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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
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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:

All Paris desired her, but Svengali owned her! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French | Italian | German

Release Date:

22 May 1931 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Свенгали See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Vitaphone

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

[Marian Marsh on co-star John 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

In the bathtub, Svengali says "Gott strafe England" ("God punish England"). This saying was created by German-Jewish poet Ernst Lissauer (1882-1937) during WWI. However, "Svengali" takes place during the mid 19th century. See more »

Quotes

Monsieur Taffy: And where are you going?
Billee: After him!
Monsieur Taffy: Svengali's not running away from you.
Billee: Not from me, Taffy, but from his fear of the day when his spell over Trilby will be broken, as it was for a moment last night.
The Laird: Eh? And what will you do when you catch up with him?
Billee: Just wait till the day comes. I'll get her back - - if I have to follow them 'round the world.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in A Balmy Swami (1949) See more »

Soundtracks

Chant d'Amour
(uncredited)
Music by Sam Perry
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Astonishing visuals, disarming plot, a rather terrific early talkie
11 April 2011 | by secondtakeSee all my reviews

Svengali (1931)

"Svengali" is a strange strange film, half nightmare, half plain old German Expressionism thrown into an inventive Warner Bros. set. It's amazing at its best, and the set design and photography both got Oscar nominations. The plot that gets built up of increasingly new elements, comic outsiders (Englishmen who believe in bathing every day) and a overtly beautiful blonde model and her apparent love match (they have just met), until the crux of it clarifies--the title character is a madman who can hypnotize people at will.

John Barrymore in his archly long, dramatic is a creep, appropriately. When he hypnotizes, his eyes turn to these large glowing white orbs. He has fallen in love with a model and starts to control her, which her fiancé only gradually realizes. Other people just find Svengali a quirky artistic type, and see no harm in him at first.

The setting is odd--clearly shot on a studio lot rather than a real Parisian artists colony, it nonetheless is meant to be some kind of rambling set of rooms that are more or less attached, or near each other. For the whole first half, the main characters never really leave the irregular, sometimes offkilter chambers, which look like there were adapted from "Caligari" itself. The light and the framing, and the interesting very shallow depth of field, combine to make a mysterious and really beautiful effect.

The Barrymores, as a group, are amazing, but their theatricality, especially John's, doesn't always transfer well to modern movies. In a way, it's this leading man who cuts into the disarming surrealism and horror overall, simply because he's so campy. This might be just a matter of changing tastes, because his effect reminds me rather a lot of Bela Lugosi in "Dracula" which was released the same year (a few months earlier). The story of Dracula is more archetypal and wonderful for the ages, but in my view (I've seen both movies recently) this is much better filmed. The photography, lighting, and blocking (the way the actors move) are more fluid and involved. Archie Mayo, the director, has a handful of completely wonderful films to his up and down career (click on his name to see). As much as this one has some obvious and forced sections, and a plot that doesn't quite involve the viewer as you would hope, it's a really well made, well constructed movie. For 1931 it's sometimes a pure wonder.


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