Drakula halála

Bioscope Festival of Lost Films

Hungary 1921

Director: Lajthay Károly
Production company: Corvin Filmgyár
Cinematographer: Eduard Hoesch
Scenario: Lajthay Károly, Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz)
Based on the character created by Bram Stoker

Cast: Paul Askonas (Drakula), Margit Lux (Mary Land), Elemér Thury (Doctor), Lajos Réthey (Fake doctor), Aladár Ihász (Assistant), Karl Götz (Funny man), Dezsö Kertész (George), Lajos Szalkay, Zoltán Dezső, Hatvani Károly, Oszkár Perczel, Károly Hatvani, Anna Marie Hegener, Paula Kende, Lene Myl, Magda Sonja, Béla Tímár

Five reels
Distributor: Jenö Tuchten

Drakula halála poster

Poster for Drakula halála

Welcome all to the final screening in the inaugural Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. This evening we find ourselves in Leicester Square, in the cinema that has the honour of being the first such venue to have opened in London’s motion picture heartland. It was the 5th June 1909 when it first opened its doors, as the select Bioscopic Team Rooms. Soon it changed its name to the Circle in the Square, which name we rather prefer to its later name of the Palm Court Cinema, still more to its eventual fate – conversion into an Angus Steak House. There is room for 250 of you (if some stand), and the music is provided by the indefatigable and certainly inimitable Ena Baga.

And what a chilling offering we have for you tonight. It is with some pride (and not a little trepidation for fear of the effect it might have on some of the more nervous among you) that we present Drakula halála, a Hungarian tale of horror and fantasy as mysterious in its history as it is in its subject matter. Mystery, for example, surrounds the date of its production, but we are assured that – despite the several claims for it to have been made two years later – Drakula halála was produced in 1921 and was reportedly first shown in Vienna that year, though it was re-exhibited in Budapest in 1923. So the estimable F.W. Murnau in Germany who we hear is planning a film based on the legend of Dracula may have more resources at his disposal, yet he will be second with his subject matter. But finding any certain facts about our film’s production has been difficult (having no one on the Festival staff with a working knowledge of Hungarian has been a handicap).

Paul Askonas (Drakula) and Margit Lux (Mary)

Paul Askonas (Drakula) and Margit Lux (Mary)

The title of the film translates as The Death of Dracula, but the story is not that of the novel by Bram Stoker. Instead it tells of the orphaned Mary who is sent against her will to a psychiatric hospital. There one of the inmates claims to be the undead Dracula, and he begins to haunt her dreams. Although she escapes from the hospital and eventually marries a noble forester, visions of Dracula still fill her mind, and she remains unsure whether all that happened to her was some awful dream or horrid reality.

The Hungarian film industry is a modest one, and one that has suffered greatly under the political turmoil in that country. In 1919, the revolutionary Béla Kun established a Communist government, which collapsed after just a few months, to be replaced by the brutal military regime of Miklós Horthy. Kun had nationalised the film industry and an ambitious plan of production was drawn up. But the anti-Semitic Horthy despised the film industry, and persecuted many filmmakers (the unfortunate director Sándor Pallós was tortured to death for having made a film based on a novel by Gorky). Many in the industry fled, such as Sándor László Kellner (Alexander Korda) and Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz), who is believed to have contributed to the script of Drakula halála. The industry continues, but in a greatly reduced state, close to the point of bankruptcy.

Paul Askonas as Drakula

Paul Askonas as Drakula

Thus Drakula halála is one of just a handful of films being made in Hungary at this time. Most are based on light popular novels, but this film is very different. Its star, Paul Askonas, has appeared in both Hungarian and Austrian films, usually of a fantastical or horrific nature, such as Labyrinth des Grauens (1921, Labyrinth of Horror). It is tempting to see this vision of dark threats, uncertainty and nightmares as somehow reflecting its troubled land and film industry, a place where reality may be a still greater nightmare than those encountered in one’s dreams. Director Lajthay Károly, a specialist in thrillers and someone praised for his uniquely atmospheric style, never directed another film – why, and whatever happened to him? (There are rumours of a drink problem) So many mysteries, so many more fantasies than certain facts…

Hungary is the land of lost silent films. 600 films made between 1912 and 1930, and just forty-five complete films survive. Drakula halála is not among them – or is it? Are we to believe the claims of a dubious Italian site dealing mostly in adult films, which claims to know of a 16mm print with a thirteen-minute fragment of the film? We choose not to believe it. The internet is awash with such fantasies. Here at the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films we deal only with true loss. Only when a film can no longer be seen does it, for us, become strangely, truly alive. Undead, even.

Life Without Soul

Publicity sheet for Life Without Soul, from http://frankensteinia.blogspot.com

To accompany this film we have broken our rules somewhat and gone for another five-reel feature rather than a short. But what a double-bill, to be able to offer you: Drakula halála and Life Without Soul. This 1915 film, made by the Ocean Film Corporation of New York, is similar to our main feature in that it presents the story of Frankenstein as a dream that explores the borderland between life and death. Frankenstein’s name has become William Frawley, a doctor living in modern times who dreams that he creates a humanoid monster (played by Percy Darrell). Despite acclaim for Mr Darrell’s chilling portrayal of a man without a soul that yet catches the audience’s sympathy, the film has not been a success. We hear that its 1916 re-edited re-issue included extra scenes taken from scientific films about the reproductive habits of fish. It is unclear why.

Do not believe the fantasist who on that modern innovation the Internet Movie Database, writes about this film as though he has seen it. He has not. It is lost, as have been all the films in this Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. We hope that you have enjoyed our selections. Please leave the cinema quietly, and a safe journey home to you all.

