Monday, January 30, 2012
YEAR 1936: COUNTESS ZALESKA
While 1934 is a rich year and 1935 is just okay, 1936 really drops the ball, as I found no significant femmes formidables for this year except Countess Marya Zaleska, better known by the title of her one film-appearance: DRACULA'S DAUGHTER.
The film never mentions how Zaleska came to be the daughter of the same vampire dispatched in the classic 1931 DRACULA, but the narrative insists repeatedly that she is literally his daughter rather than just one of many victims enthralled to the Count. She possesses most of the normal traits of the vampire: she's active only at night and sleeps in an earth-filled coffin at night, drinks blood to survive, and can hypnotize anyone with her will and the Dracula ring.
Ironically, the original treatment for this film, as chronicled in David Skal's THE MONSTER SHOW, suggested a dominatrix-type of vampiress rather along the lines of the version of Fah Lo Suee seen in the film MASK OF FU MANCHU. However, the film censorship board had so many problems with the script that Universal trashed it. What resulted was a far more sympathetic villainess, who may be the cinema's first *consistent* depiction of a vampire who is tormented by her unnatural urges and who fights for a cure. However, despite the death of her evil father in the previous film, and her attempt to fight those urges with the help of modern psychology, the vampire persona wins the battle. Zaleska compounds her surrender to evil by attempting to blackmail a young man (her psychologist, in fact) to join her in the life of the undead. She's only foiled because she betrays a faithful acolyte, who kills her with a wooden arrow through the heart (probably the first time an arrow took the place of the traditional stake, also).
Actress Gloria Holden, in her most famous role, gives Zaleska a brooding, tormented quality rare for vampires of the early 20th century. Because Zaleska victimizes two female characters in the film, she has some status in academic gender-studies as an early icon of lesbianism.