Gyöngyi Balogh History of the Hungarian Film, from the beginning until 1945

First steps
Years of Prosperity
The Golden Age that never came
The Golden Age of Comedy
The Age of Melodrama

Béla Zitkovszky: The Dance (1901), Allemande
Béla Zitkovszky:
The Dance (1901),
125 KByte

First steps

Films have been shown, distributed and occasionally, though not regularly, made in Hungary since 1896. The progress and popularity of the new invention, "live photography" was helped by an economic boom during the long years of peace which followed the "Reconciliation" of Hungary and Austria, (the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy) as well as the festivities celebrating Hungary’s millennium in 1896.

It was the famous Lumičre company which started to show films regularly from 10 May 1896 in the coffee shop of the Hotel Royal in Budapest. The entrance fee was 50 pence and there were several screenings daily. Within twelve months, other Budapest cafés had taken on cinematography and by 1987 other towns had followed suit. The subjects of the first café-projections were cheap, canned, international sensations, featuring exotic landscapes, important events, comic scenes and famous beauties. However, in the first decade of the new century the Hungarian movie-theatre business became independent and moving pictures started to be shown on their own, rather than as elements of variety shows.

The first films made in Hungary were closely connected with the 1896 millennium festivities. Lumičre's cinematographers filmed the royal procession. Zsigmond Sziklai, one of the first moving picture cameramen, filmed the visiting Franz Joseph, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and King of Hungary. Sziklai's camera - like a true Freudian slip - cut off the king's head.

The first non-newsreel Hungarian film, A tánc (Dance), directed by Béla Zitkovszky, was made at the Urania Hungarian Scientific Theatre, a venue opened in 1900 by the "Urania Scientific Society" so that its educational lectures could be illustrated by moving pictures. Dance was made to illustrate a lecture on dancing given by the well-known writer and politician, Gyula Pekár. It was shot on the roof terrace of the Urania and featured stage stars of the period in short sketches, "kinematogramms", introducing 24 dances. The lecture and film created great interest and the programme was repeated more than a hundred times. Occasional filmmaking continued in the Urania; Zitkovszky, driven by the success of Dance, shot other films to illustrate other lectures.

By the end of the new century’s first decade there were 270 permanent cinemas in Hungary, some of them able to accommodate quite large audiences (the Royal Apollo could seat 600). As films started to be released on a regular basis, a more organised system of distribution soon followed. The first company to rent out films was "Projectograph" founded by Mór Ungerleider in 1908. Hungary was entering the history of the moving picture era as a cinema-going nation, not as a producer of films. This was largely because the structure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s economy was somewhat rigid and the American type of concentration of capital needed to create a film business was out of the question. However, the renting and selling of films soon led, inevitably, to production. Ungerleider's Projectograph started making films in 1908, offering documentaries and reconstructed newsreels (Vasúti szerencsétlenség - Railway Crash in Budapest, Kacsavadászat a Velencei tavon - Duck-hunt on the Lake Velence, Az újpesti bankrablás - Bank Robbery in Újpest).

The next natural step following on from the development of film production was a meeting of the miraculous moving picture with narrative myths. The early "genre pictures", reconstructed newsreels and comic sketches, turned into feature films.

Movies gained a new distinction in the early 1910s, largely as a result of the influence of Asta Nielsen, the famous Danish star’s films. The elite of the literary, theatrical and art world became enthusiastic followers of the new form of expression. Writers, grouped around the famous periodical Nyugat (West) who supported 20th century modern European trends as opposed to romantic and episodic contemporary Hungarian literature, became avid cinema goers, just like Apollinaire and the Surrealists. Frigyes Karinthy - the Hungarian Borges - worked as a story editor ("dramaturg") for Sándor Korda in the 1910s.

Film in Hungary did not immediately attract a masscult audience, at first it was more a form of midcult, part of the café-society culture. Filmmakers believed in the idea of a "film-culture" and emphasised the informative and educational importance of films. The moralists and art-critics of the period wanted to keep young people from watching films. They considered American films vulgar and insipid and Asta Nielsen's films frivolous. Our own first feature films did little to dispel these initial doubts. The first company with artistic ambitions, Hunnia (founded in 1911 and working as part of the Vígszínház theatre) became a victim of dilettantism and the distribution mafia who didn't want any competition for the imported foreign films.

In the early years of Hungarian filmmaking a kind of hybrid genre began to blossom: the cinema-sketch. As film became more popular, live stage performances had started using projected film for background effect. The cinema-sketch provided the opposite: a screening was interrupted and the characters in the film appeared on stage. This genre, born from a match of stage and film, inspired several important writers, including Ferenc Molnár and Frigyes Karinthy. Ferenc Molnár wrote two sketches, Gazdag ember kabátja (Coat of the Rich Man), and Aranyásó (Gold Digger). The Theatre Life magazine jokingly called Frigyes Karinthy, the most enthusiastic creator of sketches, the "Hungarian Sketchpeare".

