Dwight Frye is a delight. He is the living embodiment of the Thespian credo, “Play well your part; in that, all honor lies.” He almost manages to steal Dracula from Bela Lugosi, which is saying something because we are, after all, talking about Bela Lugosi. Watch the film again and notice how Frye comes up with two entirely different speaking styles: meek and soft-spoken before he meets the Count, and then wigged-out, drawn-out, and “screamy” after he becomes one of Dracula’s minions.
I regard Frye’s performance in Dracula as “value-added.” While we have a completely serviceable drawing room mystery going on in the foreground (featuring what might be the first “method acting” performance in history by Bela Lugosi), we have a whole other “mini-movie” going on in the background. This mini-movie is a strange, spider-filled redux of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as we watch Frye convincing transform himself from a meek and polite real estate clerk into a maniacal, raving thing.
He came and stood below my window in the moonlight. And he promised me things, not in words, but by doing them […] A red mist spread over the lawn, coming on like a flame of fire! And then he parted it, and I could see that there were thousands of rats, with their eyes blazing red, like his, only smaller. Then he held up his hand, and they all stopped, and I thought he seemed to be saying: "Rats! Rats! Rats! Thousands! Millions of them! All RED BLOOD! All these will I give you… if you will obey me."
Frye would go on to a brief but distinguished career in Universal Studios Monster films, memorably playing hunchbacked assistant Fritz in Frankenstein, Herman Glieb in The Vampire Bat for Majestic Studios, Karl in The Bride of Frankenstein, and cameo and bit parts in The Invisible Man, Son of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.
OTHER INTERESTING THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT DWIGHT FRYE WHILE SURFING THE WEB:
1. His middle name was “Iliff.”
2. He was named one of the “Top Ten Performers” on Broadway in 1923.
3. He was part of the original Broadway cast of Luigi Pirandello’s famous play Six Characters in Search of an Author in 1924.
4. He was an accomplished pianist.
5. During World War II, when roles where in short supply, he worked designing tools at Lockheed Martin in Los Angeles.
6. The Alice Cooper song I referenced is “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.” Cooper apparently dropped the final “e” from Frye’s name because Frye only added the “e” when he started performing on stage. Strange.