lot of speechifying and cloak-swishing … but the clue is in the series title. The point of Purple Playhouse was evidently to lean into the conventions of Victorian melodrama, rather than to reinterpret the text to more contemporary tastes as almost every other version of the novel does (certainly including the other TV adaptations of the 1960s and ‘70s). It’s not a parody, exactly, but it is a pastiche. With Steven Sutherland as a fur-hatted stooge Dr Seward and Marie Romain Aloma and Marcella Saint-Amant as the brides.