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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.

Director:

Archie Mayo

Writers:

George L. Du Maurier (novel) (as George Louis DuMaurier), J. Grubb Alexander (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
John Barrymore ... Svengali
Marian Marsh ... Trilby O'Farrell
Donald Crisp ... The Laird
Bramwell Fletcher ... Billee
Carmel Myers ... Madame Honori
Luis Alberni ... Gecko
Lumsden Hare ... Monsieur Taffy
Paul Porcasi ... Bonelli
Learn more

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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 »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Although this title was among more than 700 Warner Bros. productions sold to Associated Artists in 1956 for re-release and/or television broadcast, this one, along with Moby Dick (1930) and The Mad Genius (1931) remained in litigation until April 1959 because of their involvement with the estate of the late John Barrymore who had a financial interest in them when they were original produced. Its Los Angeles television premiere took place Thursday 26 October 1961 on KHJ (Channel 9) See more »

Goofs

When Svengali and Billie are having champagne at the café in Cairo, Svengali drains his glass. They exchange a few more words as Svengali is being introduced, then when he stands his glass is somehow full again. See more »

Quotes

Billee: You're wonderful. You're the sweetest thing I've ever known. When we're married, I want to take you to England, and to my mother... She'll be proud of you, Trilby. Proud of you as I am.
Trilby O'Farrell: Tell me: what's England like?
Billee: Oh, England's beautiful! Green fields, and hedgerows and hollyhocks, primroses...
Svengali: [Svengali, who's been eavesdropping, butts in] ... and fog, and pneumonia, and shopkeepers, and flat feet, and boiled beef and cabbage - ha, ha, ha! Trilby in England would be like a butterfly in mutton ...
[...]
See more »

Connections

Spoofed in Hokus Pokus (1949) See more »

Soundtracks

Forlorn Hopes
(uncredited)
Music by Maurice Baron (as Francis DeLille)
See more »

User Reviews

 
A complex villain in an open-ended tale
21 February 2010 | by AlsExGalSee all my reviews

Such a story could only be committed to celluloid during the precode era. John Barrymore, as Svengali, makes us empathize with him as we are presented with a very complex villain.

The opening twenty minutes or so of the film are pretty much light-hearted fare as Svengali is presented as a fortune-hunter when it comes to his women pupils and also a very creative panhandler when it comes to his British artist acquaintances also living in the artists' section of Paris. By chance, Svengali meets artists' model Trilby. Trilby is a bit of a dual-natured creature herself. She has the language and bearing of a free spirit, yet she also has angelic delicate features and sports a gendarme's coat that seems to say "No Trespassing!". Svengali is captivated, perhaps for the first time in his life, with another human being, not just with what that human being can do for him. The movie takes a sharp turn into darker territory when Svengali uses his hypnotic hold on young model Trilby to turn her into a singing sensation. He can make her do anything he wants through his hypnotic powers - even marry him. However, when he lets her out of her trance she feels nothing for him. There is a particularly touching scene in which Svengali talks to "the real" Trilby and she says that she has tried to love him but simply does not. Frustrated, he quickly puts her into a trance, and his marionette parrots back her love for him. Heartbroken, he realizes all that is happening when she speaks her affection is that he is talking to himself. As time passes it is interesting to see how Svengali ages, as the weight of holding back Trilby's true will seems to be slowly killing him. The ending is not sewed up neatly at all, and it is a bit shocking to see how it breaks off.

The best parts of this film are John Barrymore's great performance as Svengali and also the art design. If you've ever seen The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, the art design is quite similar to that, especially in the first part of the film in Paris. The windows and doors all have odd shapes and angles, as the visual style of the whole film takes on a nightmarish and surreal quality.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French | Italian | German

Release Date:

22 May 1931 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Svengali See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Vitaphone

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
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