Svengali (1931 film)

Svengali is a 1931 American pre-Code supernatural drama/horror film produced and distributed by Warner Bros. The film stars John Barrymore and co-stars Marian Marsh. It was directed by Archie Mayo and the screenplay was written by J. Grubb Alexander. It is based on the gothic horror novel Trilby (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 region 1 DVD of Svengali was released on October 17, 2000 by the Roan Group.

Directed byArchie Mayo
Written byJ. Grubb Alexander
Based onTrilby
1894 novel
by George du Maurier
StarringJohn Barrymore
Music byDavid Mendoza
CinematographyBarney McGill
Edited byWilliam Holmes
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • May 22, 1931 (1931-05-22)
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$498,000[1]


When attractive but untalented Honori confesses to her sinister singing teacher Svengali that she has left her husband but refused his offer of money, he fixes her with an intense stare that drives her screaming from the room. A short time later her body is found in the Seine. Untouched by her death, Svengali and his flatmate Gecko visit the studio of English artists, The Laird, Taffy, and Billee, in search of a meal. On leaving they meet a lovely young milkmaid and artist's model, Trilby O'Ferrall. Svengali is enchanted by her, but she falls in love with the handsome, young Billee. One day under the pretext of curing her headache, Svengali hypnotises her and thereafter is able to control her by the power of his thoughts. When Billee discovers Trilby posing nude for a group of artists, they quarrel, and Svengali convinces her to fake a suicide and leave Paris with him. Five years later, as Madame Svengali the singer, she has become the toast of Europe with the help of his powers. Her old friends attend her Paris debut and they are astonished to see the woman they thought was dead. Determined to win her back from Svengali, Billee haunts her performances. His powers weakened by the strength of her attachment to Billee, Svengali keeps cancelling performances until finally they are reduced to an engagement in an Egyptian cabaret. When Svengali suffers an attack, his power over Trilby fails, she falters and sings horribly off key. As he dies, he begs to be granted her love in death as he never was in life. As if in response, she then dies in Billee's arms.[2]


Awards and honors

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Art Direction by Anton Grot, and one for Best Cinematography by Barney McGill.[3][4]

Box Office

According to Warner Bros the film earned $359,000 domestically and $139,000 foreign.[1]


The film survives complete. It was transferred onto 16mm film by Associated Artists Productions[5] in the 1950s and shown on television. This film and The Kennel Murder Case were the two Warner Brothers films that lapsed into the public domain and have been available freely for decades.


  1. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 11 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  3. "NY Times: Svengali". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-07.
  4. "The 4th Academy Awards (1931) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on May 21, 2019. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  5. "Media History Digital Library : Free Texts : Free Download, Borrow and Streaming : Internet Archive".
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