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1931 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 relentlessly follows

Svengali (1931) is an talkie Pre-Code Hollywood drama/horror film produced and distributed by Warner Brothers. The film stars John Barrymore, Marian Marsh, and Bramwell Fletcher. It was directed by Archie Mayo and the screenplay was written by J. Grubb Alexander. It is based on the gothic fiction horror fiction novel Trilby (novel) (1894) by George du Maurier. The film was originally released on May 22, 1931. Warner Brothers was so pleased by the box office on this film that the studio hurriedly reteamed Barrymore and Marsh for another horror film The Mad Genius, released on November 7, 1931. The DVD region code DVD of Svengali was released on October 17, 2000 by the Roan Group.


The ending of the novel is changed in this film to a highly dramatic one by having Trilby die after Svengali is stricken with a fatal heart attack, instead of dying of a mysterious illness a few days later. She faints after he collapses in the stage box, but Svengali revives long enough to gasp, "Oh God, grant me in death what you denied me in lifeā€”the woman I love". Trilby regains consciousness, smiles happily, utters "Svengali!", then dies, followed by Svengali, who dies smiling. In the film Billee survives.


In CBS's 60s Biography episode on John Barrymore narrated by Mike Wallace (journalist), some scenes from Svengali are shown with mood or background music. The music does add effect tremendously to the scenes but it is CBS's own canned archive music and is not in the original feature film.
Marian Marsh may have been chosen as Trilby because she strongly resembled Barrymore's wife Dolores Costello.

Cast (in credits order)

  • John Barrymore as Svengali
  • Marian Marsh as Trilby O'Farrell
  • Donald Crisp as The Laird
  • Bramwell Fletcher as Billee
  • Carmel Myers as Madame Honori
  • Luis Alberni as Gecko
  • Lumsden Hare as Monsieur Taffy
  • Paul Porcasi as Bonelli


The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Academy Award for Best Art Direction by Anton Grot, and one for Academy Award for Best Cinematography by Barney McGill.< name="NY Times"></>

Category:1931 films
Category:1930s drama films
Category:American films
Category:American drama films
Category:1930s horror films
Category:English-language films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:Films made before the MPAA Production Code
Category:Films directed by Archie Mayo
Category:Warner Bros. films
Archie Mayo

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