Professional periodicals soon began to appear. The pioneering filmmaker and distributor, Mór Ungerleider, also founded Mozgófénykép Hiradó (Moving Picture News) which first appeared as early as 1908. It published articles by well-known writers, theatre directors and scientists. 18 year old Sándor Korda (later Sir Alexander Korda) was the very first Hungarian film critic. He also published a series of articles concerning the theory of film, an entirely new phenomenon, in which he emphasised the importance of movement and sight as opposed to imitating literature. According to Korda, the real creator of film was the director. Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtis) had spent several months in Denmark and had published an article about the prestigious Danish film industry on his return. Later on Kertész wrote articles about his own experience of film directing. He considered professionalism most important, stating that directing a film "needs expertise and a long period of practice". Film attracted resourceful and talented people who recognised its economic and cultural potential, its financial and spiritual power. They observed the worldwide achievements of film and joined the process of its self-discovery in a creative way. Kertész and Korda's connection with the Moving Picture News is similar to the way Truffaut and Godard were attached to the circle of the Cahiers du Cinéma before becoming famous directors. It has to be said, however, that the ideas of writers and aesthetes published in the Moving Picture News concerning the artistic potential of film were not fulfilled by the Hungarian film-industry as it slowly emerged in the years to come. Indeed, the enthusiasm of the early years was not fully justified in world cinema either, perhaps not until as late as the 60s. The poet Zoltán Somlyó wrote a series of articles for the News in 1912, which seem to summarise the poetics of the genre in those early days. The first proper systematic theory of film appeared in Jenő Török's articles in 1915 in Mozihét (Cinema Week), which was founded and edited by Korda. These articles complemented the theoretical reference books being published in the 1910s: A mozgószinház, mint a népművelés eszköze (The Moving Theatre as a Means of Mass Education) by Adolf Keleti (1913), A mozgófénykép (The Moving Picture) by Szilárd Beck (1913), A mozi (The Movie, 1915) by Lajos Ékes Körmendy.

Years of Prosperity

Ma és holnap (Today and Tomorrow), the first full length Hungarian feature film by Mihály Kertész, was screened on the 14th October, 1912. Film production companies were formed (Uher in 1912, Kinoriport in 1914, Star in 1916, Astra in 1917), distribution became more organised. The first generation of Hungarian filmmakers began to work, many of whom, in later years, became internationally known.

By the middle of the 1910s, there were two dozen Hungarian film production companies. A significant number of films were produced outside the capital, in the town of Kolozsvár (today Cluj, in Romania). Film production in Kolozsvár, led by Jenő Janovics, was the great alternative to Budapest. Janovics realised that imitating American films would never conquer the world market but "local colour" and local subject matters might. The first film made in Kolozsvár, Sárga csikó (Yellow Foal, 1913) was based on a popular "peasant drama". It was made with the help of Pathé and directed by Félix Vanyl. Yellow Foal became the first worldwide Hungarian success, distributed abroad under the title: The Secret of the Blind Man. 137 prints were sold internationally; it was even screened in Japan.

The first artistically prestigious film was also made in Kolozsvár, based on a national classic, Bánk bán (1914), a tragedy by József Katona. Directed by Mihály Kertész it featured one of the greatest Hungarian tragic actresses of all times, Mari Jászai.

Sándor Korda also began his directing career in the Janovics studio. His film, Mesék az írógépről (Tales about the Typewriter), was released in December 1916. The "love and career" film genre was created, the most popular version of Hungarian middle-class comedy; it was like a prototype for the tremendously successful Meseautó (Car of Dreams, 1934), Béla Gaál's film.

In Budapest, the Uher company produced the first "mega-film" (3000 metres) based on a romantic novel by Mór Jókai, Mire megvénülünk (When We Grow Old, 1916) directed by Ödön Uher with the artistic supervision of the most prestigious Hungarian theatre director, Sándor Hevesi.

According to contemporary reviews János vitéz (The Valiant John) by Jenő Illés must have been an outstanding production (1916) with stars, masses of extras, foreign locations and many tricks.

Korda returned from Kolozsvár to Budapest in 1917 and founded Corvin a well-organised company capable of the American type of mass production - though Korda was very strict about high standards and expertise. Korda made several films in Hungary but only one has been preserved, Az aranyember (The Golden Man 1918), based on the most beautiful novel of Hungarian romanticism. The story was filmed twice more, by the great comedy director, Béla Gaál (1936), and then again in 1962 by Viktor Gertler who carried on with the tradition of middle class comedy and melodrama throughout the years of the socialist era. Despite these later versions, Korda’s remains, to this day, the most fascinating adaptation.

