Svengali (1955)
©1955 Alderdale


Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

Trilby O'Ferral (Hildegarde Neff) is an artist's model working in Paris at the turn of the century. One day, while posing for a sculptor named Durien (Hubert Gregg), she hears beautiful music emanating from the studio next door. Investigating, she meets painters Taffy (Paul Rogers), The Laird (Derek Bond) and the young and handsome Billy Bagot (Terence Morgan). She also meets the man playing the music, Svengali (Donald Wolfit), and his companion Gecko (David Kossoff). When Trilby sings them a tune, rather off key, Svengali is rude and condescending while the others are friendly and polite, obviously taken by Trilby's charm, especially Billy. After Trilby leaves, Svengali brags that he could teach Trilby to sing beautifully but the others scoff. Trilby and Billy see more of each other and start to become close. One day Trilby has a terrible headache and Svengali offers to cure it. He proceeds to hypnotize Trilby, removing her headache and demonstrating complete control over her. Trilby and Billy continue to grow closer but when Billy asks Trilby to marry him, she declines. Seeing how broken-hearted Billy is, Taffy and The Laird decide to take him on a painting tour of the French countryside. While they're away, Svengali offers to teach Trilby to sing but she laughs at him. Svengali is angered and vows that someday Trilby will need him and she will hear him calling and come to him. Meanwhile, the trip to the country has done nothing to take Billy's mind off Trilby and he returns to Paris. Unfortunately, he walks in on Trilby posing naked for an art class and flees in shame and embarrassment. Trilby is overcome with guilt for hurting Billy and goes into hiding but Taffy and The Laird trick the two lovers into reuniting and, this time, when Billy proposes, Trilby says yes. The future looks bright for Billy and Trilby until Billy's mother (Joan Haythorne) shows up and convinces Trilby that she isn't good enough for Billy. Trilby agrees to cancel the wedding and, again, goes into hiding. When Billy learns of his mother's interference, he flies into a rage and runs into the street where he is struck by a carriage. Billy recovers physically but goes into a deep depression. Meanwhile, Svengali uses this opportunity to sink his claws into Trilby and, just as he said he would, he calls out to Trilby with his mind and she comes to him. Offering Trilby relief from her heartache, Svengali takes control of Trilby and makes her forget Billy and think only of becoming a great singer. Soon, Trilby is singing before the most influential people in Paris and Svengali is the toast of the town. Then, one night, Durien and The Laird see Trilby performing and approach her at the stage door. Unfortunately, she is completely under Svengali's spell and she doesn't recognize them. The two men tell Billy about finding Trilby and he sets off to rescue her from Svengali's clutches. Billy can't get near Trilby but when Svengali sees Billy, he realizes that he can't have the one thing he's always wanted, Trilby's love. In desperation, he tells Trilby that, if he dies, she will follow him. As if fulfilling his own grim prophecy, that night, Svengali has a heart attack and dies. At the same time, Trilby lapses into unconsciousness. Fortunately, Billy arrives in time and the power of his love is able to break Svengali's hold on Trilby and bring her back from the edge of oblivion.

Type of mind control: Hypnosis/Telepathy?

Mind control scenes:
The first mind control scene is when Svengali hypnotizes Trilby to remove her headache. He flaunts his control of Trilby in front of Billy by suggesting that she can't open her eyes or speak, then tells Billy that if she really loved him, she would open her mouth and say so. The next mind control scene comes when Svengali seemingly calls out to Trilby with his mind and she comes to him, walking through the streets with a blank look on her face. From there until the end of the movie, there are several portrayals of Trilby under Svengali's hypnotic control. The most obvious is when Durien and The Laird find Trilby but she doesn't recognize them. When The Laird tells Trilby about Billy's accident and depression, Svengali makes her turn and laugh at them. Another scene is where Svengali makes Trilby say she loves him but he compares the two of them to 'Dr. Coppelius and his clockwork doll' (from the ballet Coppélia by Léo Delibes). Svengali says, "I wind you up and you smile and sing and say 'I love you very much'."

Subjective Rating: 4 out of 5
Although this movie concentrates more on Billy and less on Svengali than its 1931 counterpart, Svengali's control of Trilby still plays a major part in the story line, especially in the second half. The hypnosis is probably more realistic than the 1931 version, including Hildegarde Neff's portrayal of a hypnotized subject. If more time had been spent on Svengali, it probably would have received a 5 out of 5. Svengali is a much more interesting character and, after all, the movie is named after him.

Back to Other