Jenö Janovics and Transylvanian Silent Cinema

By John Cunningham (Sheffield Hallam U)

Mention of Transylvania[1] inevitably conjures up images of Béla Lugosi playing the eponymous Count Dracula in Tod Browning's 1931 classic[2] and follow-up films too numerous to mention, replete with mist-shrouded mountains, gloomy castles, superstitious peasants, and evil aristos in black capes condemned to an eternal cinematic night shift. However, now that Transylvania has its own vibrant, and non-vampiric, Film Festival,[3] held annually in Cluj-Napoca, and vampires are more likely to appear in California, this may be an appropriate time to look beyond the clichés and stereotypes about Transylvania and to delve into a chapter of film history about which little is known in the west.[4] Briefly, between 1913 and 1923, Transylvania became home to a highly productive and important film industry centered on the town of Kolosvár (the Hungarian name for Cluj-Napoca).[5] Under the helmsmanship of Jenö Janovics, the director of the Hungarian National Theater, Kolosvár became a launch pad for the career of Sándor Korda (later Alexander Korda), Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz), and home to over 73 films, many of them full-length features—and not a vampire in sight. Although very few of these films exist today (so a full appraisal may never be possible), it can be said that Kolosvár, despite its peripheral location on the margins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was a filmmaking center second only to Budapest in the Hungarian-administered part of the sprawling Habsburg domain.

Kolosvár is one of the major cities of Transylvania (Erdély in Hungarian)—a cultural and administrative center and home to a large Hungarian-speaking population that has diminished over the years.[6] The town grew up in the Middle Ages and has been multilingual and multicultural since its earliest days. To the German-speaking minority (Saxon or Swabian) it is Klausenberg and its late Renaissance Latin name was Claudiopolis. According to Ádám T. Szabó, the Romanian name Cluj is not found before the 19th century and the present name, Cluj-Napoca, actually dates from a 1974 decree issued by former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (Szabó 103). Disputes over the sovereignty of Transylvania have raged for as long as the two main language groups—Hungarian and Romanian—have lived together in the region, and, to add to this fairly typical East European brew, there was also a substantial Jewish community, although both German and Jewish communities are now mere shadows of their former selves. Hungarians claim that the region has been part of Hungary for a thousand years. It became part of the Dual-Monarchy when the unitary Austrian Empire was transformed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the so-called “Compromise” of 1867 (Hoensch 1-19). However, except for a brief period during World War Two, the region has been under Romanian sovereignty since the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. The Treaty, essentially part of the Post-WWI Versailles settlement, dismembered “Greater Hungary,” reducing its territory by approximately two thirds, and the loss of Transylvania, thought by some Hungarians to be their “heartland,” was acutely felt and resented for many years. This brief foray into the often tortuous complexities of eastern European geo-politics is necessary because the decline of Kolosvár's film industry coincides with the onset of Romanian control and, although it may not be possible to make any direct links, there does seem to be some connection between the politics and cultural practices of the new Romanian regime and the ultimate demise of filmmaking in Transylvania. These issues will be examined in more detail later.

Central to the question of Hungarian language culture in Kolosvár was the Hungarian National Theater (Magyar nemzeti szinház). The first permanent theater in Kolosvár was built in 1821 and the Hungarian National Theater was established in 1906, with Jenö Janovics as its director. The theater was one of the foci of Hungarian cultural life in Kolosvár, which was by no means a backwater despite its distance from Budapest; on the contrary, the town supported two theaters and a traveling company that played in the countryside. It was also the headquarters for the Hungarian Cultural Association of Transylvania and the Transylvanian Museum Association; there was a Hungarian University (founded in 1872), as well as numerous Hungarian language journals and two daily newspapers. The Transylvanian Hungarians devoured literature—over one third of all Hungarian language books were bought in Transylvania (Barta et al. 596). The establishment of filmmaking in Kolosvár, therefore, arose on fertile soil and, in addition, was helped by the ready acceptance of film as a new art form by intellectuals, artists (particularly those associated with the theater), journalists, and writers—paralleling the milieu of the coffee house culture of Budapest that was so central to the development of film in the capital (Cunningham, Hungarian Cinema 5-15).

Filmmaking in Transylvania, prior to the establishment of Kolosvár as a major center, was confined mainly to small scale, Lumière-type actualitiés and, in this respect, the region follows a pattern that can be discerned, more or less, throughout Europe. As early as 1903, György Naster of Arad made a short film, Portrait of the Town of Arad (Arad város látképe),[7] and similar “portraits” were made in Kolosvár in 1907 (by András Udvari) and in Nagyvarad (unknown director), and in 1908 in Brassó and Temesvár (both by unknown directors).[8] Some eleven films of this nature were made in the region before the arrival of the French company Pathé in Kolosvár. Pathé was, no doubt, attracted by the growing market for the new entertainment—the first permanent cinema was built in Kolosvár in 1908 and there were soon five cinemas (Kömendy 102) serving a population, in 1910, of 60,808 (Illyés 64).[9] The French pioneers had been established in Budapest for some time and in 1910 they sent a crew to Kolosvár where they shot two films—another “portrait” of Kolosvár and The Life of Transylvanian Romanians (Az erdélyi románok élete). The first fiction film shot in Transylvania appears to have been Doctor Death (Doktor Halál) made in March 1912, not in Kolosvár but in Máramarossziget. Cox and Box (Cox és Box) followed in the summer of the same year, but little is known about either film.[10] Important as these developments were, it was the following year, 1913, that saw a rapid and groundbreaking expansion of filmmaking in Transylvania.

Eight films in all were made that year: two in Nagyvarad, two in Arad, and the remainder in Kolosvár. Of this batch of films, by far the most important was The Yellow Foal (Sárga csikó)—a three-reeler, made between July and September and directed by Felix Vanyl for Pathé in collaboration with Jenö Janovics (who wrote the screenplay) and the Hungarian National Theater. With a length of 1540 meters and a running time of 60 minutes, this was a major production for the time. The film was released to critical acclaim on 17 January 1914, and 137 copies were sold by Pathé (often marketed abroad as The Secret of the Blind Man ), reaching audiences in Germany, Scandinavia, the Balkans, and as far away as Japan. In a rather macabre twist, the film received added publicity due to the death by drowning of the actress Erzsi Imre during filming.[11] Only a five minute fragment, of stunning quality, of this film exists, making it very difficult to draw any conclusions about what kind of a film it was. The plot concerns an innocent man, Marton Csorba (Mihály Fekete), wrongly imprisoned for murder, and his son, Laci (Mihály Várkonyi). One aspect that strikes the viewer immediately is the elaborate “folksy” costumes of the actors and actresses (something noticeably absent from all the other films and fragments that survive), suggesting that Pathé saw this as a selling point for the film abroad. After the success of The Yellow Foal, the film industry in Kolosvár developed in strength, and even the withdrawal of Pathé at the outbreak of the First World War did nothing to arrest its upward trajectory.

