Svengali (1955)

82 mins | Drama | 9 September 1955

Director:

Noel Langley

Writer:

Noel Langley

Editor:

John Pomeroy

Production Designer:

Fred Pusey

Production Company:

Renown Pictures Corp., Ltd.
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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Trilby and Svengali . The closing onscreen credits contain the following written acknowledgment: "The producer expresses his grateful appreciation for the magnificent singing voice of Madame Elizabeth Schwarzkopf." According to an Apr 1954 Var news item, George Minter's Renown Pictures Corp., Ltd. was suing Robert Newton, who was originally cast as "Svengali," for walking off the set after three weeks of filming. The outcome of that suit has not been determined. According to contemporary sources, Renown had a pre-production arrangement with Loew's, Inc., parent company of M-G-M, to produce and release the film.
       English actor Jeremy Brett (1933--1995), best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the long-running British-made television series, made his motion picture debut in Svengali . For additional information about films based on George du Maurier's novel, please see the entry for the 1931 Warner Bros. Pictures film Svengali in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ... More Less

The working title of this film was Trilby and Svengali . The closing onscreen credits contain the following written acknowledgment: "The producer expresses his grateful appreciation for the magnificent singing voice of Madame Elizabeth Schwarzkopf." According to an Apr 1954 Var news item, George Minter's Renown Pictures Corp., Ltd. was suing Robert Newton, who was originally cast as "Svengali," for walking off the set after three weeks of filming. The outcome of that suit has not been determined. According to contemporary sources, Renown had a pre-production arrangement with Loew's, Inc., parent company of M-G-M, to produce and release the film.
       English actor Jeremy Brett (1933--1995), best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the long-running British-made television series, made his motion picture debut in Svengali . For additional information about films based on George du Maurier's novel, please see the entry for the 1931 Warner Bros. Pictures film Svengali in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 . More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Oct 1955.
---
Daily Variety
26 Sep 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
26 Sep 55
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Sep 55
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Oct 55
p. 609.
New York Times
26 Sep 55
p. 18.
Variety
14 Apr 1954.
---
Variety
12 Jan 55
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A George Minter Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of colour photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
COSTUMES
Cost des
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Casting dir
STAND INS
Singing voice double
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Trilby by George du Maurier (London, 1894).
SONGS
"Lullabye," by Johannes Brahms
"Ave Maria," music by Charles François Gounod, based on themes from "Well-Tempered Clavier" by Johann Sebastian Bach, lyrics traditional
"Alice Where Art Thou?" words and music by Wellington Guernsey and Joseph Ascher.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Trilby and Svengali
Release Date:
9 September 1955
Premiere Information:
Detroit, MI premiere: 24 June 1955
Production Date:
at Nettlefold Studios, Walton-on-Thames, England
Copyright Claimant:
Alderdale Films, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
18 May 1955
Copyright Number:
LP4879
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastman Colour
Lenses/Prints
Processed by Dunham Laboratories, England
Duration(in mins):
82
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
15739
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the Latin Quarter of Paris at the turn-of-the century, teenager Trilby O’Ferrall takes a job modeling for sculptor Durian in order to support her ailing father Patrick. When Patrick dies, Trilby is left to fend for herself. One day, she hears piano music emanating from an apartment across the courtyard from Durian’s studio, and although Durian warns her that the music is being played by Svengali, a man with “an evil eye,” she goes to investigate. At the apartment, she meets three artists who have just moved in: young Billy Bagot and his friends, The Laird and Taffy. Svengali is also there with his violin accompanist Gecko. When the tone-deaf Trilby sings them a folk song, Svengali cruelly observes that she sounds like a duck. The impressionable Billy, who is self-conscious about his lame leg, is smitten by Trilby and tells her that he has enrolled in Carrell’s art academy. On his first day of school, after Billy is hazed by the other students, Trilby, who works as a model at the school, welcomes him to class with a kiss. One day, when Trilby suffers an excruciating headache, Svengali boasts that he can cure her, and after putting her into a trance, vanquishes the pain. Billy becomes upset when he witnesses the sadistic pleasure that Svengali derives from controlling Trilby. Feeling a camaraderie with the three artists, Trilby decides to move in with them to keep house and serve as their muse. At a party celebrating their latest paintings, Billy, brooding that Trilby has agreed to model once again for Durian, asks her to stop posing in ... +


