Svengali (1954)

Article #1734 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-13-2005
Posting Date: 5-12-2006
Directed by Noel Langley
Featuring Hildegard Knef, Donald Wolfit, Terence Morgan

A model finds herself falling in love with an artist, not knowing that she is arousing the jealous wrath of a hypnotic musician who has his own plans for her.

I was all ready to dismiss this version of the classic Du Maurier novel for the simple reason that I was largely familiar with the work of Donald Wolfit through his performance in BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE, which did not impress me. Nonetheless, I was glad to see that he gave a much better performance than I expected; he is quite good in the role, despite the fact that physically he is all wrong for playing a character who is described as a “scarecrow”. Still, Wolfit is not John Barrymore, and he never quite glues you to the screen in the same way Barrymore did in the role in the 1931 version of the movie. For most of the movie, this doesn’t matter all that much; the acting from all concerned is very solid, and I especially liked Paul Rogers as one of the trio of artists who Trilby encounters. The solid acting compensates somewhat for some uneven editing and some abrupt and poorly paced scenes. It’s not until the last third of the movie that it really loses steam, primarily because we don’t have a Svengali that really commands the stage. In this context, I suppose it makes sense that the ending is changed from tragic to happy, but overall the movie has much less impact than the 1931 version. It’s not a disaster, but I do know that when I want to rewatch a version of this tale, it won’t be this one.


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