Janovics stepped into the gap left by the withdrawal of Pathé. Already well-established as the leading theater man in Kolosvár, he now became the father of its film industry. He began to look for talent to help on the filmmaking side. Probably this was due to his relative lack of film experience, but he was doubtless a busy man directing plays and running the theater in addition to his other activities. Janovics, it appears, made numerous trips to Budapest and it is highly likely that on one of these trips he recruited the young Hungarian filmmaker Mihály Kertész, persuading him to join the team in Transylvania. Kertész arrived in early 1914 and was soon at work. It should be emphasized that Kertész was by no means a novice whom Janovics somehow picked up off the street. He was by this time an established and popular director, having been engaged by Nordisk at their Copenhagen studio for six months in 1913. While there he worked on the longest Danish film of the time, the eight reel Atlantis , directed by August Blom. Kertész's Danish sojourn was not unusual at this time; a number of young Hungarian directors, or soon-to-be directors, spent time abroad—in Denmark, Germany, and France—gaining valuable experience and learning the essentials of their tradecraft. In Budapest he directed at least two films, Slaves of the Night (Az északa rabjai) for the Projectograph company and Captive Soul (Rablélek) for the Uher company; he may also have directed the film that is usually regarded as the very first all-Hungarian film, Today and Tomorrow (Ma és holnap), also for Projectograph in 1912. The 26 year-old Kertész was, therefore, quite a “catch” for Janovics and did much to boost the reputation of filmmaking in Kolosvár.

In the summer and autumn of 1914, Kertész directed three films in Kolosvár: Borrowed Babies (A kölcsönkért csecsemok), Vagabond (A tolonc), and the biggest production of the three, Bánk bán. [12] Made under the auspices of Janovics' own film company, Janovics-Film, it was shot during June and July and finished at just over 1,500 meters. Janovics himself worked on the adaptation; the camera operator was László Fekete, who was to become a Janovics regular (later joined by Arpád Virágh); and the part of Bánk bán was played by László Bakó, supported by, amongst others, Mihály Várkonyi (later to become Victor Varconi in Hollywood). The film was noted for both its shooting on location and the large cast of extras; unfortunately few details are available (no print or even fragments exist). However, István Nemskürty reports that the film was favorably reviewed in, amongst other publications, the cultural-literary journal West ( Nyugat ), where Béla Zolnai praised the film for its outdoor scenes: “They did what they wanted with nature. An extensive landscape, seen from above, with a sense of air and with a perspective leading into the distance” (qtd. Nemeskürty, Word and Image 23). It appears that in these two respects, at least, Bánk bán was an exceptional production for its time.

The outbreak of war does not appear to have disrupted film output in Kolosvár. Although exports of Hungarian films and imports of foreign films were affected by the war, Hungarian output levels were maintained as other countries within the Austro-Hungarian empire, which previously had little taste for Hungarian films, imported them in considerable numbers as the opportunities for access to French, Italian, Danish, and American films disappeared or diminished. In 1915, ten films were made in Kolosvár. A peak was reached in 1916 with 19 films and the figures for the following years are only slightly down: 17 for both 1917 and 1918 (after the war there was a drastic downturn in production). Even Kertész's return to Budapest after directing the three films already mentioned did not deter Janovics. Quite why Kertész left is not clear but, if his filmmaking record in Budapest on his return is any indication, his Transylvanian stint only further enhanced his growing reputation. In 1916, back in Budapest, he directed no less than eight films and along with Sándor Korda, another Janovics recruit, he was Hungary's most popular film director of the First World War years.

Janovics, with Kertész now back in Budapest, obviously felt he had acquired enough experience to try his hand at directing. His directorial debut was Girl Tricks (Leányfurfang) in 1915, with the first Hungarian female star, Lili Berky, in the lead role. Berky, who went on to become an enduring feature of Hungarian filmmaking with a career that extended into the 1950s, is another member of the film industry whose career owes a considerable debt to the enterprising Janovics (Cunningham, Hungarian Cinema 12; 14; 204). In 1915 Janovics concluded a deal with the Projectograph company in Budapest and merged his interests with theirs. The new company was called Proja (Pro + Ja = Proja) and in May director Márton Garas [13] arrived in Kolosvár to work closely with Janovics. Garas, like Kertész, had experience working abroad, in his case in Berlin (which included a period with Max Reinhardt's theater). In all, Garas directed six films: Ordeal of the Bier (Tetemrehívás, 1915), adapted by Gábor Némedy from a peasant-ballad by the poet János Arany (1817-1882); Magdolna of the Mountains (Havasi Magdolna, 1915) with Lili Berky and Ilona Nagy in the cast shot in Kolosvár and on location in the region known in Hungarian as Tordai-Hasadék, which today is part of the Romanian National Park network, west of the town of Turda; Good Night, Scallywags (Jó éjt Muki, 1915),[14] a farce adapted from the stage play by Sándor Incze; King of the Stock Exchange (A börzekirály), listed as a drama (Jordaky 135), with another screenplay by Sándor Incze; Cox and Box , shot in July and August 1915, in which Mihály Kertész plays the part of Box in this farce adopted from the stage play of the same name written by Englishman James Madison Morton in 1847—with music by Arthur Sullivan (in the days before he teamed up with W. S. Gilbert). As there is at least one other film with the same name, this suggests the popularity of a stage play that nowadays appears to be the sole domain of amateur drama. Finally, there is Night Time Rendezvous (Éjféli találkozás, 1916) based on one of the folkloric romances of the minor novelist Lajos Abonyi (1833-1898), also known as The Highwayman's Scarf (A betyár kendöje) and adapted for the screen by Janovics.

Unfortunately, as far as is known, not a single frame of any of these films survives. Garas returned to Budapest after these six films to continue his film career, which included a notable adaptation of Tolstoi's classic Anna Karenina (Karenin Anna) in 1918. During the period of the Hungarian Republic of Councils, the short-lived Hungarian Revolution of April-August 1919, he directed three films, including an adaptation of an Upton Sinclair story and Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist (Garai 314; 317). After the collapse of the Revolution he stayed in Hungary, unlike many of his contemporaries who fled. He directed his last four films in 1921 for the Corvin Studio and sometime thereafter he moved to Germany, where he finally settled except for a short spell as the director of the Belvárosi Theater in Budapest in 1924.

It was around this time, 1916, that Janovics was himself to become increasingly involved in directing. He also changed the name of his company to Corvin, adopting in August its famous trademark—a raven on a shield.[15] After Girl Tricks, his debut effort in 1915, Janovics became much more “hands on,” directing no less than seven films in the following year: I am Innocent! (Ártalan vagyok!), The Daughter of the Nabob of Dalova (A dolovai nábob léanya), The Dignified Female Prisoner (Méltóságos rabasszony), Liliomfi, Five Petofi Poems (Öt Petöfi-vers), The Holy Confession (A gyónás szentsége), and The Notary of Peleske (A peleskei nótárius).

Of Janovics' films from 1916, it was The Daughter of the Nabob of Dolova that attracted most attention. Adapted by Janovics from the stage play of Ferenc Herzeg (1903), the film was shot in Kolosvár, Marosvásárhely, and Mócs in July and August 1916. László Fekete was the cameraman and the lead role (of Vilma Jób) was once again played by Lili Berky. It was first shown in Kolosvár around 26 September 1916 and was a great box-office success (Jordáky 86). Like most of the Janovics films, it was shown elsewhere, notably in Budapest. For example, I am Innocent! , which was released shortly after The Daughter of the Nabob of Dolovai , had its Budapest premiere on 9 October. Liliomfi, a tale of traveling players and love overcoming all obstacles, needs to be mentioned. A popular stage play by Ede Sziligeti, it was re-made in 1955 by one of Hungary's greatest directors, Károly Makk.

