6.9/10
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Svengali (1931)

Approved | | Drama, Horror, Romance | 22 May 1931 (USA)
Through hypnotism and telepathic mind control, a sinister music maestro controls the singing voice, but not the heart, of the woman he loves.

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Writers:

(novel) (as George Louis DuMaurier), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. See more awards »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
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Madame Honori
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Bonelli
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Storyline

Sinister music maestro Svengali can control the actions of women through hypnotism and his telepathic powers. When a pupil he has seduced announces she has left her husband for him, he uses his powers to cause her suicide and promptly forgets her. He meets a beautiful model, Trilby, and becomes infatuated with her, but she, in turn, falls for a young artist called Billee who also loves her. One day Svengali hypnotizes Trilby to cure her headache, but also examines her upper palate and decides it is an ideal cavity for great singing. He convinces her to fake her suicide, so Billee and friends will forget her, and goes on a singing tour with her. Svengali uses his powers to make her sing wonderfully and Madame Svengali, as Trilby is now known, becomes a sensation throughout Europe. But Billee discovers the ruse and begins to follow the pair, upsetting Svengali enough to have him cancel performances too frequently, so they no longer can perform in Europe. They go to Egypt, but Billee ... Written by Arthur Hausner <genart@volcano.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Weirdest romance ever pictured! With the screen's genius and his new find. See more »

Genres:

Drama | Horror | Romance

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

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Language:

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Release Date:

22 May 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Свенгали  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In the December 1985 issue of "Films in Review" Marian Marsh recalled the making of the film with co-star Barrymore in an article signed by Gregory Mank. See more »

Goofs

After Billie vows to follow Svengali and regain Trilby's attentions, we see an article in a Naples newspaper titled "Opera News." The second paragraph reads thus: "Monsieur Bonelli states Monsieur Svengali has recoved from his illness." See more »

Quotes

Svengali: [to Trilby] There is nothing in your mind... nothing in your heart... nothing in your soul... but Svengali... Svengali... Svengali... !
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Connections

Version of Trilby (1915) See more »

Soundtracks

October Twilight
(uncredited)
Music by Henry Hadley
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User Reviews

Fantastic design and Barrymore in his prime.
19 April 2004 | by (Chicago, Illinois, USA) – See all my reviews

The remark of an earlier commentator below caught my eye when he stated that the change in perspective from comedy to serious drama in this film didn't work for him. I've found this to be a most striking feature of the film as well, but I always thought it very effective in giving the film, and the characters, more scope than the average uniform, by-the-book comedy, thriller, horror film, drama, etc. A bit like real life, no?

Anyway, I've always been a fan of this film, and I don't think the acting is at all hokey for its era or genre. The stylized acting of the time, which appears artificial by today's standards, seems to me to go well with the weird expressionist set design in evoking a fantastic world where fantastic things can occur. Also, the chance to see Barrymore ham it up in grand style as Svengali is, in my view, a rare treat, like experiencing a bit of show biz history. I bristled a bit at the review of this film by Scott Weinberg of the Apollo Movie Guide (see "external reviews" link). He states that in 1931 you could entertain people by showing 75 minutes of an airport runway, and that his being born in the 70s may explain why this film put him to sleep. Maybe so. I myself was born in the 50s and also did not grow up with this style of filmmaking, though I probably saw more of it on TV than he did. That doesn't preclude my appreciation of it, any more than it precludes my appreciation for films of the 70s, the 80s, or the 20s for that matter. Good film is good film, and having no appreciation for the first 3 decades of cinema and some of its greatest innovators seems a severe handicap for anyone who writes about film, but at least he was honest about it.

I'm not saying that this film is on a par with the work of Murnau or Eisenstein, but I do think it's a fascinating and stylish look into a bygone era of cinema, and can be appreciated as such.


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