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BCB After Dark: Cleaning up the plate

The cool spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks you what’s going to happen with the Cubs and Willson Contreras.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the secret spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re terribly glad to see you stop in. Please, make yourself at home. There are several good tables still available. The waitstaff will be by soon to take your order. Please bring your own beverage.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

No baseball games today, but the US Men’s National Team beat Costa Rica, 2-1. Also, the Athletics lost an important member of their family as former player and broadcaster Ray Fosse passed away at 74 after a 16-year battle with cancer that he never made public until near the end. My sympathies to his friends, family and the entire A’s fanbase.

Last time, I asked you which non-Game 7 playoff contest of the 2015-2016 period was your favorite. And this turned out to be a good question because it seemed everyone had their own choice. All six candidates got at least ten percent of the vote, but the winner was Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS with 25% of the vote. That was the game that sent the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945, so it’s understandable that so many of you picked it.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.

I can always get a positive reaction with a Miles Davis video, so here’s Miles playing “My Funny Valentine” in Italy in 1964. This performance also has Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano and Tony Williams on drums. So basically, the 1927 Yankees of jazz.

On thing I’m always amazed about Miles is the way he used silence as another instrument. That’s really on display here.

I promised to write about Drácula, the Spanish-language version of the 1931 film version of Tod Browning’s Dracula from the same year. It’s been fashionable to say that the Spanish version is the superior version of the story, but it’s really not that simple. There are things that are better in the English-language version and there are things that are better in the Spanish-language one. It’s better not to compare the quality of the two films but rather just compare how the two films approach the same material. Both versions are timeless classics of cinema and both should be appreciated equally on their own terms.

During the silent era, the Hollywood studios made about half of their revenue in foreign markets. This became a problem when the films moved to the talkies. At first the studios just kept putting in cards in the middle of the talking pictures to explain what was being said in a language other than English, but as you can imagine, these interruptions of the films were not popular. So they needed a different solution.

At the same time the Hollywood studios were losing their foreign markets, the Great Depression hit, putting a further dent in revenues. Studios like Universal Pictures were in trouble.

A solution was proposed in which the studios would record the film several times in several different languages at the same time. Thus, sets could be re-used, keeping down costs. These multiple-language versions (MLVs) were not just done in Spanish—some films were produced in as many as 13 different languages, but the Latin American market was probably the most important one for US filmmakers.

The Spanish-language version of Dracula was shot on the same sets as the Tod Browning version. The English-language version shot from 8 am to 6 pm (according to Drácula star Lupita Tovar) and then the Spanish-language version would shoot from 8 pm to dawn.

Directing Drácula was George Melford, who had been a big name in Hollywood during the silent picture era. He directed Rudolph Valentino’s big smash hit The Sheik, for example. Rumor had it that Melford got the job because he spoke Spanish, but that rumor wasn’t true because Melford, the son of German immigrants, didn’t speak Spanish at all. Most of the cast didn’t speak English either, so he had to communicate through a translator. Despite this, Tovar, at least, claimed that Melford was always able to get his point across and was a wonderful director.

The look of the two films is largely the same, which makes sense since they used the same sets. Melford looked over the dailies that Browning/Karl Freund were turning in at the end of each day’s shooting and tried, for the most part, to recreate what the English-language version was doing. He did make some changes to accommodate his longer script and took a few shortcuts as he had to shoot the Spanish version in 22 days. The English-version took more than twice as long.

The thing about the Spanish version that sticks out is that it’s about half an hour longer. The extra time is used to expand the plot more and to fix some inconsistencies in the English-language version. For example, the English version just drops the Lucy/Lucía character when they are done with it, while the Spanish version takes the time to wrap up her plot. The parts of Renfield and especially that of Mina/Eva are beefed up considerably and for the better. On the other hand, there are a few unnecessary moments, such as when Conde Drácula looks over the paperwork on the lease at Carfax Abbey. Which reminds me to get working on that Vampire Realtors screenplay I’ve been kicking around.

The one thing that really keeps the Spanish version from being better than the English version is Carlos Villarías, who plays Conde Drácula. Villarías simply didn’t have the charisma that Lugosi had. Lugosi’s eyes were terrifying. Villarías’s eyes reminded me of Count Floyd. Villarías’s delivers the lines perfectly fine, but the lacked the menace and bite present in every line delivered by Lugosi. Villarías seemed a lot more like a pleasant gentleman from the south of Spain (which he was) than a menace from the mountains of Transylvania.

It’s hard to say one filmed version of Dracula is better when the title character is such a step down from the other one.