Employing his regular troupe of acting personnel from the National Theater and bringing in other talent as necessary, Janovics was able to shift from his theater work to filming and back again with apparent ease. His collaborators were often as versatile as he was; actor Mihály Fekete, for example, later graduated to adaptation and directed five films. There is no evidence to show that Janovics was an experimenter; indeed like so many early film pioneers he seems to have been motivated primarily by business concerns. A number of his films were adaptations of plays performed at the National Theater (Nemeskürty, Word and Image 22) and with the exception of one screenplay that he wrote himself—Borrowed Babies—all his films were adaptations of novels, short stories, or stage plays. It is also noteworthy that few of these sources were non-Hungarian, the main exceptions being the plays of Frenchmen such as Sardou and Brieux, the occasional Anglo-Saxon (Mark Twain, James M. Morton), or German (Friedrich Gerstacker). Janovics' films were steeped in the traditions of Hungarian literature and drama, an orientation that was, with fluctuations, to characterize much of Hungarian cinema into the 1940s. In this respect, Janovics' films could be regarded as an important pioneer in establishing one of the major defining features of Hungarian national cinema. He resisted the temptation to copy any national style, whether Danish, French, or German, or the increasingly popular films from America. Unsurprisingly, there were no films from Romanian sources and no Romanian personnel involved (as far as can be ascertained from cast and staff lists); in fact it would be difficult to gauge from the existing records that, for Janovics, the Romanian community even existed. The major exception would be the film posters that have survived, which frequently advertise the films in Hungarian, Romanian, and German, suggesting that some, at least, of the audiences were non-Hungarian. Evidence is scant, but Jordáky (110) mentions that, regarding the films under discussion in this work, in one1926 program of screenings there were five films with Hungarian titles, six films with Romanian and Hungarian titles, and only two films with solely Romanian titles. In all cases, whether these are subtitles or intertitles is not clear.

What of the man himself? Photographic records from the time show a slightly portly, well-dressed man, always wearing a three-piece suit as befitted a member of Kolosvár's cultural elite. His life appears to have revolved around the theater and the cinemas that he owned in Kolosvár, and one aspect of his work, which must have been partly responsible for the popularity of his films, was the way he used his actors, moving them from theater to film and back again, no doubt in the process building up a strong sense of teamwork and cashing in on the readily marketable attributes of key actresses such as Lili Berky. A glance at the cast lists reveals the same names appearing again and again—Lili Berky, Mihaly Várkonyi, Alajos Mészáros, Ilonka Nagy, and many more. He had no purpose-built studio at his disposal and, from what evidence there is, it seems that much shooting was done on location and interior scenes used the theater's facilities, notably a courtyard; as a result, shooting could only be carried out in the summer months. As well as directing, Janovics was frequently involved in the adaptation process and also acted in a number of his films. He was also a prolific author, writing six books and some 103 articles for newspapers and journals (the first appeared in1891, the last in 1942), the vast majority of them, reviews of plays and essays on aspects of theater and theater history (Balogh et al. 156-159). He would sometimes introduce films with a lecture (on at least one occasion the renowned Hungarian film theorist Béla Balázs also gave a lecture),[16] but quite how Janovics maneuvered around the language question is difficult to assess. It is likely that he was bi-lingual in Hungarian and Romanian (as many Hungarian-Transylvanians still are today), while German language ability was very common at a time when Hungary was so closely tied to Austria. The evidence suggests that the National Theater was, unlike the cinema, primarily seen as a Hungarian-speaking environment and attracted Hungarians almost exclusively (this would also probably include Kolosvár's Jewish population, which was entirely Hungarian-speaking).

This is probably an appropriate place to address the question of the Dracula legend and cinema in Transylvania. On the surface, all the conditions would appear to exist for Janovics or some other enterprising Transylvanian to cash in on Dracula and make a film about the topic—and what better place for such a venture? In fact this never happened. The reason for this could not be lack of public interest; Bram Stoker's famous novel was translated into Hungarian (the translator's name has not gone down in history) and serialized in the Budapest-based newspaper Magyar Hirlap (Hungarian Daily) in 1898, just one year after publication in Britain. This must have roused public interest as the first book version appeared in the same year, followed by a second edition in 1906, a third in 1908; other editions were to follow through the 1920s and, more or less, up to the present day. There are rumors that sometime around the First World War, Sándor Korda expressed interest in a Dracula film, but if this is true nothing came of it and none of Korda's biographers mention it. A Dracula film, The Death of Dracula (Drakula halála) was made in 1921 in Vienna and Budapest, directed by the Hungarian Károly Lajthay and featuring Austrian actor Paul Askenas as the Count. However, Janovics, for whatever reasons, did not commit Transylvania's most infamous “son” to celluloid. It is possible that the topic would not have appealed to his middle to high-brow taste and perhaps within Transylvania itself there was, at a time of growing political and cultural tension, a reluctance to make a Hungarian film about such a demonic character based, however tenuously or fancifully, on a Romanian national hero.[17]

Despite his growing involvement in the filmmaking process, Janovics was still on the look-out for talent to lure to Kolosvár and his next “catch” was, arguably, the most famous. While on a trip to Budapest, Janovics, according to legend, was sitting in the New York Café, a popular watering hole for journalists, writers, artists, and socialites, when his attention was drawn to a young man at a nearby table. The young man had already established a reputation for himself as the editor of a film journal, a critic, and, within the last year, as a director of his first film, The Officer's Swordknot (A tiszti kardbojt, 1915) for the Korona film company. The film was a box-office success and helped establish the reputations of its leading actor, Gabor Rajnay, and the novice director, Sándor (Alexander) Korda. Charles Drazin, Korda's latest and most accomplished biographer takes up the story at this point:

He [Janovics] had come to the café New York to discuss story rights with the Hungarian writer István Szomaházy. When asked if the writer knew anyone who might be able to help him at his studios, Szomaházy pointed towards a “thin blond boy” sitting at a marble table with a cigar in his mouth “as if the whole person was hanging on it.” Janovics introduced himself. The boy told Janovics about the film journal he was editing, how every week he struggled to pay the printing costs […] Janovics warmed to this “enthusiastic day-dreaming boy” and invited him to come to Kolosvár. (Drazin 29-30)

Korda's Kolosvár sojourn was relatively brief but intense. From August 1916 to early 1917 he directed six films for Janovics before returning to Budapest. His debut film was White Nights (Fehér éjszakák, 1916) also known as Fedora, starring Lili Berky (who played the role of Fedora) and György Kürthy, based on a play by the popular French dramatist Victorien Sardou, which was adopted by Korda. This was followed by Tales of a Typewriter (Mesék az írógéprol, 1916) with Lili Berky again in the lead female role. Korda's third Kolosvár film, The Grandmother (A Nagymama, 1916), featured the popular Hungarian chanteuse Lujza Blaha and was based on a play by Gergely Csiky, a popular dramatist of the late 19th century. Working with Blaha, who had a reputation for playing the “diva” and being difficult, was not easy for the considerably younger and less-experienced Korda (“Szerkesztoségi óra” 4). The differences between director and leading lady could not have been more marked—66 year-old Blaha was a stage veteran, a legend in her own lifetime and the mainstay of the National Theater in Budapest, who was once requested by the visiting Prince of Wales to perform for him. Despite these problems, the film lived up to its promise. Released on Christmas Day 1916—and 40 minutes in length (of which only a few fragments survive)— The Grandmother was one of Korda's most popular films of this period. The surviving fragments show a rather fearsome looking Blaha playing the role of Countess Széremy with appropriate aristocratic imperiousness, but as with The Yellow Foal, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from such brief clips.