During the First World War, American, French and Italian films were banned in Hungary and, consequently, the Hungarian film industry began to flourish. By 1917-18 Hungary had joined Denmark, the United States, Germany and Italy as one of the biggest film-producing nations. In 1918 one hundred Hungarian feature films were produced and released in Hungary and abroad and Hungarian "stars" were born, led by Mihály Várkonyi and Lili Berky.

The Hungarian silent picture industry was always closely linked with international filmmaking. Hungarian directors often worked abroad. Jenő Illés, for example, worked more regularly in Berlin than in Budapest. Foreign directors came to Hungary: Cornelius Hintner made 12 films in Budapest; Joseph Stein six; Carl Wilhelm five; Emil Justitz four; Félix Vanyl three; and Willy Karfiol two. Hungarian film produced international stars from the very beginning, people like Sacy von Blondel, Vilma Bánky, Lia Putty (Lya de Putti) and Kató Nagy (Käthe von Nagy). Mihály Várkonyi (Victor Varconi) started his career in Yellow Foal. Béla Lugosi (later Hollywood's Dracula, formerly Hamlet at the Hungarian National Theatre), was successful in roles where he played Várkonyi's more demonic alter ego.

The two outstanding directors of the period soon became great internationally renowned filmmakers: Mihály Kertész as Michael Curtiz and Sándor Korda as Alexander Korda (later Sir Alexander Korda). Mihály Kertész preferred the popular genres though he occasionally tried his hand at art films. At the time of the first Hungarian Proletarian Dictatorship in 1919 he made political propaganda films. Korda’s aim, on the other hand, was to make highly professional or so-called "literary" films, and thus gain the support of the middle classes. Kertész, a masscult director, found his place in the American film-industry, while midcult director Korda made classic European success-films.

Apart from the dream-factory type of movies "literary films" were also very important. Hungarian silent film was more closely linked to world-literature - as well as contemporary Hungarian literature - than the later sound pictures would ever be. The prestige of the new artistic genre seemed to be heightened if it was based on a recognised literary work. The midcult films, made with obvious artistic intentions, mainly used classics of the 19th century (writers and poets like Mihály Vörösmarty, János Arany, Mór Jókai, József Eötvös, Kálmán Mikszáth) or well-known contemporary writers (Zoltán Ambrus, Mihály Babits, Sándor Bródy, Ferenc Herczeg, Ferenc Molnár, Gyula Pekár). Prestigious films based on world classics were hardly a rarity (Andersen, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Emil Zola, Tolstoi, Chekhov, Gorky).

Masscult films trying to attract huge audiences were often based on foreign best-selling books (Elinor Glyn, Gaston Leroux, Georges Ohnet).

Hungarian filmmakers were not, however, at all inclined to experiment with form. The audience was perturbed by any trick of the trade that deviated from anticipated and much-loved turn of events and they didn’t like their favourite actors being presented in any unusual "artistic" way.

Parallel with film production, professional articles and reviews were also regularly published. In the silent movie era, 45 professional periodicals appeared - for longer or shorter periods - all of them dealing with film.

The Golden Age that never came

The development of film-production in the 1910s was astonishingly fast, though there was never any sign of experimenting with style or of creating a new art form. These were the first years of a blossoming new genre and, although quantity should eventually have turned into quality, it was not to happen. Hungary lost the First World War and huge territories. Film-production collapsed. The second step - to quality - was never made. After the First World War, at the time of the first Hungarian Proletarian Dictatorship in 1919, the Hungarian film-industry was nationalised, even before this was done in Soviet-Russia. Ambitious plans were hatched but the result was nothing much: "middle-class" films already in production were finished and a couple of propaganda films were made (Mihály Kertész: Jön az öcsém - My Brother Is Coming; Lajos Lázár: Tegnap - Yesterday). A few months later the Proletarian Dictatorship was overthrown and left wing filmmakers who had played an active political role, were forced into exile.

Austria was much better at managing the crisis of collapse. During the rule of Admiral Horthy and his right wing government, which began in the 1920s, Hungarian film never found a great organising and leading talent of the kind the Austrians had in Count Kolowrat. For Hungary it was a defensive, spiritually uncertain age. The middle class, torn between the possible restoration of "gentry Hungary" and a desire for modernisation finally chose the former, mainly because Europe turned against the losers and inflicted punishments which, of course, worked against any kind of a intellectual integration. The decline was as abrupt in the 20s as progress had been in the 1910s.

