There have been too many adaptations of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula to count. From the unauthorized silent film Nosferatu (1922) to the first authorized 1931 Universal classic, one thing is for sure, Dracula is the granddaddy of vampire monster movies.
F. W. Murnau directed Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens in 1922 and the producers had thought that they changed enough of the story (along with the character’s names) that they wouldn’t have any problems with the copyright. They were wrong. Bram Stoker’s estate, at the request of his wife, sued for copyright infringement and won, requesting that every existing print of the film be destroyed. Luckily it managed to survive.
When Universal Studios film producer Carl Laemmle, Jr saw Nosferatu, he quickly acquired the movie rights to Dracula. Carl Laemmle, Jr had produced a couple classic silent horror movies for Universal, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and was hoping to follow them up with Dracula. Laemmle had envisioned Lon Chaney as Dracula and Tod Browning as director with the sets and budget as extravagant as his last few productions.
Unfortunately Chaney, who had starred in several of Browning’s movies (including the lost silent movie London After Midnight where Chaney played a vampire), died of throat cancer. By the time the film got the greenlight, the budget had been slashed. Bela Lugosi was cast as Dracula because he was already playing the character in the popular Broadway play version. Browning didn’t really care too much about the film and cinematographer Karl Freund unofficially directed parts the movie. Despite all the problems, the press releases proclaimed that people had fainted from shock while watching the film, a great publicity stunt. Lugosi had become synonymous with the role and he never seemed to get out from under its shadow.