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I actively seek out movies from as many different nations (and languages) and time periods as possible: one reason being so that I can experience at least a few details of many different cultures (and eras, at least since the days of early cinema). Also, if the films aren't in English, I endeavour to learn some of the native language (or improve my existing ability) by gleaning as much information as I can get from the actors' spoken dialogue or the printed subtitles or (as in the case of this silent film) title cards in that language.
'A 111-es' (meaning 'In 111', referring to a room number in an hotel in this movie) is an Hungarian silent film. I viewed a print with the original intertitles in Magyar. My grasp of that language is very limited, so I was keen to improve my knowledge here. For that purpose, 'A 111-es' proved to be a bad choice, since it's a melodrama with some degree of mystery about it, and much of the action is intentionally baffling even if you speak the lingo. However, I was also attracted to this film by the fact that it was directed by (the future Sir) Alexander Korda, who later had an impressive film career in Britain.
Among my friends is an Hungarian expatriate who kindly sits through some (often very boring) Hungarian movies with me, selectively translating at my request and explaining obscure references. She wasn't available for this screening, so I had to muddle through on my tod with my very limited knowledge of Magyar. If I make a few errors here, I hope someone more familiar with this movie will contact me with corrections.
An evil baron with a jawbreaker name (well-played by Jenö Törzs) carried on a torrid affair with innocent young Olga, but spitefully cast her off. She dies soon afterward, having lost the will to live. She does, however, possess a lookalike sister Vera. From upstage left enters Sidney, an English conjuror who enlists Vera in his magic act as a ploy to get revenge on the baron for killing her sister. Sidney uses various stage illusions and some unconvincing hypnotism to nobble the baron, and of course it's bang obvious that Vera will impersonate Olga. But things take an unexpected turn when Vera -- impersonating her sister -- spoils the plan by becoming attracted to the baron, just as her sister was. Or is something else happening?
I had difficulty following much of the action, partly down to my poor grasp of the language but also largely down to this movie's intentionally baffling narrative and spooky atmosphere, which is well sustained. In the dual roles of the lookalike sisters, María Corda (is she any relation to Korda?) is quite pretty and a talented actress who actually makes her two roles seem genuinely like two different people: a feat made even more impressive since one of them spends much of this movie impersonating the other. Despite this movie's intentional confusions, there's never any doubt (for the audience, not for the other characters) as to which sister is which, since they never both appear in the same sequence -- much less in the same camera set-up -- and so there's no need for trick photography.
I did find the lead actress's name distracting, though. In Britain, there's a famous murder case in which a simple young rural woman from East Anglia named Maria Marten was led astray and then murdered by a man named William Corder who had promised to marry her. In 'A 111-es', María Corda plays a simple young rural woman who's led astray by a man on the make, with fatal results. The two tragedies (one real, one fictional) aren't neat parallels, but they're just similar enough that I kept thinking of the name María Corda as "Maria Corder" (the Maria from East Anglia had hoped to marry Corder), and this distracted me at several key points while watching this film.
I was intrigued to learn that Jenö Törzs, who gives an excellent performance here as the nefarious baron, later starred in a sound remake of this film as the English magician. I wonder if he preferred that role, which (in the silent version, at least) is certainly more sympathetic. In this silent version, Gyula Bartos's performances of the conjuror's tricks are not very impressive, and the hypnotism sequences here are as ludicrous as the ones in 'Mark of the Vampire'.
I admit that I didn't understand 'A 111-es' very well, but Alexander Korda shows skill and imagination at this early point in his directing career, and much of this movie impressed me. I'll rate it 7 out of 10.
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