Most of Korda's films were literary or stage adaptations, fully in-line with Janovic's artistic policy, and the next offering was no exception. His screen version of Mark Twain's The Million Dollar Banknote (Az millio fontos bankó) [18] was finished in July 1916. Lili Berky was to appear in his fifth film in Kolosvár, The Double-Hearted Man (A két szivu férfi, 1916), after which Korda returned to Budapest briefly to direct Cyclamen (Ciklámen, 1916), based on a play by the little-known Hungarian writer Andor Gábor. Back in Kolosvár, between November and December 1916 he directed Mickey Magnate (Mágnás Miska), although some scenes, quite likely interiors, were also shot in Budapest. This adaptation of a Károly Bakonyi operetta was Korda's last film in Kolosvár and another box-office success. All of Korda's films in this period, with the exception of The Grandmother, employed cameraman Árpád Virág, who went on to have a distinguished career in Germany.[19]

Korda returned to Budapest for good probably very early in January 1917 after shooting Mickey Magnate and continued to work for Corvin at their Budapest studio, which, in partnership with a couple of others, he bought from Janovics. He and Janovics maintained a cordial relationship and Korda always spoke highly of his Transylvanian mentor, and on occasions, when established in London, paid for Janovics to visit. Coming at a time when Korda was taking his first steps as a director, his intense spell of filmmaking in Kolosvár, although relatively short, was of major importance for the man who later became Britain's only movie mogul (to borrow Charles Drazin's phrase).

By the time of Korda's return to Budapest, Hungary was into its fourth year of a war that was to prove increasingly unpopular and disastrous. Although initially greeted by cheering crowds in Budapest and elsewhere, the war dragged on and began to take a heavy toll; casualties were very high and rationing became increasingly severe. Many Hungarians began to look at ways of breaking with the Austro-Hungarian alliance; strikes broke out and there were mutinies in the navy (based in the Adriatic). There was growing political agitation against the Monarchy and the old political order, and an increasingly confident parliamentary opposition led by the reformist Count Mihály Károly. The stage was set for a series of political confrontations and transformations that would have a deep ongoing effect on Hungary, on Transylvania, and on the prospects for Hungarian culture in Kolosvár. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the “prison house of nations,” to use Trotsky's phrase, was also, ultimately, to spell the end of the film industry in Transylvania. Despite these problems, 1917 was to prove another good year for filmmaking in Transylvania.

Janovics' output in 1917 continued more or less unabated—17 films in all, many of which were longer, including six five-reelers and one at six reels. Of these Janovics directed all but four; Mihály Fekete directed three and Mihály Kertész returned briefly to direct one last film for Janovics' studio, re-named the Transylvania Film Studio (Sándor Korda was now using the Corvin label at his studio in Budapest). The cameraman on all these films and virtually all Janovics' remaining productions was Laszló Fekete and although the name of Lili Berky was gone by autumn (she had moved to Budapest where she worked for Korda amongst others), there was still a regular troupe of acting talent, some of whom, such as Andor Szakács, could now be counted as veterans.

Of the films from 1917, The Last Night (Az utolsó éjszaka) deserves special attention. A print was discovered in the Berlin Film Archive under the German title Roman einer Schauspielerin; it was restored and shown at the Pordenone Film festival in 2002. This achievement makes it the earliest of the only two films directed by Janovics in existence. The plot has many staple elements, ranging from the Oedipal conflict to the theme of the lover betrayed. Gitta (Lili Berky) a former actress, turns her back on her husband and infant son, and runs off with a lecherous and thoroughly unworthy actor (Mihály Fekete). The couple ends up in Russia, where Gitta becomes a prominent cabaret performer. A Russian Colonel falls for her, and the actor, a compulsive gambler, pays off his debt by selling Gitta's jewelry—and then selling the woman herself to the Colonel. The Colonel, however, is a worthy man and helps Gitta return to Hungary, where she is told that her husband is dead and her son has disappeared. She again establishes herself as a successful actress and is, again, pursued by the now increasingly depraved actor. A young man, watching her performance from a box in the theater, arranges to meet her backstage only to discover, after a brief romp on a couch, to both their surprise and a degree of alarm, that they are mother and son.

One aspect of interest in the restored print is the use of staging in depth. In one scene Gitta, having initially resisted the amorous advances of the actor, watches through a window as he walks away from her house. Although the actor is out of focus, we can clearly see two planes—Gitta, her face pressed against the window, and outside the actor slowly walking away, doffing his hat as he goes on his way. Staging in depth, even of this relatively primitive nature, was not new in cinema; it had been around for a few years. What this suggests is that, despite the relative isolation of Kolosvár, the Transylvanian filmmakers were not far behind the rest of the world. The film was first shown at the Szinkor cinema in Kolosvár in November 1917. It is tinted with no less than seven colors; the restored print uses German subtitles and is 65 minutes long (shown at 16 frames-per-second).

1918 was to be the last year of any major film production in Kolosvár. The war was now rapidly turning into a military and political disaster, and Hungary's increasingly precarious position was to have a profound effect on the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. Strikes broke out in Vienna, Budapest, and elsewhere; in January workers councils were set up. The failure of the German offensive on the Marne and the equally disastrous Austro-Hungarian assault on the Italian front at Piave were the last throw of the dice for the Central Powers; by the middle of the year starvation was rife, supplies were near to collapse, desertion was common, and mutinies began to break out.

It seems quite amazing that filmmaking in Kolosvár continued. It may be that the Transylvanian-Hungarians felt secure and under no immediate threat either from the Allies or the Romanians, and to look for the reasons for this we need to go back a few years. On 17 August 1916 the Romanian government in Bucharest,[20] convinced that the Central Powers were close to defeat declared support for France and Britain and joined the Entente. The Romanian army, however, fared badly in its attempt to conquer Transylvania and was driven back by combined German and Austro-Hungarian forces, which went on to occupy Bucharest on 6 December 1916. The Romanian attempt to win Transylvania (its major war-time goal) on the back of an expected Entente victory was, therefore, a dismal failure and culminated in about two-thirds of “Old Romania” (the Regat) being occupied. With Romania considerably weakened and with substantial forces stationed in the region, the Hungarians no doubt felt safe. With the retreating Romanian army, some 80,000 Transylvanian-Romanians also fled and Austro-Hungarian reprisals resulted in another 3,000 being interned in Sopron. Thus, many of the more oppositional elements of the Romanian population either absented themselves or were neutralized by internment (Cornwall 185). Additional reassurance, of a more symbolic nature, came from state visits by Archduke Charles, heir to the Habsburg throne, and from the Kaiser himself. State aid of various kinds was increased and, for a short time at least, the Transylvanian economy prospered as far as war conditions would allow (Barta et al. 639-642). Transylvania, thus, possibly, avoided some of the more extreme privations experienced in other parts of the Empire, although the peasantry suffered badly and increasingly so did the workers.

