Svengali (1931)

Approved   |    |  Drama, Horror, Romance

Svengali (1931) Poster

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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23 March 2010 | blanche-2
| Barrymore as Svengali
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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