The rapid progress of the 1910s was unable to reach its natural culmination within the country, but our filmmakers carried our achievements with them into exile, to Vienna, Berlin and Hollywood. As a first stop, Korda, Kertész, Lucy Doraine, Maria Corda, Lajos Biró, Mihály Várkonyi, László Vajda, Pál Lukács (Paul Lukas) worked in Vienna. Later on UFA invited Korda, Maria Corda, Zoltan Korda, Mihály Várkonyi. Lucy Doraine, Lia Putty, Béla Balogh, Sacy von Blondel and many others to Berlin. Hungarians also worked in the Munich film industry, which was competing with Berlin: Ila Lóth, Géza Bolváry, Vilma Bánky. Béla Balázs's book, the definitive work on the theory of film, The Visible Man (Der sichtbare Mench) was published in Vienna in 1924.

There were no art films made in our silent picture period. The artistically exciting 20s, with all their similarities with the 60s, were passed by in Hungary. The newly re-born film industry of the 30s and 40s followed closely in the footsteps of the popular films of the 1910s.

In 1919, after four years, the ban on imports was finally lifted, and American, French, Italian and Danish films were once again released in Hungary. Their sheer number led to the total collapse of Hungarian film-production. The flourishing film industry fell apart; all that remained were occasional business companies formed to produce one particular project. The situation worsened as the years passed, the big studios went bankrupt and closed down (Astra in 1921, Uher in 1922, Corvin in 1926, Star in 1929). The number of productions also declined: in 1922 four; in 1925 two; and in 1928 just one Hungarian feature was made. But even during the years of decline a few outstanding names did appear. Béla Gaál tried to produce successful American-type films; Pál Fejős wanted to make French-style art-movies. Both of them began to direct in 1920. Over the next two decades, Béla Gaál became an expert at making screwball comedies, while Lajos Zilahy - who joined the film industry in 1924 - was best at melodrama and the Hungarian film noir. Géza Bolváry (Geza von Bolváry) - who later became a master of comedy and operetta - also started his directing career in 1920. Bolváry and Fejős left the country in 1923; Bolváry was attracted by lucrative German contracts. Fejős on the other hand went to America where, in 1927, he made The Last Moment, a small budget, very original film, which tried to break free of Hollywood clichés. It was a critical success and launched the international career of this experimental artist, considered a rival to Murnau, the famous German director. Béla Gaál remained in Budapest, directed five films before 1926 and then worked in theatre until talking pictures began to thrive.

In the 1910s, besides the great directors producing sensational successes (Kertész, Korda), there was a team of reliable craftsmen working on mass productions. These directors stayed on in Hungary in the critical years of the 20s and, as long as it was possible, they made sure that film production remained continuous. Alfréd Deésy, light-handed and elegant master of popular productions, liked to adapt literary works that were always easy to distribute and brought in a steady profit. (Az élet királya - King of Life /Dorian Gray/ 1917, Aphrodité 1918, Mackó úr kalandjai - The Adventures of Mr. Bear 1920). Béla Balogh, a more fastidious director, was praised by contemporary reviews for his clean-cut story lines, well-established characters and humanitarian views. His films were characterised by well-meaning social criticism and the kind of sentimentalism that might be considered exaggerated nowadays. (Hegyek alján - Under the Mountains 1920, A megfagyott gyermek - The Frozen Child 1921). Károly Lajthay, starting his career in 1918, made the very first Dracula film (Drakula halála - Dracula's Death 1921).

At first new actors were supplied by the stage-acting schools. In the beginning of the 20s Géza Bolváry and Béla Gaál established the first film school, and wrote a handbook for future cinema actors (Béla Gaál: Filmelmélet - Film Theory, Géza Bolváry: Filmszínész - Film Actor).

While feature film production was fighting for survival, educational films, supported by the government, became very important. Regular newsreel production supported by the government started in 1924 and there was continuous newsreel production until 1989.

During the 20s, the number of cinemas in Hungary grew and the film business was prosperous. American films did not take over completely - every European filmmaking country was represented in the film programmes of the decade. Theatre people, writers, leading intellectuals continued to be deeply interested in film. The prestige of film was somewhat reduced only after the "white telephone" comedies made in the second half of the 30s.

As times got harder during the post-war period, one has to question why the reduction in financial opportunities did not lead to a surge in intellectual efforts, especially in relation to filmmaking. The war losses and later the worldwide depression certainly increased the audience’s wish for escapism, but the simple tastes of the audience should not be made an eternal scapegoat. Members of the Hungarian avant-garde always looked upon European culture and the Western avant-garde with respect, but generally as a disciple looking up to the master. This pupil-teacher attitude did not provide the basis for an avant-garde experimentation. The missionary and importer-like behaviour of Hungarians led to spiritual diffidence; it did not shake up or fertilise the indigenous culture. The avant-garde in film had no followers at all in Hungary. But we should mention László Moholy-Nagy, the constructivist artist and teacher of Bauhaus living in Germany, whose script, A nagyváros dinamikája (Dynamics of a Big City), though never shot, reminded one of Ruttmann's avant-garde documentary, Berlin, Sinfonie einer Gross-stadt (Berlin, Symphony of a Big City).

