Dracula has been adapted for television many times. In the best cases, the lower production values come with a more relaxed pace of story telling and less self-conscious experimentation. In the worst cases, we get schlock. I watched three TV Draculas over the past few weeks--I'll start with the worst first;
Jack Palance as the Count is the most interesting thing about 1973's Dracula, though he plays the role seeming at all times distracted and grumpy. There's still a quiet eccentricity to his delivery that keeps you watching him. The production's directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis with a teleplay by Richard Matheson, the two of whom apparently decided the original story suffered from being too sexy and making too much sense.
In this version, Jonathan Harker visits Dracula's castle where the Count and he enter into a contest of wills over the letters Dracula wants him to write to London saying he's going to stay in Transylvania for a month, a relatively minor detail in the book that most adaptations get through quickly. Here Dracula gets increasingly angry with the solicitor he keeps imprisoned as the young man continually refuses to write the letters, calling into question why it's so important to Dracula. In the book, Dracula did it with subtle persuasion so he could keep Jonathan for a month to glean as much information as he could from him about England. Here, it's never clear exactly what Dracula wants from Harker after their initial interviews.
The movie also continually teases the audience with the beginnings of famous moments and cutting away from them before they get to fruition--Dracula only delivers a fragment of his Race of Conquerors speech and offhandedly, he sees Harker cut himself shaving, but responds to it only by turning away and leaving the room. The brides show up just to bum rush Jonathan while hissing, devoid of any sexuality, they function as foot soldiers here in this oddly chaste film. One of the significant contributions, which apparently inspired Coppola in his 1992 version, is the idea that Dracula is going to England to pursue his reincarnated love, though Curtis and Matheson achieve only a minimum of mileage from the idea--in this case, the girl is Lucy, who exits just as soon as she usually does. The love between her and Dracula is shown in wordless, misty 1970s flashbacks of the two waltzing in the park.
Harker never makes it back to England in this version, and Lucy's suitors are whittled down to just one character, Arthur Holmwood, and the absence of Doctor Seward means also the absence of Renfield. A title at the beginning establishes the story as taking place in 1897, but everyone's dressed like it's no later than 1850
My guess is they were recycling costumes from TV westerns and figured no-one would know the difference. They might have overcome the problem by simply setting the story a few decades earlier.
This is the only version where I've heard Mina pronounced "Men-uh" instead of "Me-nuh". This is generally done by a rather dull Nigel Davenport as Van Helsing--maybe it's meant to be due to his accent but I doubt it. A baby faced Simon Ward as Arthur takes Van Helsing's word for it when he tells the lovesick young man that Lucy's a vampire, in spite of the fact that Holmwood hasn't witnessed anything vampiric about his fiancée except her resurrection. It's enough for him to help Van Helsing drive a stake through her heart.
This adds to the unintentional comedy when he and Van Helsing discover Dracula's brides sleeping in their coffins. "What are they, Doctor?" asks the young man.
They're called "women", Art.
A quick readiness to take Van Helsing's word on vampires is also a flaw in the most other ways superior 1977 BBC production Count Dracula. This one features Louis Jourdan as Dracula utterly failing to connect with the character in any way but around him is a mostly solid ensemble of actors, particularly Frank Finlay as Van Helsing and most especially the stunning medieval beauty Judi Bowker as Mina.
I mean, the slender body, long neck, and flat chest would have gone over great in any medieval court. Maybe her head would've been a little large for them but it looks great to me if oddly precarious. I guess Bowker was in Clash of the Titans but I haven't seen that since I was a kid and don't remember her.
Dracula starts as a young man in this one and doesn't seem to have a great deal of motive other than to be bad. But there are a lot of nice bits from the novel here which you don't often see, like Mina and Lucy taking the sights in the Whitby graveyard.
I was also delighted in this version by Renfield reciting Emily Dickenson's famous poem about a fly and death.
Renfield and Harker are interestingly merged into one character in my favourite television Dracula, the 1968 version from Mystery and Imagination with Denholm Elliott in the role of the Count. It features some of the most intelligent and provoking streamlinings and rearrangings of the novel I've seen.
I love Denholm Elliott, but I'm so used to seeing him in sensitive and nervous parts, I'd never have pegged him as one best suited for the passionate and violent Dracula, but he carries it off extremely well. The story begins with him in England, having worked his way into society, and we see him at a dinner party with Lucy Westenra and Dr. Seward, who single-handedly stands in for Holmwood and Morris. Lucy is drawn to Dracula through conversation rather than through wordless supernatural wiles, and I absolutely adored the fact that Elliott gives the Race of Conquerors speech--with brilliant ferocity--to Lucy and she's apparently seduced by it.
Dracula is shown to be less of a strategist in this version, clumsily not put on guard by the proximity of Harker in Renfield mode in the asylum after it's discovered the both of them were on the Demeter and Mina knows it was Dracula whom Harker went to visit in Transylvania. This doesn't seem like a flaw in the production, merely a natural aspect of Dracula as a bit of a fish out of water.
Seward thankfully needs a great deal more convincing from Van Helsing in this version before he buys this whole vampire business, and watching the two of them with Mina putting together Dracula's story and nature from a variety of clues is spun with satisfying, detective like threads.