Cast & Crew
In the Latin Quarter of Paris at the turn-of-the century, teenager Trilby O'Ferrall takes a job modeling for sculptor Durian in order to support her ailing father Patrick. When Patrick dies, Trilby is left to fend for herself. One day, she hears piano music emanating from an apartment across the courtyard from Durian's studio, and although Durian warns her that the music is being played by Svengali, a man with "an evil eye," she goes to investigate. At the apartment, she meets three artists who have just moved in: young Billy Bagot and his friends, The Laird and Taffy. Svengali is also there with his violin accompanist Gecko. When the tone-deaf Trilby sings them a folk song, Svengali cruelly observes that she sounds like a duck. The impressionable Billy, who is self-conscious about his lame leg, is smitten by Trilby and tells her that he has enrolled in Carrell's art academy. On his first day of school, after Billy is hazed by the other students, Trilby, who works as a model at the school, welcomes him to class with a kiss. One day, when Trilby suffers an excruciating headache, Svengali boasts that he can cure her, and after putting her into a trance, vanquishes the pain. Billy becomes upset when he witnesses the sadistic pleasure that Svengali derives from controlling Trilby. Feeling a camaraderie with the three artists, Trilby decides to move in with them to keep house and serve as their muse. At a party celebrating their latest paintings, Billy, brooding that Trilby has agreed to model once again for Durian, asks her to stop posing in the nude. When he professes his love and proposes to her, she rejects him, prompting him to think that his lameness has made him unworthy of her. Concerned about Billy's attraction to Trilby, Taffy and The Laird decide to take him on a sketching tour of the countryside. While they are gone, Svengali visits Trilby and cryptically states that he plans to use her as his instrument to "conquer the world." Svengali foretells that "when he calls her, she will come," but she laughs at him, prompting him to slash her portrait in anger. Unhappy about being separated from Trilby, Billy cuts short his trip to return to Paris, where he immediately goes to Carrell's and sees Trilby posing in the nude. Soon after, Taffy and The Laird receive a letter from the distressed Trilby, lamenting that she has humiliated Billy. When Taffy goes to comfort Trilby, she tells him that Billy's discomfort made her realize that she is in love with him. Taffy discloses that Billy has decided to go home to London, but when they return to the apartment, they find that Billy is still there. When Billy states that he has decided to stay in Paris, Trilby, overjoyed, expresses her love and agrees to marry him. At a party celebrating their engagement, Svengali, contemptuous of the "love birds," plays a dirge on the piano. Soon after, Trilby comes home to find Billy's mother and clergyman uncle waiting to see her. Trilby is devastated when they contend that she is a fortune hunter whose marriage to Billy will prevent him from assuming his rightful place in society. Shattered, Trilby promises never to see Billy again and disappears from his life. When a distraught Billy discovers that Trilby has gone, he runs out into the street looking for her and is struck by a carriage. The injured Billy goes home to London, where his despair over losing Trilby prompts his doctor to diagnose that he will never walk again. Svengali, sensing that Trilby is still in Paris, summons her and, after putting her into a trance, wrests control over her mind and erases all memory of Billy. Svengali then molds Trilby into a great opera singer. While attending the opera one evening, Taffy and The Laird are stunned to discover that the new diva is Trilby. After the opera, they go to meet her at the stage door, but she is still under Svengali's control and fails to recognize them. When Taffy and The Laird inform Billy of Trilby's transformation, he refuses to believe them, but when he learns that she is to perform at Covent Garden in London, he decides to go backstage during rehearsal. Billy is met by Gecko, who warns him that Svengali now "possesses" Trilby. When Billy sees Svengali, he attacks him, but is overpowered by the stagehands, who throw him out of the theater. Afterward, Svengali tells Trilby that he loves her and vows that if he dies first, he will come back to claim her. That night when Trilby comes onstage, she sees Billy and loses her voice. Urged on by Gecko, Trilby lurches into the folk song that she once sung for Billy and his friends. Realizing that he has lost control over Trilby, Svengali collapses and dies. Trilby is also stricken, and as she lies dying, Gecko brings Billy to her bedside. When he urges her to fight Svengali and come back to him, she awakens and he kisses her.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Charles François Gounod
Madame Elizabeth Schwarzkopf
The working title of this film was Trilby and Svengali. The closing onscreen credits contain the following written acknowledgment: "The producer expresses his grateful appreciation for the magnificent singing voice of Madame Elizabeth Schwarzkopf." According to an April 1954 Variety news item, George Minter's Renown Pictures Corp., Ltd. was suing Robert Newton, who was originally cast as "Svengali," for walking off the set after three weeks of filming. The outcome of that suit has not been determined. According to contemporary sources, Renown had a pre-production arrangement with Loew's, Inc., parent company of M-G-M, to produce and release the film.
English actor Jeremy Brett (1933-1995), best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the long-running British-made television series, made his motion picture debut in Svengali. For additional information about films based on George du Maurier's novel, please see the entry for the 1931 Warner Bros. Pictures film Svengali in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
Released in United States Fall September 25, 1955
Released in United States Fall September 25, 1955