Hungarian films missed the artistic period of silent film, but international examples of the genre did have an influence. This seems to be confirmed by the interest the periodical Nyugat (West) showed in films, for example Lajos Kassák's enthusiastic article about Ruttmann's Berlin, Symphony of a Big City. Béla Balázs emigrated but in the 20s Iván Hevesy began to write reviews and theoretical pieces. His most important work introduced Hungarian readers to the significant trends in the history of film and their aesthetic qualities. He also outlined a theory about the way in which various genres appeared in film and presented a complete film-poetics. A filmjáték esztétikája és dramaturgiája (Aesthetics and Dramaturgy of Film) was published in 1925.


In 1925 the government took matters in hand and decided to restart national film production. A decree concerning filmmaking was issued, the Film-Industry Fund and the Hungarian Film Agency were established. The Film-Industry Fund bought the bankrupt Corvin film studio in 1927. The Hunnia Film Studio Company was established in 1928 and was given the task of producing feature films. Money was raised for the Fund by charging distributors 20 (later 40) pence per meter for each foreign film shown, which meant a yearly income of around 1 million pengös. But just at the moment these technical, financial and legal conditions were established, the 1929 Depression arrived, followed by the advent of sound pictures. The task became twice as hard: the conditions for producing sound film, much more expensive than silent film, had to be created.

The Forum Cinema showed The Singing Fool on 20, September 1929. By 1930 all the leading Budapest cinemas had invested in sound systems and by 1931 sound pictures spread all over in the country. In 1929 Michael Curtis prepared a Hungarian speaking introduction for his film Noah's Ark. In 1930 in the UFA film, Sunday Afternoon, Willy Fritsch sang a song in Hungarian. Béla Gaál's film Csak egy kislány van a világon (There is Only One Girl in the Whole World) had sound - to make it they borrowed sound recording equipment from Fox Movitone News. This film, though mainly full of Hungarian songs, had a few words of dialogue as well. It was first screened on 12 May 1930.

Silent films were universally understood but this universality ended when sound films appeared. At first, filmmakers tried to overcome the difficulty by producing several versions of the same story in different languages. In Paramount’s Paris-Joinville studio, two successful American films were re-shot in Hungarian: The Laughing Lady and The Doctor's Secret. These insignificant American films, remade in Paris with Hungarian actors, were received coolly in Budapest. By 1931 Hunnia was refurbished with a sound stage. The first Hungarian talking film, A kék bálvány (The Blue Idol), premiered on 25 September 1931. It was not a success. It was an insipid imitation of American thrillers. István Székely, called home from Berlin, directed the first piece of what was to become the most popular genre: the Hungarian middle class comedy. Called Hyppolit, a lakáj (Hyppolit, the Butler, 1931), the film ridiculed a petit bourgeois and his pretentious wife who suddenly acquired wealth. This genre became dominant in later years.

Artistically the most distinguished film was made a year later. Pál Fejős, who by then worked in America, returned home and shot two sound pictures with French financial support, Tavaszi zápor (Spring Shower) and Ítél a Balaton (The Waters Decide). One was the story of the suffering of a maid who, in her abandonment, became a kind of contemporary saint; the other was about fishing families fighting for fishing waters and included a Romeo and Juliet type of romance. Both films were very well received internationally but they did not attract Hungarian audiences. As a result, Fejős had no imitators in trying to film more meaningful stories. The producers were afraid to divert from successful models; they didn’t want to support artistic experiments and they also refused to take professional risks.

The Golden Age of Comedy

The new rise of film-production started with the success of Hyppolit, the Butler. In 1933 a modernised and enlarged Hungarian Film Agency also began producing talkies. Hungarian film became more and more popular. The film companies wanted to meet this demand, so the number of productions grew steadily year by year.

Apart from István Székely, who followed the European example and tried to create realistic milieus, another star-director appeared - Béla Gaál, who followed the Hollywood pattern. His extremely successful film, Meseautó (Car of Dreams, 1934) was the first example of Hungarian glamour comedy. The story of the big boss falling in love with his secretary became a model for Hungarian comedies, and was even successful abroad - an English language remake was shot entitled Car of My Dreams.

While Hungarian silent films had experimented with almost every existing genre, the choice of genre in the Hungarian talkies was much more limited. After the success of Car of Dreams, the ruling genre of the 30s became comedy.

Based on the impressionistic novel by Ernő Szép, István Székely directed the film Lila akác (Purple Lilacs, 1934). He was always attracted by marginal life-styles and thus to French films. He even tried to break away from a happy ending but the audience was unable to accept that, so at the producer's request he changed it. Only the latter, happy ending version remains available to us.

