Works by Ferenc Molnár have inspired many films, from the earliest days to the present day. Important movie directors such as Mihály Kertész, Fritz Lang, Charles Vidor, Zoltán Fábri and Billy Wilder adapted his dramas. In the following, we examine the filming stories behind 12 Molnár works.
Az ördög / The Devil
A popular play that has been staged frequently both in Hungary and abroad since its world premiere in the Comedy Theatre, Budapest on 10 April 1907. Gyula Hegedüs was the first person to play the part of the devil interfering in the lives of lovers on a Hungarian stage. Just a year after this stage debut in Budapest, the first film version was released in the United States (1908), directed by Edwin S. Porter. This can be considered the first Molnár film adaptation. A new American version appeared in 1915. This was followed by the 1918 Hungarian version directed by Mihály Kertész, which Ferenc Molnár commended thus: “The Phönix factory has adapted The Devil for film with amazing culture and skill. It is my impression that this Hungarian moving picture is the most perfect and highest quality I have had the opportunity to see so far. I was surprised primarily by the grandiosity, pomp, elegance and richness radiating towards us from every metre of this film. The particularity of the film reproduction of The Devil is that it reveals what happens prior to the stage play, and the work itself comes in the final act. Iván Siklósi, artistic director of the Phönix factory, carried out this very difficult screenwriting and dramaturgical work with congenial imagination and a sense of style. I would like to take this opportunity of once again sending him my sincere congratulations for resolving this troublesome task with such apparent ease."
“Mihály Kertész, the person most excellently directing the film, deserves similarly warm appreciation. Everything, from the first scene to the last, is adjusted to the style and atmosphere of the original play. The attraction scenes in the film are sensationally interesting and spectacular. The actors, primarily the lead characters – Leopold Kramer, Erzsi B. Marton and Mihály Várkonyi – lent their fine talents to this noble cause and their artistic performance is similarly remarkably successful. Everybody whose work went into the film version of The Devil can be proud, just as I am also delighted at the result that exceeded all expectations.” (Világ, 5 October 1918) In 1919, the stage work was filmed in Amsterdam. Yet another American version was made in 1921. The 2009 TV film was directed by Péter Valló.
Gazdag ember kabátja / Rich Man’s Coat
Rich Man’s Coat was Ferenc Molnár’s first direct contact with Hungarian film. The so-called cinema sketch first appeared (and became increasingly popular) in Budapest in the spring of 1912. The sketch developed the plot by interposing film segments with live stage scenes. In the wake of its first highly successful cinema sketch (Feleségem hű asszony/My Faithful Wife), Apolló Projectograph shareholder company approached the most popular stage dramatist of the day and commissioned him to write a series of new cinema sketches. Rich Man’s Coat was completed soon thereafter, the premiere of which (1 March 1912) proved to be a massive sensation in Hungarian film and theatre life, thus launching a golden age for the genre. The film parts were shot on Margaret Island, at the water tower on Stefánia Road and in a café. The role of the rich man was played by Andor K. Kovács, the director, partnered by Sári Fedák, Ede Ujházi, István Bársony and Nelli Hudacsek.
Az aranyásó / The Gold Digger
Ferenc Molnár wrote the Wild West cinema sketch in 1914 for Apolló Projectograph, based on a work by Francis Bret Harte (1904) published in the Magyar Hírlap novel archive. Music was composed by Pongrác Kacsóh. Antal Nyáray played the role of the coarse gold miner shifted onto the path of righteousness by the kind-hearted teacher. The film segment, in which incidentally the two owners of Projectograph, Mór Ungerleider and József Neumann, also played, was directed by Mihály Kertész. Ferenc Molnár adapted it for film in 1914.
Pufi cipőt vesz / Pufi Buys Shoes
The humorous scene is played at an authentic location, in a Budapest shoe shop. It shows the mutual efforts of the puny assistant and Pufi, the chubby shopper, in finally finding footwear of the right size. The shop salesman was played by a young and slim Gyula Kabos, the shopper by Károly Huszár. The highly successful burlesque film, which when it was made was shown in the course of a lecture held in the Uránia Theatre entitled Kornél Tábori: Empire of Good Cheer, is still preserved in the collection of the Hungarian National Film Archive.
Doktor úr / The Lawyer
Ferenc Molnár’s highly popular comedy written in 1902 found its way onto the silver screen in 1916, directed by Mihály Kertész. The successful defence attorney always gives effective speeches on behalf of his clients, so much so that he even regularly gets the notorious burglar Puzsér off the hook, much to the annoyance of police officer Csathó. The role of lawyer Sárkány was played by György Kürthy, Puzsér by Márton Rátkai, the policeman by Árpád Latabár Snr., Sárkány’s wife by Juci Lábass. The film was distributed abroad, including in Austria, but surprisingly the Austrian censors banned the film version of the play that had frequently been staged in theatres in Vienna.