After the usual winter and spring break, Janovics returned to filming and directed The Poacher (A vadorzó) adapted by Erno Ligeti from a novel by Friedrich Gesrtäcker (a German author best known for his travel writing). The next film, released on 11 April 1918, was Infection (A métely),[21] directed by Mihály Fekete, a film that pre-empts the concerns of one of Janovics' last films The Specter of the World (A világrém). The film is lost, but if Brieux's original stage play (in French Les Avaries, usually titled Damaged Goods in English) is any guide, this was a social drama about the dangers and problems associated with syphilis. Although little known today, Brieux had a reputation in the early part of the 20 th century as a realist and his work was championed by, amongst others, George Bernard Shaw and Upton Sinclair.

Another film from 1918 also merits special consideration. The Old Foot Soldier and his Son, the Hussar (A vén bakancsos és fia, a huszár), directed by Mihály Fekete, is the only other film to survive from this year. Based on a folk tale by József Szigeti and adapted by Janovics, The Old Foot Soldier weaves a complex tale of deception and double dealing with love eventually triumphant. Laci (Ödön Réthely), the son of the Old Soldier, Mihály (István Szentgyörgyi), is in love with Ilona (Lilli Poór), the daughter of the local inn-keeper, the greedy Veres (Gyula Dezseri). However, the course of true love does not run smooth as Veres is opposed to the romance and does not envisage Laci as a future son-in-law. A deal, however, is struck—Frici (Fatty Arbuckle look-alike, Gyozo Kabók), the inn-keeper's son, a fat slob and a half-wit to boot, is drafted into the army. Mihaly and Veres strike a deal that Laci will take Frici's place, with the understanding that when he returns from his national service he will have the hand of Ilona. Laci is mistakenly reported dead, but returns from combat minus an arm. Surprise, surprise—the inn-keeper does not keep to his end of the bargain and plans to marry-off Ilona to a newly arrived rich man. Mihály is too clever for them, however. He pretends to have found a hidden treasure, something for which the inn-keeper and a friend have been searching for a long time (shown at the beginning of the film). Of course, the inn-keeper, changes his mind immediately, impressed by the gold coins that Mihály flashes around in the inn (they are, in fact, his very last savings) and Laci and Ilona are wed. When the crafty Old Soldier's ruse is discovered it is too late.

It is an interesting film in many ways. There are a number of flashbacks, signaled by intertitles, and one flashback that resembles the type of “montage” later associated with Hollywood, where a series of short, connected scenes depict a larger sense of meaning or action, in this case displaying the Old Soldier's skills and adaptability as he becomes the village “Jack of All Trades” when he returns from the army. In line with much filmmaking at the time in other parts of the world, the camera is static—although there is much gestural and body movement within the frame—and the acting, again, bears a close resemblance to other acting from the silent era (somewhat overblown and theatrical, with broad gestures and expressions). All scenes are shot outdoors in bright sunlight and what might have been interior scenes are usually shot on the doorsteps of houses as artificial lighting was obviously not available. The film premiered in March 1918 with an original length of 1,540 meters; the running time of the restored print is 58 minutes (projected at 22 frames-per-second).

Palika is the first of only two films directed by Elemér Hetényi, who also directed stage plays at the Hungarian National Theater in Kolosvar and then in other cities (in August 1919 he directed Shaw's Candide ). In 1921 he moved to Nagyvárad and then elsewhere, returning to Kolosvár in 1935. A five-reel drama, Palika was adapted from Andor Gábor's stage play by Jeno Gyulai. Gábor's work, which also included cabarets and librettos, was popular in Kolosvár, but after his participation in the 1919 Republic of Councils he fled Hungary, ending up in Moscow, only returning to his native land in 1945. As the year progresses it becomes harder to find information about films that were made; there are five films for which no cast lists exist and one film, Flames (Lángok), where even the name of the director is not known. This no doubt reflects the chaos and upheaval as the war ended and Hungary began a painful but rapid process of disengaging from the Monarchy in Vienna, heightened by the harsh realities of a defeated nation facing the revenge and reprisals that many thought would be brought down upon their heads by the Romanians and others.

Austro-Hungary accepted the inevitable and signed armistice terms near Padua in Italy on 3 November 1918, and this was ratified by the representatives of the new Hungarian state on 13 November in Belgrade. Hungary now had a new, if not particularly stable government, headed by Count Mihály Károly, which had emerged out of the Hungarian National Council—a coalition of parties and groups dedicated to ending the war, breaking the link with the Monarchy, and, at least on paper, self-determination for the national minorities. Often referred to as the democratic or bourgeois revolution, the establishment of the Hungarian National Council and the movement it helped to set in motion was supported in Kolosvár by the establishment of a Transylvanian Committee of the Hungarian National Council, whose Deputy Chairman was Janovics.[22] The new government in Budapest was desperate to maintain the territorial integrity of “Greater” Hungary and was prepared to make concessions on autonomy, self-determination, and language policy—but not on outright independence. However, the non-Magyar nationalities were no longer in any mood to listen; they wanted a clean break and were supported, in general, by the victorious allies, particularly the French who were the dominant force in what was historically their sphere of influence. Pressure began to build on the Hungarians to relinquish their territorial claims to southern Slovakia, Transylvania, Vojvodina, the Banat, and other areas claimed by the non-Magyar nationalities that were increasingly organized, militant, and aggressive. Hungary, which now had no army because it had been disbanded under the conditions of the Armistice, felt itself pressed from the north by Czech and Slovak forces, from the south by the Serbs, and from the east and south-east by a large Romanian force eager to win Transylvania for Bucharest. On 23 December, Romanian troops entered Kolosvár meeting no resistance and by 22 January 1919 they had occupied all of historic Transylvania.

Unable to do anything, the Károlyi government in Budapest resigned and into its place stepped a Revolutionary Governing Council headed by Hungarian Communist Béla Kun. The Republic of Councils (Tanácsköztarsaság), inspired by but getting little practical support from the Bolsheviks, lasted only 119 days and it seems unlikely that its establishment, always very shaky, could have had much effect on events in Kolosvár, where the Romanian authorities held the town and surrounding countryside in a tight grip. The emergence of Bolshevism in their midst alarmed the Allies and the Romanians, who began to march on Budapest. Despite some military resistance from a hastily cobbled together Hungarian Red Army, the Republic of Councils capitulated and the Romanian army entered Budapest on 4 August 1919. The post-war humiliation and dismemberment of Hungary was now almost complete; the final act, and the most crushing of all, was soon to be played out at the Trianon Pavillion just outside Paris. In this chaos of revolution and counter-revolution, post-war demoralization, invasion, military rule, internment of dissidents, and censorship, it is hardly surprising that in the whole year 1919 only one film was made. A mozitündér was directed by Elemér Hetényi and adapted by him from an operetta by W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame).[23] Very little is known about this film or the conditions under which it was made. The bare fact that only one film was made (consisting of just one-reel), when compared to the previous annual output, strongly suggests a period of disruption, shortages, and dislocation, possibly in the supply of film stock or restrictions imposed by the Romanian authorities.

