50 user 31 critic

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.


Archie Mayo


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




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


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>

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He made beautiful women his slaves. they Hated him...loved him-this hypnotist..madman..genius..lover.. (Print Ad-New York Sun, ((New York, NY)) 29 April 1931) See more »


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Did You Know?


According to a 1998 interview by Marian Marsh, John Barrymore was happily married to Dolores Costello at the time and was not drinking during the filming of Svengali (1931). See more »


When Svengali and Billee 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 full again. See more »


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 »


Spoofed in Hokus Pokus (1949) See more »


Misterioso Fantastico
Music by Giuseppe Becce
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User Reviews

Barrymore as Svengali
23 March 2010 | by blanche-2See all my reviews

Wow. Creating opera singers in Paris was at one point, apparently, all the rage in literature - we have Christine Daae coached by the Phantom of the Opera and here, we have Trilby becoming an opera star under the tutelage of the great Svengali. This 1931 film stars John Barrymore in the title role, Marian Marsh as Trilby, along with Bramwell Fletcher as Billee, Trilby's boyfriend, and Donald Crisp.

The poor, unkempt, dirty Svengali becomes obsessed with the artist's model Trilby. He hypnotizes her and takes over her mind. Though her boyfriend (Bram Fletcher) and the artists believe her dead, five years later, Svengali, now prosperous and clean, appears in concert with his wife, the phenomenal Mme. Svengali, the great opera star. After performing "The Mad Scene from Lucia," she leaves the theater, and her friends recognize her. Just one small problem - Svengali has a weak heart, and he is more and more losing control over her. And now that Billee has seen her, he keeps showing up.

This is a classic film, thanks to the performance of Barrymore and the great sets, which, as many people have mentioned, were inspired by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Barrymore brings great humor and a vulnerability to an overtly scary role, and Marsh is adorable. Seventeen years old here, she retired at the age of 30, except for some TV appearances, and died at the age of 93. Blond Bramwell Fletcher, who often appeared on stage throughout his career, is Trilby's love interest. Eleven years after this film was made, he married Barrymore's daughter Diana.

Had this film been made a few years later, it might have been a touch better. The actors and studio were still getting used to the sound process, so the rhythm of the dialogue is a little off. Nonetheless, this is an excellent film, and I'll take any opportunity I can to see the great Barrymore.

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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 »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
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