Hungary’s booming sound picture industry attracted foreign investors. The fashion for multi-lingual versions prevailed until the end of the 30s. Heinz Hille shot Szerelmi álmok/Liebesträume (Dreams of Love 1935) and A vén gazember/...Und es leuchtet die Pussta (Old Villain 1932) in Hungarian and in German. The Hungarian version of A Night in Venice (1933) was directed by Géza Cziffra (Geza von Cziffra) returning home from Germany, while the German version, Eine Nacht in Venedig was made by Robert Wiene. From the series of multi-version films, two seem to stand out: A varieté csillagai/Menschen vom Varieté (The Stars of Variety Show, 1938) by József Baky (Joseph von Baky) and Tiszavirág/Zwischen Storm und Steppe (Flower of the Tisza, 1938) by Géza Bolváry (Geza von Bolvary).

Another director made a name for himself in the 1930s. László Vajda was the son of a well-known silent film writer who returned home from abroad in 1935. He worked for three years in Budapest and made ten films, most of them elegantly handled comedies. Ember a híd alatt (Man under the Bridge, 1936), a dramatic story, tackled the realistic problems of the era: unemployment and crime.

Comedies always told stories about the search for love and happiness and presented a utopian private life as the perfect way out of social problems. Still, they did not quite forget about the other side of the coin. Several very successful films dealt with the unemployment of intellectuals and favouritism: Elnökkisasszony (Miss President, 1935) by Endre Marton (Andrew Marton); Havi 200 fix (Salary: 200 A Month, 1936) by Béla Balogh; 120-as tempó (120 Kilomteres An Hour, 1937) by László Kardos.

Hortobágy (1936) was one of the ambitious artistic films of the period, made by an Austrian director, Georg Höllering, with the assistance of the renowned Hungarian novelist, Zsigmond Móricz. The subject was the Hungarian "puszta" (plain) and the people who live there.

Sound pictures very soon created a star system. There were the descendants of the Victorian governess, the respectable and militant virgins (Irén Ágay, Klári Tolnay), or the helpful, merry, erotic ingénues (Zita Perczel). By the middle of the decade the "sophisticated woman" also appeared (Lili Muráti). For actresses like Marika Rökk and Franciska Gaál, Budapest proved to be much too small after a few films and they began to work abroad and achieved international fame. Amongst the men, Pál Jávor was the prototype of the gentleman, while Antal Páger was equally good at playing lively lower class characters or helpless decadent intellectuals. Imre Ráday was usually cast as loveable rogue and the comedian Gyula Kabos became as popular as the stars, playing awkward blundering clerks.

Mass production began in 1937. While there were only 9 films produced in 1933, in 1938 there were 33 features made. Hungarian films were shot within two weeks. The most important consideration - as far as the production companies were concerned - was to have a low budget. Though Hungarian films were extremely popular at home, the market was small and the income didn't make higher budgets possible.

Hungarian handbooks about film followed the changes in the world's filmmaking. Lajos Gró introduced Eisenstein's and Pudovkin's oevres, and the mutual effect of their work, as well as the various tendencies in the world's filmmaking (Az orosz filmművészet - Russian Cinematic Art). Miklós Kispéter, honorary professor at the Faculty of Arts, gave lectures on film aesthetics. With the help of some brilliant works on the theory and philosophy of the cinematic art, he analysed several outstanding foreign and Hungarian films of the period (A győzelmes film - Victorious Film, 1938). The first handbooks on film appeared around this time and a number of entertaining film magazines were being published. The first Hungarian Film Encyclopaedia was published in 1941.

The Age of Melodrama

 Forces outside the history of film slowed down the vigorous progress of the mid-thirties. From 1, January 1939 the so-called Jewish Laws came into effect in Hungary and Jewish filmmakers were driven out of the profession. From this time on three of the definitive personalities of the period were not allowed to direct films, István Székely, Béla Gaál and László Vajda. One of the great favourites of the Hungarian public, Gyula Kabos, was not allowed to appear on film any longer, and other stars - like Imre Ráday, Zita Perczel, Irén Ágay - had to disappear as well. The only people who could ignore the ban were the writers who were able to write under pseudonyms even as late as the 40s. István Székely (Istvan Sekely), László Vajda (Ladislao Vajda) and others made a career abroad. Béla Gaál became a victim of Nazism.

From 1939 onwards government supervision of filmmaking became much stricter. Every script had to be handed over to the National Film Committee and they decided on the amount of financial support. At the same time, the import of American films, which provided the greatest competition to domestically produced films, was blocked. But the Hungarian speaking territories - which had been taken away in 1919 - were returned and this meant that the market for Hungarian films became much bigger and, as a result, the industry also became much stronger. In 1941 Hunnia bought the old Star studios, modernised and furbished them with sound stages. The number of productions grew steadily: 25 in 1939; 38 in 1940; 40 in 1941; 48 in 1942; and 53 in 1943. Hungarian films were being screened to much bigger audiences and were also sold to the Balkan countries and Italy. Some of the successful films were re-made by the Italians. László Vajda’s Magdát kicsapják (Magda is Expelled, 1937) and Péntek Rézi (Friday Rose, 1938) were re-made by Vittorio de Sica (Maddalena zero in condotta, 1940, Teresa Venerdi, 1941).