Under pressure from the Allies, the Romanian forces withdrew from Budapest but not from Transylvania. The Treaty of Trianon, signed on 4 June 1920, established new borders that reduced pre-war Hungary by some two thirds. The whole of Transylvania was ceded to Romania, probably the most grievous blow to Hungarian national pride and consciousness. The authorities in Budapest ordered flags to be flown at half-mast and there was a tremendous sense of shock at the loss of a huge area and population that, in national mythology, had been a heartland since the original Hungarians occupied the Carpathian Basin some thousand years ago. The effect in Kolosvár could have been no less shocking. Hungarians would soon have to take out Romanian citizenship and the Romanian authorities retaliated against what they perceived as a history of discrimination practiced by the Hungarians.[24] The curtain was coming down (literally and figuratively) on many activities and practices that Hungarians had considered to be central to their way of life and culture in Transylvania.

In mid-1920, the Romanian Secretary of State, Onisifor Ghibu, ordered that the Hungarian National Theater should be handed over to the Romanian state. The last performance in Hunyadi Tér, the theater's home since 1906, was held on 30 September 1920. Janovics, a great lover of Shakespeare (although it is interesting that he never adapted the Bard for the screen) decided that the last performance would be Hamlet . Reports indicate that an emotional and often tearful audience packed the theater for the last night; however, possibly fearing some kind of demonstration, the Romanian authorities censored the play and only allowed the first line of the famous Hamlet monologue, which the actor spoke defiantly, not in the usual tragic manner. The company relocated to a nearby facility, the Szinkor, which was a smaller theater originally built for use in the summer. They were forced to leave all equipment, props, costumes, and sets behind; nevertheless, the theater opened for its first performance on 4 October.

The following year there were even moves to try and ban Hungarian theater altogether. However, even in these hard-pressed times, Janovics still possessed a certain “clout.” He wrote to Octavian Goga, a poet and at the time Romanian Minister of Cultural Affairs, and was successful in getting the threat withdrawn. He was to receive support at various times from a Hungarian aristocrat, Miklós Bánffy, who used his connections at the Royal Court in Bucharest to secure a degree of tolerance for Hungarian cultural activities in Transylvania.[25] A major success for Bánffy was the establishment in 1924 of the Transylvanian Artists Guild (Erdélyi szepmíves céh), a Hungarian language publishing venture that did much to keep Transylvanian-Hungarian literature alive. There appears to be no evidence available to suggest that the Romanian authorities banned or censored any films made in Transylvania or prevented any screenings of particular films, although it is highly likely that imports from Hungary were restricted—if not banned completely for a time. There was censorship in other parts of the “New Romania.” Times reporter Stephen Graham tells how posters for the film Taras Bulba [26] appeared on the streets of towns in Bessarabia (like Transylvania also ceded to Romania, this time at the expense of the Soviet Union), but the film was never shown in the cinemas (Rakovsky 4). Just how widespread this practice was is hard to estimate.

Needless to say, the overall situation was not good; there were restrictions against the use of the Hungarian language; street signs in Hungarian were banned and, at one time, even dual-language signs were taxed. In 1921 Romanian became the language of jurisprudence—all state officials had to swear an oath of allegiance to Romania (Bánffy 211)—and education in state schools (but not denominational schools) was now conducted entirely in Romanian. Up to and including 1924, the Romanian government closed down or Romanian-ized 2,070 rural Hungarian elementary schools (out of a total of 3,025) and closed the Hungarian University (Illyés 185). The Hungarian language press was banned, while access to newspapers from Budapest was restricted (Barta et al. 673-681). One reason that these measures were so excessive is that the Romanian authorities were only too aware that urban culture in Transylvania was almost entirely Hungarian, Jewish, or German “…as were the overwhelming majority of burghers, professional people and factory workers. Of the 49 towns in Transylvania in 1918, only two were of a Romanian character”(Pomogats 4). The Romanian-ization of Transylvania required a sizable Romanian urban middle and working class, but the vast majority of Romanians were peasants, many of them illiterate and economically marginal. Indeed, one reason that non-Romanians in Transylvania were reluctant to accept their assimilation into Romania was that Romania was seen as a country of peasants, uncultured and backward. Likewise, the Romanian language was also seen as the language of peasants and looked down upon. The important Jewish population preferred to speak Hungarian and, probably of even more importance to Jews, in contrast to the generally liberal Transylvanian Hungarians, the Romanians were regarded as virulent anti-Semites. Because their social base was so small, the Romanian government increasingly resorted to dictat to push through its policies:

Thus in Romania, whose territory and population had doubled (at the expense of formerly Austro-Hungarian and Russian territory) under the terms of the peace settlement, an early experiment with regional administrative autonomy (albeit favouring local ethnic Romanians) gave way in 1922 to a rigidly centralist governmental and educational structure justified as the best way of rapidly inculcating a sense of national unity among the hitherto fragmented Romanian people. This impatient, top-down approach to forging a cohesive nation was partly a compensatory response to the fact that the urban middle-class educated population was overwhelmingly composed of Germans, Magyars and Jews, while the bulk of the peasantry was ethnically Romanian. (Roshwald 169)

In such a restrictive environment and with such limited resources to hand, it is not surprising that Janovics abandoned filmmaking and concentrated on his theater work. Another factor to take into consideration was the flight to Hungary of many thousands of Hungarians. Accurate figures are difficult to find, but Illyés suggests that around 197,000 Hungarian speakers left Transylvania after 1919-1920 and moved to Hungary (23).

For all intents and purposes Janovics' filmmaking career came to an end in 1920. He directed Two Orphans (Két árva), an adaptation of a stage play, Les Deux Orphelines by the French pair Adolphe d'Ennery and Eugene Corman, and his swan song was a somewhat curious choice, The Specter of the World (A világrém), which can be called a “social-hygiene drama,” resurrecting the theme of Mihály's 1918 film Infection—the problems and dangers of syphilis, and the attitudes surrounding it.[27] Not only is this film noteworthy as Janovics' last, but it is also the only other film of his to survive. The Specter of the World is based on a story by Romanian-born medical researcher, Constantin Levaditi, who worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and made ground-breaking discoveries in the treatment and diagnosis of syphilis, polio, and other diseases. The plot is simple, melodramatic, and tragic, all at the same time. Mihály Fekete plays the husband of a popular opera singer. The couple is happily married and has a young daughter. Despite this, the husband has an affair with an actress and contracts syphilis; unable to confront the consequences of his action, he infects his wife. Although usually dated as 1919 in Hungarian language literature, the film was released in January 1920. The restored print runs 54 minutes (at 22 frames-per-second).