A farkas / The Tale of the Wolf
This 1912 comedy by Ferenc Molnár follows the story of the jealous lawyer Kelemen, who sees in each glance that his wife receives from men the wolf of children’s tales. The first film version of the play was made by Mihály Kertész in 1916. The role of husband was taken by Artúr Somlay, his wife by Frida Gombaszögi, and the third part, that of the many-faced seducer, by Mihály Várkonyi, who in a dream sequence appears in three different forms thanks to tricks used in the filming. In 1981, Ádám Horváth took the stage play and made a film version for television out of it, starring Lászlo Márkus, Éva Almási and Péter Huszti.
A testőr / The Guardsman
The work began its triumphant global progress from the stage of the Comedy Theatre in 1910. Gyula Csortos played the actor who, dressed in the dazzlingly white cloak and silver helmet of a guards’ officer, seduces his own wife, the actress (Irén Varsányi). The first filmed version of the comedy was directed by Sándor Antalffy in 1918, he also took the lead role and his wife was played by Frida Gombaszögi. Critics of the day primarily praised the film’s large-scale stage sets designed by László Márkus. In 1927, a German version of the play was directed by Robert Wiene, headed up by Abel Alfred and Mária Corda. In 1931, Metro Goldwyn Mayer came out with its own film version of The Guardsman. A British TV production was made in 1948. The Guardsman also inspired Károly Makk’s film Játszani kell/Lily in Love (1984).
The story of the tragically fated love between a Budapest carousel barker and a maid flopped at its Hungary premiere in 1909, but later on this Molnár work garnered international acclaim and became his most filmed piece. The first film adaptation was planned by the Phönix film factory in spring 1919. This would have been Mihály Kertész’s fourth Molnár film, starring Gyula Csortos and Ica Lenkeffy. Preparations were well underway when shooting was halted due to the departure of Mihály Kertész. Thus, the first actual film version of the play was made in the USA in 1921, under the title A Trip to Paradise. This was followed by the 1930 Frank Borzage-directed movie starring Charles Farrel. In 1934, Fritz Lang directed a French film version of it, in which Charles Boyer played the title role and Hungarian-born Rudolph Máté was the cinematographer. A version for Italian TV was finalized in 1955. In 1956, it was filmed by Henry King, titled Carousel. There were Austrian (1963), Spanish (1966), American (1967), German (1971) TV films, and in 2014 a TV version in Hungarian was made of the piece in Slovakia.
A hattyú / The Swan
Ferenc Molnár wrote this drama, a love romance between the princess and the poor tutor, in 1920. It was first projected on the screen in Hollywood in 1925 and starred Frances Howard and Adolphe Menjou. A new version was made in 1930, in which Lilian Gish and Rod La Rocque took the lead roles. Then in 1956, Charles Vidor filmed it with Grace Kelly in the role of Princess Alexandra. No Hungarian film version has ever been made.
Filmmakers were also inspired by the topic of Olympia (1928), the scandalous love affair between the blue-blooded young widow and a hussar captain. An American version (His Glorious Night, 1929) was directed by Lionel Barrymore in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios starring John Gilbert, closely followed by versions in Spanish, German and French in 1930. These were shot in identical stage sets but with three different casts. In 1960, Mihály Kertész made a film version of the play under the title A Breath of Scandal with Sophia Loren taking the part of Olympia. No Hungarian film version has ever been made.
A Pál utcai fiúk / The Boys of Paul Street
Ferenc Molnár’s novel for young people, The Boys of Paul Street (1907), which has been translated into dozens of languages and is recommended reading not only in Hungarian schools but in Italy, Poland and even Japan, proved immensely popular among filmmakers. The first Hungarian version was made in 1917, the second in 1924, both directed by Béla Balogh. The unfortunately slightly deficient copy that was discovered in Serbia a few years ago and restored by the Hungarian National Film Archive can be seen today. In 1934, an American adaptation – No Greater Glory – was directed by Frank Borzage. The 1935 Italian film version (I ragazzi della via Paal) was directed by Alberto Mondadori and Mario Monicelli. There was a version of the play directed by Zoltán Fábri and made in a Hungarian-American coproduction in 1969. A TV film was made of it in Italy in 2003, and in Hungary in 2005.
Egy, kettő, három / One, Two, Three
Billy Wilder ‘greeted’ the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 with a Cold War political satire, an American adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s play written in 1929. McNamara, works manager of Coca Cola Germany, is given the unenviable task of looking after the heroine, Scarlett, daughter of the boss of the beverage giant. Of course, things immediately start falling to pieces: the wilful girl falls in love with an East German hardline communist, indeed, she marries him. When it turns out that the parents are making an unannounced visit to Europe, McNamara has just one day to make a real American husband out of the ardent communist. A curiosity is that construction of the Berlin Wall actually disturbed shooting: the wall was built at the Brandenburg Gate in the course of a single night, on 13 August 1961. Once the film crew saw the change at the location they were to film, they were forced to reshoot the scene in a studio in Munich. The film became a box office hit in America but it was only released in Germany in 1985, and of course it could not be played behind the Iron Curtain. It was last seen by a Hungarian audience at the first Budapest Classics Film Marathon.