The dream-factory accepted the changes taking place in the world in its own way. The golden age of Hungarian comedy came to an end; the light-hearted stories and dialogue were replaced by a kind of ominous and frivolous mood. Comedy’s sole supremacy was over, melodrama became more popular and very soon took an equally important part in the Hungarian cinematic art (Halálos tavasz - Deadly Spring, 1939 by László Kalmár; Egy szív megáll - A Heart Stops Beating, 1941 by László Kalmár; Kölcsönadott élet - Lent Life 1943, by Viktor Bánky; Egy nap a világ - One Day is the World, 1943, by János Vaszary). Along with its French and American counterparts, Hungarian film noir was born; just as the "white telephone" comedies of a previous age had expressed longings and hopes, melodrama now expressed the public feeling of gloom.

A new type of woman appeared in the melodramatic love stories, the femme fatale combined with more contemporary female qualities. The type is personified in the most popular star of the 40s, Katalin Karády.

The master of melodrama, László Kalmár, directed the most famous and most popular examples of the genre, Dankó Pista (1940) and Tóparti látomás (Vision by the Lakeside, 1940). Like Béla Gaál, he also followed the example of commercial American film, keeping to a high standard of professionalism. Endre Tóth, later well known as André de Toth, started to work as assistant director in the mid-30s. Later, as a director, he tried to widen the field, introducing new genres (thrillers, spy-movies, biographical film).

Géza Radványi brought home the taste of Paris and Berlin studios when he began working at home as a director and scriptwriter. His melodramas were outstanding due to their psychological authenticity and perfectly created atmosphere. (Zárt tárgyalás - Closed Court, 1940; Európa nem válaszol - Europe Does Not Answer, 1941).

Ákos D. Hamza also came home from Paris. He was mainly interested in social and moral problems and his films followed the example of French poetic realism. He liked the underworld as a milieu, where basic moral conflicts could be presented in a more dramatic way. (Bűnös vagyok - I Am Guilty, 1941; Külvárosi őrszoba - Guarding Post in the Outskirts, 1942).

As melodramas became more popular, the style of comedies also changed. Lots of farces were made, full of absurd situations and burlesque-like elements. (Egy bolond százat csinál - One Fool Makes a Hundred More 1942, Emil Martonffy; Egy szoknya egy nadrág -One Skirt, One Pants 1943, Ákos D. Hamza; Szerencsés flótás - Lucky Fellow 1943, István Balogh; Tökéletes család - The Perfect Family 1943, László Sipos.)

In the 40s the "poison factory" started to produce along with the "dream factory". The ideology of the official political course began seeping into films: Dr. Kovács István (Doctor István Kovács 1941, Viktor Bánky), Őrségváltás (Changing of the Guards 1942, Viktor Bánky). Films were made which justified and glorified the war: Negyedíziglen (To the Fourth Generation 1942, Zoltán Farkas); Viharbrigád (Storm Brigade 1943, István Lázár Jr); Magyar sasok (Hungarian Eagles, 1943, István László); Egy gép nem tért vissza (A Machine Has Not Returned 1943, Ágoston Pacséry).

Attempts to create art films were connected to social reform movements, but they only managed to take the first step from romantic melodrama to naturalistic melodrama (5-ös számú őrház - The Guarding Post Number 5, 1942, Frigyes Bán; És a vakok látnak - And the Blind Can See Again 1943, Imre Jenei).

Films were also influenced by a literary and ideological movement led by a group known as "people’s writers" who dealt with the destiny of the peasantry and gave a realistic account of their life. This is how a few directors turned towards real Hungarian social problems, especially those affecting the peasantry and the genre of "social drama" was created. Arzén Cserépy (Arsen von Czerépy) who became well known in Germany for his films Fridericus Rex and Student Life in Heidelberg returned home to Hungary in 1939. His film, Földindulás (Landslide) was a dramatic story about peasants who enforced birth control in order to prevent the fragmentation of smallholdings. László Cserépy, who began his career with short films, told an opposite story in Az első (The First One, 1944): a barren woman was forced to undergo an operation which endangered her life in order to have a child. In Harmincadik (The Thirtieth, 1942) he told the story of a young teacher who had to overcome a number of obstacles before he could open a school in a small mining community. Kálmán Nádasdy in his film Gyávaság (Cowardliness, 1942) narrated the disintegration of a marriage through indifference, using the usual sugary love-story pattern. Imre Apáthi in Idegen utakon (Strange Roads, 1944) told the story of a young female doctor, who returned to her profession because of the dramatic death of a woman due to an illegal abortion. Young István Szőts’s first feature, Emberek a havason (Men in the Alps, 1941) used a ballad-like style and archaic religious images. Based upon the short stories of József Nyirő, the film, a series of poetic pictures, told a tragic story of people who lived in the high, snowy mountains of Transylvania. Szőts, a nature lover, believed in a Rousseau-like romantic anti-capitalism and emphasised the contrast between idyllic life in nature and the rottenness of civilisation. The beauty of the Transylvanian landscape played an important part in the film. He portrayed the defencelessness of people living at the lowest level of society realistically and thus prepared the way for the films about peasant life made after 1945. The film was quoted as an example of how to recreate cinematic art by the Italian press and was awarded at the Venice Biennale in 1942.