Pleasant dreams.

20 responses

  1. Luke: What an excellent program to close the festival. I think it was worthwhile to stretch the rules and show two features, since they were such important works. “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” — whatever he is called — belong together. It was a nice to opportunity to see a rare product of the Hungarian industry. I was moved by the difficulties faced by the country’s filmmakers.

    Thank you for the wonderful job of programming the movies, arranging for the venues, and finding the wonderful accompanists.

    Regards,
    Joe Thompson ;0)

  2. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the comments and for having entered into the spirit of things. I’m not sure what others have made of it. If I repeat the exercise next year, I’ll probably do it differently and make it less of an exercise in daydreaming. But the musicians were terrific – truly silent musicians.

    Digging out stuff on the Drakula film took up more time than all the others, and I’m still not certain of the facts (nor where others might have got their facts from).

    Back to normality now, and colour.

  3. Drat! The festival is over!

    I have enjoyed attending it so much, and really liked the inclusion of the national cinema traditions I didn’t know as well. I hadn’t watched a Hungarian silent before this festival– and, sadly, I guess I still haven’t.

  4. Over, but it’ll be back next year. Glad you enjoyed it. The chances of seeing any Hungarian silents are pretty slim, because so few survive. The Hungarian National Film Archive had a retrospective at last year’s Pordenone Silent Film Festival and they only showed us two titles – one of which had a synchronised music and sound effects track (and the other one I missed).

  5. My aunt was married to Karoly Lajthay. at the outbreak of wwII he told her to return to Wales ( her home land) for her safty. She traveled widley round europe prior to this. After the war she mnaged to get drugs to him as he was ill, through the red cross. He was about to embark for England via the south of france but at the last minute he was taken from the ship ahe was too ill to travel and died just after this. He did make other films,

  6. How interesting to hear from you. Karoly Lajthay seems a bit of a mystery figure in the few histories that I’ve read that mention him, but he does seem to have been a director with a particular style. Sadly, none of the silent films that he made as director or actor is known to survive. Contrary to what I say in the post, he went on to make a couple of sound films after Drakula Halala, and hopefully one or both of these survive. It seems he returned to the theatre after 1923, when he was unable to make films – do you know if this is correct?

  7. my aunt (his wife) , died recently and all of her photoes and paperwork passed to her nephew and niece in Wales, I have not seen these yet but I will contact them and ask them to pass on any information to you. As children we heard about her marriage to him but as children you don’t pay much attention to such things, and live to regret the questions you didn’t ask at the time. Many familty stories abound. I think they were in the south of france at the outbreak of war and he made films there during wwII, but i’m not sure. sorry I can’t be of much help. I know he worked with Alexander Corder.

  8. Hello! Thank you for getting in touch. Your site was so useful in gathering together information on the film (I did acknowledge the use I made of it here). I hope I got the basic details right. I’m pleased to hear about the surviving Karoly Lajthay film – as you’ll see from the other comments, his family has been in touch and I’ll let them know about Vorrei Morir.

    Luke

  9. Hello,

    My name is János Szántai, writer, producer, president of Argo Audiovisual Association in Kolozsvár (Transsylvania, Romania) and first of all I would like to express my gratitude to all of those who chose Lajthay’s opus in the festival program.
    On the other hand I was astonished when reading the replies I stumbled upon Miss/Mrs. Pauline Cook as the niece of Lajthay’s wife. I would like to get in contact with her if that is possible.

  10. Hi,

    I would like to thank you for the effort, no matter of the outcome. Happy Easter by the way.

    János Szántai

  11. All I can do is repeat what was told to me by a gentleman in England. He claimed that several years ago, he met a man who had a very badly damaged print of ‘Life Without Soul’. He was only allowed to view it through a hand crank projector and that is what he based his review on. He went on to state that the private collector would not allow it to be released and that it is likely that the print still survives. It would be awesome if it did, but I won’t hold my breath.

  12. Unfortunately the person who reviews the film on the IMDB is F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, who is notorious for spinning tales about rare film prints that only he has had the chance to see (the tale usual involves his privileged access to some private collector’s hidden archive). He has written numerous reviews of ‘lost’ films for IMDB which read as though he has seen the films for real. He has not. Always beware of such furtive claims.

  13. An essay had been published in English on Drakula Halála by Gary D. Rhodes, ‘Drakula halála (1921): The Cinema’s First Dracula’, in Horror Studies vol. 1 no. 1, pp. 25–47, 2010. It brings together all the known information from Hungarian sources and includes a translation of the 1924 Hungarian novelisation of the film, The Death of Drakula: A Novella of the Phantasy Film, by Lajos Pánczél:

    http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-issue,id=1770/

  14. Hello,
    I am currently writing a book about horror movies and was wondering if anybody could help with additional information to Drakula halala.
    Thank you very much,
    Marie

  15. The comment about spurious and obvious hoax “sightings” is well-placed. Those digressions are a waste of time; those of individuals who claim to have seen the ‘lost’ films in modern times, and I’m as uncertain why those occur as much as I’m disappointed by those who believe such fables. Would love to see these two film, though!

  16. It’s a great shame that the late F. Gwynplaine Macintyre’s ‘reviews’ remain on IMDb without some sort of warning set alongside them. They often contain interesting information from someone who knew a little of film history, and they are written quite nicely, but they have misled so many people – and continue to do so. But IMDb have declined to do so – and every now and again he gave his comments on films which do exist. Which makes things tricky for sorting out the false from the true.

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