Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Countess Dracula (1971) – Rated PG

“This Hammer Productions cult classic stars Ingrid Pitt as Elisabeth, a countess who discovers that the blood of young virgins can restore her fading beauty. Her twisted lover, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), is happy to keep her in supply. But soon, the town begins to miss its nubile residents, and Dobi becomes enraged when he learns that Elisabeth has been posing as her own daughter in order to seduce a younger man.”

The tale of Countess Elizabeth Bathory has gained a fair amount of attention lately with two competing versions released in the past few years, Bathory, Countess of Blood (2008) starring Anna Friel and The Countess (2009) starring Julie Delpy. I still prefer 1971’s Countess Dracula.

Hammer took a page out of AIP’s Poe book and named this Countess Dracula to tie it in with their popular series of Dracula movies. As is typical of their 1970s output, Hammer lays on the gore and nudity. It may seem quaint today but I am surprised that it got a PG rating.

I loved how they showed the royalty’s callous disregard for the peasants right after the credits. The painting showed in that credit sequence is by Hungarian Istvan Csok and depicts the legend of Countess Bathory. This detail and many others in the production are courtesy of Hungarians Alexander Paal (producer) and Peter Sasdy (director). They had always wanted to adapt the legend of the Blood Countess to the screen and they wrote the story before passing it off to Jeremy Paul to do the screenplay.

The Avengers’ Diana Rigg was offered the title role. When she turned it down, Hammer turned to their Vampire Lovers star Ingrid Pitt. As in Vampire Lovers, Ingrid is quite good at being bad. The makeup artists do quite a nice job at making her older (and progressively uglier each time the blood wears off). Pitt was quite upset however to discover that her thick accent caused her to be dubbed over by another actress, Olive Gregg.

Nigel Green turns in a wonderful performance in what is essentially a henchman role. The only problem is that his performance is so much better than those around him that it can show them in a bad light. He has a tendency to steal the show, whether as Colour-Sergeant Bourne in Zulu or Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts. I felt for him as his Captain Dobi loved the Countess as she was before regaining her youth but once she regained her youth, she chases after the young Lt. Toth (Sandor Eles, another Hungarian emigre).

People Watch: A young Lesley Anne Down plays the Countess’ daughter. She would go on to fame as Georgina in Upstairs, Downstairs. She later starred in The Great Train Robbery, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and The Sphinx.

The Great Train Robbery – Trains = Money week

The Great Train Robbery (1978) – Rated PG

Victorian rogue Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) crafts an ambitious plan to stage England’s first hold-up of a moving train. To get to the 25,000 pounds of gold bars on board — which are well-guarded by a complex key system — Pierce enlists a bedmate (Lesley Anne Down), a safecracker (Donald Sutherland) and a tough guy (Wayne Sleep). Director Michael Crichton adapted the script from his novel by the same name, which is based on actual events.

“Now, on the matter of motive, we ask you: Why did you conceive, plan and execute this dastardly and scandalous crime?” – “I wanted the money.”

In addition to directing, Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay based on his own novel. He has a fine eye for detail without bogging things down. The film feels fun and Geoffrey Unsworth’s Victorian cinematography is gorgeous. This film is dedicated to Unsworth’s memory.

Sean Connery is delightful (and clearly having fun) as Edward Pierce. Yes he really does run on top of the train while it is moving at 40-50 mph. Lesley-Anne Downe is quite good as Miriam, his love interest and accomplice.

Donald Sutherland gets to play his normal delightfully goofy 70s self, the robber Agar – thankfully reined in just a bit by Crichton. Wayne Sleep plays the fourth robber, Clean Willy and was a member of the Royal Ballet Company.

This is first and foremost a caper film and follows the standard tropes associated with that subgenre, even though it takes place in the mid-19th century. Crichton delights in both the details and language of the 19th century criminal underclass. You can learn quite a bit simply by paying attention to this film and yet it doesn’t come off as preachy. Crichton also manages to throw in a wonderful double entendre conversation for Connery and a fun ending to bring the film together.

People Watch: This was the last film of Hammer regular Andre Morell. He plays the Judge.