After The Specter of the World there is only one more film from Kolosvár and Janovics' Transylvania Studio—a one reel sketch, The Bearded Man (A szakallás ember) directed by Géza Salgó, about which little is known. It was not the absolute end of filmmaking in Transylvania: some small companies—Didaktikai in Arad and Dorian Film in Nagyvárad—made a few short films in the 1920s, but a film called Náni from Arad in 1929 is the last known Hungarian silent film from the region.

The continuing tension between the Romanian authorities and the Hungarian minority—and all that this entailed—was only exacerbated by the increasingly belligerent irredentism and saber-rattling emanating from Budapest and no doubt contributed to the ongoing restrictions placed on the activities of the Hungarian minority. The Transylvanian-Hungarians genuinely sought to find some kind of mutually acceptable compromise with the Romanians, but this was not easy:

[T]he Magyar minority in Greater Romania, although sympathetic to the empty slogan of nem, nem sohat (“no, no, never”), was non-militant and by and large predisposed to accepting a modus vivendi with Bucharest in the spirit of the “democratic” provisions of the peace settlement … but political warfare rather than reconciliation, reaction rather than reform, were the rule in the formative years of Greater Romania. (Fischer-Galati 32-33; Balogh and Piroska)

To what extent these unfavorable conditions were a direct cause of the demise of Transylvanian cinema is debatable, but no doubt they contributed to the creation of an environment in which any endeavor faced daunting obstacles. The difficulties of obtaining any lucrative cinema distribution in Hungary meant drastically reduced box-office income and the advent of synchronized sound, bringing with it the added cost of converting cinemas and buying new equipment, more than likely killed off any lingering thoughts of, or attempts at, continuing Hungarian filmmaking. An era had come to an end.

Janovics soldiered on, now solely as a man of the theater. There was an almost guaranteed audience for the Hungarian language theater. Kolosvár audiences were incredibly loyal and it was not unusual for performances to sell out. However, in 1926 a tax on theater tickets was a severe financial blow and, as the effects of the Depression set in, regional theaters in other Transylvanian towns looked to help from Janovics, who took over the direction of the theater in Arad, as well as helping in Temesvár and elsewhere. In 1936-7 Janovics spent some time working with the theater in Szeged (in Hungary) and through his former cameraman László Fekete was in touch the Hungarian Film Office (Magyarfilmiroda) in Budapest, which made newsreels and documentaries. But nothing appears to have come of this. He died in Kolosvár on 16 November 1945. A few years before he died, Hungarian filmmaking returned to Transylvania following Hungary's annexation of about 50% of its former territory in 1940. That this only happened because the Nazis allowed it, did not dent the feeling of euphoria as Hungarian troops marched through the streets of Kolosvár. High in the Carpathian mountains a young Hungarian director, István Szots, born in Transylvania, made one of the most memorable Hungarian films of all time, People of the Mountains (Emberek a havason, 1942), but it was to prove to be unique, an exception (Cunningham “ Emberek a havason” ). The disastrous decision by successive Hungarian governments to align with Nazi Germany and ultimately to join in the invasion of the Soviet Union meant that by late 1944 Transylvania was under yet another military occupation, this time by the Red Army. After the war relations between Bucharest and Hungary remained distinctly icy despite some half-hearted attempts at Stalinist-orchestrated Eastern Bloc “bonhomie” and Hungarian film crews were not allowed back for many years.

In a very real sense, this has been an exploration into film history without films; so little survives that only the most tentative conclusions can be drawn. It is easy to dismiss or overlook the early history of filmmaking in Transylvania; for all its cultural buzz, Kolosvár was never Paris, Berlin, or Budapest. Nevertheless, despite its marginal position and the way in which its film industry inevitably became overshadowed by the Dracula legends and myths, both literary and celluloid, the town was the launch pad for a number of film careers, of which at least two—Kertész and Korda—were of major international significance. Filmmaking in Kolosvár, particularly the type of films made there—literary and stage adaptations—did much to set a cultural agenda in Hungarian filmmaking that endured for many years. Janovics himself was to argue, in an article in 1936, the centrality and importance of Transylvania in the early years of Hungarian cinema. Finally, Jenö Janovics needs to be seen as a major early film pioneer, in some ways typical, as a theater man who crossed over to film and back again many times, but also as someone who forged an extremely productive and vibrant film industry in circumstances that were not always favorable. It is to be hoped that if his name and work become better known, more of these lost Transylvanian gems will be re-discovered and restored.


I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the help of the Hungarian National Film Archive, particularly Gyöngyi Balogh, for very kindly supplying me with video tape copies of the surviving Janovics films and fragments. Thanks also to Ferenc Takács, Jeno Farkas, Agnes Péter, Andrew Crowther, my colleague at Sheffield Hallam University, Suzanne Speidel, for helping with German translations, and finally my wife Patsy for checking various drafts, proofreading, and many helpful suggestions too numerous to mention.

1] Defining Transylvania can be a problem. In modern usage it covers virtually all of modern day northern Romania. Before 1920, when the region was ceded to Romania in the post WWI settlements, the region was more rigidly defined and excluded those areas in Romania that are extensions of the Great Hungarian Plain and the Banat.

2] Mention should also be made of Nosferatu (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1921).

3] Although the Festival organisers make a concession by holding a “Vampire session.”

4] This lack of knowledge about filmmaking in Transylvania is illustrated by the BFI Companion to Eastern European and Russian Cinema, where the entry on “Transylvania” says nothing about Jeno Janovics or anything else remotely connected to the subject of the present work (Taylor et al. 245). While in the West we may know very little or nothing about the film history of Transylvania, this is not the case in Hungary where a number of scholars have contributed important studies to the topic; unfortunately virtually all of this body of research remains untranslated into English. Obviously, I have drawn heavily on these sources and special mention should be made of the exemplary scholarship of Lajos Jordáky, Lajos Kömendy, Gyöngyi Balogh, and others mentioned in the Works Cited.

5] As most of this essay is concerned with the period when Kolosvár was under Hungarian sovereignty, I will use that name throughout purely for the sake of convenience. Readers should be made aware, however, that officially Kolosvár became Cluj after 1920.

6] Accurate figures are hard to find, but at the time of Trianon (1920) the Hungarian-speaking population of Transylvania was around 31% of the total, although this is based on the 1910 census. It also has to be noted that this information is taken from Hungarian statistics published in 1940 when Hungarian-Romanian tensions were at their height and the exaggeration of Hungarian population statistics favored Hungarian irredentist foreign policy. By 1992 the Hungarian speaking population was put at 20.7% (Romsics 121; Sebok 86).

7] I give Hungarian titles for most films mentioned; however, it should be born in mind that these films were shown to multi-lingual audiences (Hungarian, Romanian, German-speaking) and advertising posters etc. were often issued in three languages. Quite how this affected subtitles and intertitles when the practice became common is something about which I have been able to find only a little information. In Hungarian controlled Slovakia, films were distributed with Hungarian subtitles, but it seems likely that Hungarian cultural policy was more draconian in this region than elsewhere.

8] Arad (Aradea), Brassó (Brassov) and Temesvár (Timisoara) are now all in Romania.

9] Although Hungarians were in a minority in Transylvania as a whole, in the urban centers they were often the majority. Of the total population of 60,808 for Kolosvár, 50,704 were Hungarians and 7,562 were Romanians. The German population (Saxon and Swabian) was only 1,231. The Jewish population is harder to estimate as the majority considered themselves Hungarian; however, using religious affiliation as a yardstick there were 7,046. Transylvanian Jews in the urban areas considered themselves Hungarian (Illyés 64).

