SKELETON ON HORSEBACK (1937)
(a.k.a. BILA NEMOC)
Article #928 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2003
Posting Date: 2-26-2004
Directed by Hugo Haas
Featuring Hugo Haas, Zdenek Stapanek, Bedrich Karen
A doctor discovers the cure to a leprous disease that is decimating the world, but decides he will only use it if the dictator of his country does not wage war.
Don’t wait around for a physical manifestation of the English title; it is only a metaphor in this Czech work of medical/political science fiction. Sadly, my copy is in unsubtitled Czech, and a great deal of the plot requires dialogue rather than visualization; I was only able to figure out certain aspects of the plot by checking a couple of sources that had more elaborate plot descriptions. Nonetheless, the emotional tenor of the situations comes across very strongly indeed, and even without knowing the plot details I was able to appreciate both the strong anti-fascist nature of the movie and the chilling irony of the ending of the movie. Apparently, this was the last movie made in Czechoslovakia before the Nazi invasion, and the movie was banned by the Nazis for its message; it was smuggled to the United States by Hugo Haas himself and given distribution in this country by Carl Laemmle. Hugo Haas would end up making a bunch of low-budget potboilers with Cleo Moore. All in all, this is one movie that deserves to be more widely known and seen. Ths movie was based on a play by Karel Capek, who gave us the play “R.U.R.” where the term “robot” was first coined, as well as the classic satirical novel “War of the Newts”.