The great triumph of the Spanish-language version is the beefed-up character of Mina Seward, re-named Eva in this version, and the incredible performance from Mexican actress Lupita Tovar. One of the weakest parts of the Tod Browning version is Dorothy Chandler’s performance as Mina. To be fair she didn’t have a lot to work with, but Mina Seward comes across as a dead fish in Dracula.

Tovar’s Eva, on the other hand, is a fiery woman of passions and desires. Whereas Chandler always wore conservative clothes that kept her body covered, even when she slept, Tovar wore gowns that showed more and were much sexier. When Eva slept, she wore sheer nightgowns that showed a lot more. The same goes for the much smaller part of Carmen Guerrero as Lucía.

The Spanish version also takes a lot more time to develop Drácula’s seduction of Eva and has Eva go much farther down the line to vampire-hood than the Browning version does. Tovar does a great job with this extra material. This isn’t some passive victim and model of Victorian womanhood. This is a woman tempted by the dark side. Tovar as Eva Seward is the highlight of Drácula.

Whether you prefer Dwight Frye or Pablo Alvarez Rubio as Renfield is a matter of opinion. The extra half-hour running time certainly gives Rubio more to do, although some of that is just delivering exposition. After his encounter with Dracula, Frye plays Renfield with a menacing insanity. Rubio plays Renfield as if he’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Whether you find that more entertaining or too over-the-top is up for you. The Spanish-language Renfield is also much more concerned with his immortal soul than the English-language one. That’s another difference as religion plays a bigger role in the version intended for Latin America.

Like most of the MLVs, Drácula was soon forgotten after its release. The concept of the MLV never really caught on, as most of them were seen as cheaper and inferior to the English-language versions by foreign audiences. Most of them were destroyed in the years to come in order to recover the silver from the film stock. Only a few horror film experts remembered that the film had ever existed by the 1960s.

The film was considered mostly lost by the 1980s. There was an incomplete copy found in New Jersey, and those who saw what remained of the film raved about it. But in the early-nineties, a complete copy of the film was discovered in a film archive in Cuba. As you can imagine, it was not easy to get a film out of Cuba for restoration in the 1990s, nor would it be today. But after a few years of negotiations, the complete Spanish-language version was restored and released in 1993. It was an instant hit.

Lupita Tovar was still alive when the original copy was discovered. She had become a big star in Mexico in the 1940s, but she retired from acting shortly thereafter. Her husband, Paul Kohner, was the head of the foreign language films at Universal (Tovar got the part of Eva because Kohner was smitten with her) and they were married from 1932 until his death in 1988. Their daughter, Susan Kohner, became an actress and was nominated for an Academy Award for 1959’s Imitation of Life. Tovar even lived to see her grandchildren direct and produce the American Pie movies.

But the restoration of Drácula gave Tovar another, deserved, time in the spotlight. She was much in demand on the horror convention circuits for the final 20 years of her life, talking about her time making Drácula. Tovar lived to be 106, only passing away in November of 2016. She got to see the Cubs win a World Series.

Here’s Lupita Tovar Kohner talking about Drácula.

Welcome back to those who skip the jazz and the movies.

This past year has been a tough one for Cubs fans as so many of the heroes of 2016 were traded away. As far as I can tell, only Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras remain from the World Series team.

Hendricks signed a contract extension that will keep him in Cubbie blue for at least the next two seasons. The mega-contract that Heyward signed before the 2016 season has two more years to run.

But Contreras has just one year of team control left. There has been a lot of talk about an extension for Contreras, but no word on if one is going to happen. The Cubs have shown that they are willing to trade away franchise icons if they can’t get them to sign contract extensions that they feel works for them. (I’m not getting into what “works for them” means.)

But catchers are also hard to come by and it has to be noted that the Cubs had a terrible time trying to find a backup catcher to Contreras last season. Even if they don’t want to sign a catcher who turns 30 in May, he’s not going to be easy to replace if they don’t.

So what are the Cubs going to do with Willson Contreras. Will he sign a contract extension? Will the Cubs trade him away? Or will they let him play out the year and then let him leave as a free agent at the end of next season? (Unlikely, but I thought I’d put it in as an option.)

So what is going to happen between the Cubs and Contreras between now and the 2022 trade deadline?


What’s going to happen to Cubs catcher Willson Contreras?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    The Cubs will sign him to a contract extension
    (74 votes)
  • 19%
    The Cubs will trade him this offseason.
    (26 votes)
  • 19%
    The Cubs will deal him during the 2022 season
    (26 votes)
  • 4%
    He will become a free agent at the end of 2022
    (6 votes)
132 votes total Vote Now

Thanks for stopping by. It’s been so nice to see you. If you need us to call you a cab, let us know. We hope to see you again next week with another edition of BCB After Dark.