10] Early Hungarian star, Ilona Nagy appeared in Cox and Box and the screenplay for Doctor Death was written by Elemér Harvay.

11] Most of the information regarding The Yellow Foal is from Hungarian Feature Films 1931-1998 published by the Hungarian Film Institute. In case readers are confused, this text has a section on silent films from before 1931. Sadly, The Yellow Foal exists only in a five minute fragment.

12] The title Bánk bán is best left in the original Hungarian as no equivalent exists in English. The word bán refers to a title used in medieval Hungary, which could be translated as Palatine. Bánk is the name of a Hungarian nobleman holding this title. The film is adapted from a patriotic play by József Katona (1791-1830), which was originally banned by the Austrian authorities. The play achieved historical significance when it was performed in Budapest on 15 March 1848—the day Hungary declared its independence from Austria. A more recent film version was made in 2001 (dir. Csaba Kael).

13] An accomplished actor, theater and film director, Márton Garas was born in Újvidék (now Subotica in Yugoslavia) in1885 and died in Budapest, 1930. Although he directed approximately 40 films, relatively little is known of his work, partly because so few of his films have survived. His last film in Hungary was New York Express Cable (New York express kábel, 1921). It appears that after his move to Germany he abandoned filmmaking to concentrate on the theater.

14] The title of this film is difficult to translate as it is a colloquial expression: muki is a name once given to children (perhaps evoking something akin to the British expression “scallywag”), “jó éjt” is short for “good night.” Thanks to Ferenc Takács, although the element of speculation is my own.

15] Named after King Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), the Corvin is one of Hungary's most famous early film studios. In 1926 it went out of business, a victim of a drastic downturn in the fortunes of the Hungarian film industry. After state intervention it was resurrected as the Hunnia film studio.

16] The lecture by Balázs accompanied a screening of Yellow Foal at the Uránia cinema on Saturday, 10 May 1914. There were two performances, at 17:00 and 21:00, and tickets for adults were 60 filler. The poster is reproduced in Jordáky. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the lecture in Balázs' published diaries.

17] Thanks to Ferenc Takás of ELTE (Budapest University) for much of this information and Jeno Farkas, also of ELTE, for the research into Lajthay's film. The Death of Dracula is claimed as the first adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, but there may possibly have been a Russian version in 1920. The Death of Dracula, judging by Farkas' research, actually owes little to the novel and centers around a young woman who visits an insane asylum and meets a man claiming to be the Count. The question of whether or not this is dream or reality seems to be a feature of the film and in this respect it may owe more to The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (dir. Robert Wiene, 1919) than to Stoker. Possibly the adaptors (who included Mihály Kertész) strayed a considerable distance from the novel to avoid legal action from Stoker's widow—a fate that befell Murnau's adaptation in the following year with disastrous financial consequences for Prana, the production company. Unfortunately, no known print of Lajthay's film exists. One of the sources or inspirations for the Dracula legend is Prince Vlad III, “the Impaler,” a Romanian nobleman and one-time ruler of Wallachia, who fought the Turks and is considered a figure of national stature within Romanian history and culture.

18] Nemeskürty lists the Hungarian title as Az millió fontos bankjegy (A mozgóképtol 374).

19] Árpád Virágh's career in Germany included camera operator or cinematographer on Danton (dir. Dmitri Buchowetski, 1920), which featured the famous German actor Emil Jannings; Piano Accompaniment (Klavierbegleitung; dir. Gerhard Gruber, 1926); and Bigamy (Bigamie; dir. Jaap Speyer, 1927).

20] At this time (before the end of WWI) the Kingdom of Romania consisted mainly of the regions of Wallachia, Moldavia, and Dobrugea, with a population of 7,900,000. Known officially as the Vechiul Regat (Old Kingdom), its more common name was simply the Regat (Illyés 21).

21] The choice of “infection” as the translation of Métely is my own; it can also mean contagion or corruption.

22] There is little that is readily available on Janovics' political ideas. In 1918 he was a member of the Radical Party, one of the major parties supporting the Hungarian National Council (Barta et al. 644). The Radical Party's best known personality was its chairman, Oszkár Jászi, and its membership was largely drawn from the middle class and the intelligentsia; it stood for withdrawal from the war, land reform, education reform, and a solution to the nationalities question—that is, what to do about the non-Magyar nationalities living in Greater Hungary (Siklós 18-21). The poet Endre Ady was also a member.

23] Jordáky gives the operetta's composer/librettist as “John Gilbert” (158). I assume this is a mistake (John Gilbert was a well-known illustrator) and he means W. S. Gilbert. Mozitündér presents a problem in translation; “Mozi” is the Hungarian word for cinema and "tündér" is a fairy. As “The cinema-fairy” makes little sense, I have left the title in the original Hungarian. Assuming my assumptions are correct, it is difficult to work out which W. S. Gilbert composition this refers to. Thanks to Andrew Crowther (of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society in the UK) for helping me to try and sort this one out.

24] Romanian resentment at what they perceived as a history of discrimination practiced against them was not without foundation. The Budapest authorities were often heavy-handed, to say the least, in their dealings with the Transylvanian Romanians. One of the most notorious examples was the so-called Replique Trial in 1894 when a group from the Romanian National Party was found guilty of incitement and sentenced to prison terms ranging from two months to five years. Their only crime was to present the Emperor (in Vienna) with a petition complaining of “The many illegalities to which they had been subjected” (Viator 301). However, it needs to be stressed that relationships between the various language communities in Kolosvár appear to have been good.

25] As a landowner Bánffy was also allowed to hold dual nationality, which no doubt helped his conciliatory efforts in Bucharest.

26] My efforts to trace this film failed.

27] Another and better known “social hygiene drama” is the German film Let There be Light (Es werde Licht; dir. Richard Oswald, 1917). According to Siegfried Kracauer, Oswald's “hygienic zeal” sparked a string of follow-ups, including Germinating Life (Keimendes Leben) which starred Emil Jannings (44). I have borrowed the term “social hygiene drama” from the website.

Works Cited

Balogh, Gyöngyi, Ildikó Berkes, Iván Forgács, and Vera Gyürey Filmspirál 30 (2002). Janovics special issue. Budapest: Hungarian National Film Archive, 156-159.

Balogh, Piroska “Transylvanianism: Revision or Regionalism?” In Geopolitics in the Danube Region. Eds. Ignác Romsics and Béla Király. Budapest: Central European UP, 1999. 243-262.

Bánffy, Miklós The Phoenix Land. London: Arcadia Books, 2003 (original publication 1932).

Barta, Gábor, István Bóna, Béla Köpeczi, László Makkai, Ambrus Miskolczy, András Mócsy, Katalin Péter, Zoltán Szász, Endre Tóth, Zsolt Trócsányi, Ágnes R. Várkónyi, and Gábor Vékony. History of Transylvania. Budapest: Akadémiai, 1994.

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All stills courtesy of the Filmkultura website

© John Cunningham, 2008

Updated: 26 Jan 08