Svengali (1931)


The movie Svengali (1931) is a cinematic adaptation of George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby. Directed by Archie Mayo, the film presents a dark narrative set in the bohemian art world of Paris. The story revolves around the character Svengali, a manipulative and sinister music teacher with the ability to control minds through hypnotism.

The movie Svengali (1931) opens with the enigmatic Svengali exerting his influence over Madame Honori, a student who succumbs to his power and meets a tragic end in the Seine. In the heart of Paris, the alluring yet vocally challenged Madame Honori reveals to her ominous vocal coach, Svengali, her decision to leave her spouse and reject his monetary settlement. Svengali’s penetrating gaze terrifies her, leading to her flight and subsequent demise in the Seine. Meanwhile, Svengali, alongside his companion Gecko, seeks sustenance at the atelier of British painters Laird, Taffy, and Billee. Departing, they encounter the radiant milkmaid and model, Trilby O’Ferrall. While Svengali is smitten by Trilby, she is drawn to the youthful and dashing Billee.

Under the pretense of alleviating her headache, Svengali hypnotizes Trilby, gaining dominion over her through his mesmeric prowess. A rift forms between Trilby and Billee when he discovers her modeling nude, leading to Svengali’s deceitful plot to stage her suicide and whisk her away from Paris. As time passes, Trilby, now known as “Madame Svengali,” rises to fame under Svengali’s influence, captivating audiences across Europe with her voice.

Her former companions are stunned to find her alive during her inaugural performance in Paris. Billee, resolute in reclaiming Trilby’s affection, persistently attends her concerts. However, Trilby’s lingering love for Billee weakens Svengali’s control, causing him to cancel shows repeatedly. Eventually, Trilby’s career dwindles to a performance in an Egyptian cabaret. During a critical moment, Svengali is stricken, and his grip on Trilby slips; her singing becomes discordant. As Svengali succumbs to his affliction, he yearns for Trilby’s love in death, which he never secured in life. Mirroring his plea, Trilby expires in Billee’s embrace.


  • John Barrymore as Svengali
  • Marian Marsh as Trilby O’Ferrall
  • Donald Crisp as The Laird
  • Bramwell Fletcher as Billee
  • Carmel Myers as Madame Honori
  • Luis Alberni as Gecko
  • Lumsden Hare as Monsieur Taffy
  • Paul Porcasi as Bonelli
  • Ferike Boros as Marta (uncredited)


The film’s portrayal of Svengali was one of John Barrymore’s most memorable roles, showcasing his talent for playing complex characters.

Svengali’s ability to control minds was a groundbreaking concept in cinema at the time, adding a psychological depth to the horror genre.


“The stylized acting of the time, which appears artificial by today’s standards, seems to me to go well with the weird expressionist set design in evoking a fantastic world where fantastic things can occur. ” [3]

“The movie is really a vehicle for its star John Barrymore, whose intense gaze (emphasized by makeup) and theatrical acting style suit the character perfectly.” [4]


[1] Wikipedia

[2] IMDb



Last updated byCody Meirick on December 11, 2023