In the Latin Quarter of Paris at the turn-of-the century, teenager Trilby O’Ferrall takes a job modeling for sculptor Durian in order to support her ailing father Patrick. When Patrick dies, Trilby is left to fend for herself. One day, she hears piano music emanating from an apartment across the courtyard from Durian’s studio, and although Durian warns her that the music is being played by Svengali, a man with “an evil eye,” she goes to investigate. At the apartment, she meets three artists who have just moved in: young Billy Bagot and his friends, The Laird and Taffy. Svengali is also there with his violin accompanist Gecko. When the tone-deaf Trilby sings them a folk song, Svengali cruelly observes that she sounds like a duck. The impressionable Billy, who is self-conscious about his lame leg, is smitten by Trilby and tells her that he has enrolled in Carrell’s art academy. On his first day of school, after Billy is hazed by the other students, Trilby, who works as a model at the school, welcomes him to class with a kiss. One day, when Trilby suffers an excruciating headache, Svengali boasts that he can cure her, and after putting her into a trance, vanquishes the pain. Billy becomes upset when he witnesses the sadistic pleasure that Svengali derives from controlling Trilby. Feeling a camaraderie with the three artists, Trilby decides to move in with them to keep house and serve as their muse. At a party celebrating their latest paintings, Billy, brooding that Trilby has agreed to model once again for Durian, asks her to stop posing in the nude. When he professes his love and proposes to her, she rejects him, prompting him to think that his lameness has made him unworthy of her. Concerned about Billy’s attraction to Trilby, Taffy and The Laird decide to take him on a sketching tour of the countryside. While they are gone, Svengali visits Trilby and cryptically states that he plans to use her as his instrument to “conquer the world.” Svengali foretells that “when he calls her, she will come," but she laughs at him, prompting him to slash her portrait in anger. Unhappy about being separated from Trilby, Billy cuts short his trip to return to Paris, where he immediately goes to Carrell’s and sees Trilby posing in the nude. Soon after, Taffy and The Laird receive a letter from the distressed Trilby, lamenting that she has humiliated Billy. When Taffy goes to comfort Trilby, she tells him that Billy’s discomfort made her realize that she is in love with him. Taffy discloses that Billy has decided to go home to London, but when they return to the apartment, they find that Billy is still there. When Billy states that he has decided to stay in Paris, Trilby, overjoyed, expresses her love and agrees to marry him. At a party celebrating their engagement, Svengali, contemptuous of the “love birds,” plays a dirge on the piano. Soon after, Trilby comes home to find Billy’s mother and clergyman uncle waiting to see her. Trilby is devastated when they contend that she is a fortune hunter whose marriage to Billy will prevent him from assuming his rightful place in society. Shattered, Trilby promises never to see Billy again and disappears from his life. When a distraught Billy discovers that Trilby has gone, he runs out into the street looking for her and is struck by a carriage. The injured Billy goes home to London, where his despair over losing Trilby prompts his doctor to diagnose that he will never walk again. Svengali, sensing that Trilby is still in Paris, summons her and, after putting her into a trance, wrests control over her mind and erases all memory of Billy. Svengali then molds Trilby into a great opera singer. While attending the opera one evening, Taffy and The Laird are stunned to discover that the new diva is Trilby. After the opera, they go to meet her at the stage door, but she is still under Svengali’s control and fails to recognize them. When Taffy and The Laird inform Billy of Trilby’s transformation, he refuses to believe them, but when he learns that she is to perform at Covent Garden in London, he decides to go backstage during rehearsal. Billy is met by Gecko, who warns him that Svengali now “possesses” Trilby. When Billy sees Svengali, he attacks him, but is overpowered by the stagehands, who throw him out of the theater. Afterward, Svengali tells Trilby that he loves her and vows that if he dies first, he will come back to claim her. That night when Trilby comes onstage, she sees Billy and loses her voice. Urged on by Gecko, Trilby lurches into the folk song that she once sung for Billy and his friends. Realizing that he has lost control over Trilby, Svengali collapses and dies. Trilby is also stricken, and as she lies dying, Gecko brings Billy to her bedside. When he urges her to fight Svengali and come back to him, she awakens and he kisses her. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.