When most people think of 1931 horror, the Universal Studios classics Dracula and Frankenstein immediately come to mind. However, Warner Brothers released a wonderfully crafted thriller that is every bit as good as both of them. What is this movie, you might ask? It's Svengali which boasts a remarkable performance by the incomparable John Barrymore, who first caught my eye in the silent film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920). Svengali proves he was able to the make a successful transition between silent films and talkies, a feat few actors were able to pull off.
Barrymore is absolutely mesmerizing as Svengali, a maestro and voice teacher who could steal the panties of a nun with his unearthly gaze and powers of mind control. Naturally, women cannot resist him and the film explores all the facets of this phenomenon with both humor and pathos. Barrymore is splendid in this role and gives a tour de force performance.
His main love interest, Trilby, is played by Marian Marsh. I wish I could say she was Barrymore's equal in terms of her performance but she suffers from an acting style of that era which is overly-dramatic and theatrical. The same is true of Bramwell Fletcher [The Mummy] who plays Billlee, Trilby's spurned love interest. He pines for her in a way that makes me want to snuff him out with a pillow!
Therefore, this is Barrymore's show and he doesn't disappoint. I am surprised it took me so long to see this film. It should have been on my radar years ago. However, hopefully you won't make the same mistake I did. If you are a fan of 1930's horror then this one is a must-see. Thankfully it's available to watch on YouTube. Don't miss it.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.