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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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(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:
...
...
...
The Laird
...
Billee
...
...
Gecko
...
Monsieur Taffy
...
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:

He hypnotizes! He thrills...! Any woman caught in his spell must obey. See more »

Genres:

Drama | Horror | Romance

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

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

[Marian Marsh on co-star Barrymore] He was really rather shy. Sometimes, after he would play a scene, everybody would applaud, and he would back into the wall! Always he was so helpful and so inspiring to me, and when you're with the greatest, you have to try to come up to his level. He knew he was doing that... he did it many times before. 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: Svengali will go to London himself! Where he will be all alone on a platform. And Princesses. And Countesses. And serene Highnesses will fling him their jewels, and applaud, and invite him to their palaces. And he will take you with him. I never look at them. Ah, we could be so happy. Look at me, in the eyes. Open your eyes.
Trilby O'Farrell: Oh, I do love you!
Svengali: Close your eyes.
Trilby O'Farrell: I love...
Svengali: Ah, don't say it! You are beautiful, my manufactured love. But it is only Svengali talking to himself again.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Hollywood Hist-o-Rama: John Barrymore (1962) See more »

Soundtracks

Humoresque
(uncredited)
Music by Kurt Lubbe
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User Reviews

 
"Himmell!! That Throat!!!"
9 October 2006 | by See all my reviews

Historic note of interest: In the early 19th Century, there was a scandal involving the British General-in-Chief of the Armies (then fighting Napoleon) where his mistress was found to have been selling commissions to wealthy, but undeserving men, for high private fees. The General-in-Chief resigned in 1809 as a result of this scandal. He was Frederick Augustus, Duke of York, second oldest (and favorite) son of King George III. The mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, faced some legal problems, but triumphed over most of them (she actually had public opinion on her side). Ms Clarke would marry and have a family. Her grandson was George Du Maurier (more of later); Her great-grandson was Gerald Du Maurier, the leading stage actor of the first half of the 20th Century; Her great-great-granddaughter was Daphne Du Maurier, novelist (REBECCA, JAMAICA INN, FRENCHMAN'S CREEK, MY COUSIN RACHEL, THE SCAPEGOAT), and great-great-grandma's sympathetic biographer (MARY ANNE). By the way, while Ms Clarke had quite a noteworthy progeny, the Duke of York never had any legitimate children, or illegitimate ones of note.

But SVENGALI is not Daphne's book. It is the chief novel of her grandfather George. By the way, the title of the novel is not SVENGALI, but TRILBY. Trilby O'Farrell is the heroine of the story, and Svengali is the villain ("Little Billee" is the hero). But in Svengali George Du Maurier created one of the most memorable villain figures in the 1880 and 1890s, with Bram Stoker's Count Dracula and Conan Doyle's Professor James Moriarty, Anthony Hope's Rupert of Hentzau and Robert Louis Stevenson's Henry Jeckyll/Edward Hyde.

Unfortunately there is an element in Svengali that is played down somewhat (but his appearance - based on the novel's illustrations by Du Maurier (who was a successful cartoonist) emphasize without subtlety). Svengali is Jewish - and a real villain in the story. He is first seen as a hanger-on, and one who sneers at the attempts by Little Billee, Taffy, and the Laird to be artists. That is because he has his own powers, but he is looking for the right person to use them on. He finds that person in Trilby, a beautiful young girl, quite innocent, who works as a model. One day he examines Trilby's throat somewhat bemusedly and discovers that it is perfectly formed for singing (hence the comment I put in the "Summary Box").

Up to that time she is falling for Billee, but soon Svengali is giving her all kinds of singing lessons. Billee and his friends note this with apprehension (they barely can tolerate Svengali). Then she becomes increasingly distant and cold to them, especially Billee. Soon she leaves with Svengali. Billee suffers a collapse as a result.

Billee recovers and in a few years learns that Trilby is the leading concert singer in Europe. But wherever she goes it is always with her impresario/husband Svengali. He "keeps an eye" on her and her activities. Billee can't stand this, especially after an accidental meeting with her leads to a feeling she doesn't even know who he is. He starts pursuing them, and finally drives to the fatal conclusion (which is quite different in the novel, but similar).

I doubt if hypnotism really could do what Du Maurier suggested Svengali could do to Trilby. But this film certainly suggests it can. John Barrymore's Svengali was the closest role (in his sound films; he had played Dr. Jeckyll in a silent film) to a horror part, but he manages to make the impresario/hypnotist/musician a sad and compelling figure: the tragedy for Barrymore's Svengali is his success - he knows he controls Trilby (Marian Marsh), but that knowledge also brings doubt that she could ever love him or give herself to him on her own free will. It is a damning situation, and he does not know the answer until the last moment of the film. Svengali would be a hallmark role for Barrymore - he is a reference point in the role of Oscar Jaffe in the comedy TWENTIETH CENTURY, and a slightly watered down version is his unhappy impresario/husband to Jeanette MacDonald in MAYTIME.


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