In 1944 the number of productions fell because of the war and by the second half of the year production stopped altogether. The last big success of the period, Ez történt Budapesten (This Happened in Budapest, 1944), was a comedy of errors by Ákos D. Hamza. The heroine of the story battled against food shortages in the city at war. Relying on her female inventiveness she somehow managed to put a perfect peacetime meal on the table - complete with silver cutlery (which had been exchanged for food in most Budapest households by then), roast goose and real black coffee. The torn film posters in a bombed out Budapest became like so many advertised accusations: this is what happened in Budapest.

Szilárd Beck: Mozgófénykép /The Moving Picture (1913), review
Szilárd Beck:
Mozgófénykép /The Moving Picture (1913),
39.6 KByte
Félix Vanil: Yellow foal (1913), Lili Berky and Mihály Várkonyi
Félix Vanil:
Yellow foal (1913),
Lili Berky and Mihály Várkonyi
65.6 KByte

61.9 KByte

73.4 KByte

59.7 KByte
Adolf Mérei: Judit Simon (1915), Ilona Cs. Aczél
Adolf Mérei:
Judit Simon (1915),
Ilona Cs. Aczél
68.5 KByte
Sándor Korda: The Golden Man (1918), Ica Lenkeffy and Oszkár Beregi
Sándor Korda:
The Golden Man (1918),
Ica Lenkeffy and Oszkár Beregi
119 KByte
Mihály Kertész: My Brother Is Coming (1918), Oszkár Beregi
Mihály Kertész:
My Brother Is Coming (1918),
Oszkár Beregi
46.4 KByte
Alfréd Deésy: Aphrodité (1918), Kamilla Hollay
Alfréd Deésy:
Aphrodité (1918),
Kamilla Hollay
104 KByte
István Székely: Hyppolit, the Butler (1931)
István Székely:
Hyppolit, the Butler (1931)
67 KByte
Hyppolit, the Butler - on the shooting
Hyppolit, the Butler
- on the shooting
88.8 KByte
Béla Gaál: Car of Dreams (1934)
Béla Gaál:
Car of Dreams (1934)
58.2 KByte
Höllering Georg: Hortobágy (1936)
Höllering Georg:
Hortobágy (1936)
82.7 KByte
Béla Balogh: The Frozen Child (1936)
Béla Balogh:
The Frozen Child (1936)
81.3 KByte
Béla Balogh: Lady Seeks Room (1937)
Béla Balogh:
Lady Seeks Room (1937)
38.3 KByte
Ákos Ráthonyi: The Lady is a Little Crasy (1938) Imre Ráday and Klári Tolnay
Ákos Ráthonyi:
The Lady is a Little Crasy (1938)
Imre Ráday and Klári Tolnay
78.5 KByte
Miklós Kispéter: Victorious Film, (1938)
Miklós Kispéter:
Victorious Film, (1938)
52.9 KByte
Márton Keleti: Barbara in America (1938)
Márton Keleti:
Barbara in America (1938)
33.9 KByte
67.7 KByte
László Kalmár: Deadly Spring (1939), Éva Szörényi and Pál Jávor
László Kalmár:
Deadly Spring (1939),
Éva Szörényi and Pál Jávor
80.2 KByte
László Kalmár: Vision by the Lakeside (1940), Pál Jávor and Erzsi Simor
László Kalmár:
Vision by the Lakeside (1940),
Pál Jávor and Erzsi Simor
55.2 KByte
Béla Balogh: Rosewood Cane (1940)
Béla Balogh:
Rosewood Cane (1940)
43.3 KByte
Géza Radványi: The Talking Robe (1941)
Géza Radványi:
The Talking Robe (1941)
59.5 KByte
István Szőts: Men in the Alps (1941), Alice Szellay és János Görbe
István Szőts:
Men in the Alps (1941),
Alice Szellay és János Görbe
55 KByte


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