Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Hungarian humor

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The reader of ‘Temptation’ (Lumen) is about to be born who does not enjoy its pages and who does not consider this novel as one of the great literary pieces of the 20th century, although this perception is still a secret to many.

In his prologue to ‘The misfortunes of Svoboda’, the first novel by Janos Szekely , recently published by Impedimenta, Pablo D’Ors confesses that he could not avoid reading ‘Temptation’ three times in a row, which is not a small thing to say since the work has more than 700 pages.

Narrative clarity, the emotional intensity of the characters and situations, and the elegance and linearity of the extensive plot are some of the virtues highlighted by D’Ors. ‘Temptation’ tells the adventures of Bela, a poor and abandoned child from the Hungarian countryside, who will end up making his way as a bellboy in a Budapest hotel, knowing the stark contrast between the lives of the rich and of the unfortunate With spellings taken from the best nineteenth-century realism, ‘Temptation’ has autobiographical overtones and is an absorbing initiation novel into life (and sex), a learning novel.

It is not easy to find information about Janos Szekely, who also used the name Hans Szekely in his plays and who initially signed his novels with the pseudonym John Pen and his film scripts for Hollywood with that of John S. Toldy. Too much dispersion of activities and identities. And too much dispersion of settings, since Szekely lived and wrote in Hungary, Germany, the United States, Mexico and, again, Germany, this time, East Germany.

Janos Szekely was born on the day of San Ferman in 1901 in Budapest, in the bosom of a very modest family that, moreover, had the disappointment of losing its head very soon. Like Bela from Temptation, Janos had to make a living as best he could to help his mother and also managed to find time and space to read, write and publish poems while still a teenager.The Hungary of his childhood and adolescence was subjected to constant upheaval and instability within the changing process of decomposition of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to which he belonged until declaring its independence in 1918. But ah their evils did not end. In 1920, Admiral Mikles Horty came to power with the absurd title of regent -in a country without a sea and without a navy-, who established an authoritarian and pseudo-fascist political system.

It didn’t take long for the young Szkely to leave Hungary and settle, via Vienna, in a Berlin that was then abuzz with theatrical, pictorial, musical, and cinematographic scenes. It didn’t take much for Szkely to break through as a writer, and in 1926 he had the opportunity to join the film industry as a screenwriter.

At that time, the UFA was in full swing, a film production, distribution and exhibition company for which such great filmmakers as Fritz Lang , Billy Wilder , FW Murnau and many others worked. The UFA became a great emporium with very modern studios, laboratories and movie theaters.

Among his numerous credits as a screenwriter and screenwriter during that time, “Melodie des hertzen” (1929), the first German sound film, stands out. The biggest stars of German cinema of the time such as Brigitte Helm , Emil Jannings and Willy Fritsch came to work in the films written by Szekely .

In the UFA studios, films produced by other countries, double versions for the German market and other markets, and films that were later soon remade in another country, were shot. It’s European. Thus, Jean Gabin came to star in several films written by Szekely.

Szekely’s talent caught the attention of Ernst Lubitsch , who proposed that he go to the United States to adapt one of his plays for film. With the Nazis in power, Szekely did not think twice.

Until 1938, Szekely did not settle in the United States, spending seasons in Hungary, where his mother lived. In that year, the writer married the Hungarian actress Erzsi Bersony , with whom he would have a daughter, Kati , who was also an actress.

In the United States, Szekely would have the opportunity to link his name to half a dozen more films, some as important as the romantic drama Dramatic School (Robert B. Sinclair, 1938), starring nothing less than by Luise Rainer , Paulette Godard and an emerging Lana Turner and based on one of her plays.

But the great success of Szekely -with the pseudonym John S. Toldy- was his work for ‘Arise, my love’, a comedy directed by Mitchell Leisen in 1940 and starring Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland . He won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.

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