Svengali (1931): John Barrymore in Terrific Performance

George du Maurier’s novel, Trilby, about a hypnotist who controls a female musician, was originally filmed as Trilby as a silent. In the 1931 talkie remake, the emphasis shifts from the music student to the domineering teacher, Svengali.

John Barrymore gives an astoundingly dominant performance as Svengali, a charismatic man tutoring a young woman named (Carmel Myers). Trilby (Marian Marsh) is making her living as a nude model, but she hopes to settle down with Billee (Bramwell Fletcher), but unfortunately, his upper-class family wouldn’t approve.

Svengali falls for Trilby and starts teaching her music while manipulating her hypnotically. Eventually, she becomes so dependent on him that she can’t perform without him being present.

As a result of this powerful film, the word “Svengali” became incorporated into language and pop culture, referring to “someone who, with evil intent, tries to persuade another to do what is desired.”

Running time: 76 minutes.

Directed by Archie Mayo

Written by J. G. Alexander, based on novel by George L. Du Maurier

DVD: December 18, 2007