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Marlon Brando in Desiree

Háry János

Háry János (Antál Páger) recounts his exploits as a young man.
Release Year: 1941
Country: Hungary
Director: Frigyes Bán
Writers: Zsolt Harsányi, Béla Paulini
Cast: Antál Páger, Margit Dajka, Kató Bárczy, Zoltán Makláry, Vilma Medgyaszay, Sándor Pethes, József Juhász, Judit Csermely, Mária Deésy, Lajos Kelemen, Ernö Mihályi, László Misoga, Sándor Naszódy, István Palotai, Ferenc Pethes, György Solthy, Gyula Szöreghy, George Tatar, Lajos Ujváry
Music: Béla Dolecskó
Company: Palatinus Filmterjesztő Vállalat
Runtime: 90 minutes


tory: Seated at a table in an Inn, the elderly tall-tale teller, Háry János (Antál Páger) regales his drinking buddies with a tale of his encounter with the Emperor Napoleon.

Háry János (Antál Páger) reunites with Örzse (Margit Dajka).
As a young hussar in the Hungarian army, Háry (the character's surname) comes upon his sweetheart, Örzse (Margit Dajka) who had been inquiring of a flirtatious guard at the Galician/Russian border if he knows where to find Háry. She has Háry's boots, and has been following the Hungarian army to deliver them to him. It is a warm summer on the Galician side of the border, and freezing winter on the Russian side. Háry and Örzse are pleased to see each other after their separation, and go tripping off into the flower covered fields of Galicia.

While they are gone, a coach carrying the French Empress Mária Lujza (Kató Bárczy) and her suite, including a French official, Ebelasztin (Sándor Pethes), arrives on the Russian side of the border. Mária Lujza (aka Marie-Louse, Napoleon's second wife) is denied permission to cross by the Russian guard, but she and her party are permitted to wait in the guardhouse.

Napoleon (Ernö Mihályi) reads about the goings on in Vienna.
When Háry returns, he learns that Mária Lujza is in the guardhouse and has not been allowed to cross the border. He takes hold of a corner of the guardhouse and pulls the entire building over to the Galician side of the border in a feat of herculean strength. When Mária Lujza emerges from the guardhouse, she is immediately enamored with Háry, and insists that he accompany her to the Imperial Palace in Vienna. Háry agrees to go only when Mária Lujza permits Örzse to join him.

Háry becomes an instant favorite at the court in Vienna, and cures the Emperor Francis I (Zoltán Makláry) of his chronic backache with a special ointment. Much to Örzse's chagrin, Mária Lujza falls ever deeper in love with Háry. Ebelasztin resents Háry's popularity with Mária Lujza and sends a letter to Napoleon, who is back in Paris. Napoleon is incensed to read of the goings on in the Viennese court, and declares war on Austria.

Háry (Antál Páger) berates the greatly diminished
and humiliated Napoleon (Ernö Mihályi).
The Austrian Army marches off to war with Háry in the forefront and finds Napoleon and his army occupying a fortress. The French forces begin shelling the Austrian Army's camp, which is situated nearby. Háry advises the Austrian generals on military strategy, and leads a charge against the fortress. The French fire a cannon at Háry but he catches the unexploded shell and hurls it back at the fortress's gates. After the smoke clears, Háry marches into the fortress and takes the whiny, sniveling Napoleon prisoner.

Back at the Austrian camp, Háry presents his chastised prisoner, who is apologetic about the all the trouble he has caused. Mária Lujza is disgusted with Napoleon's cowardly and groveling behavior and admires Háry more than ever. The humiliated and (literally) greatly diminished Napoleon signs the terms of surrender and slinks from the camp. As Mária Lujza professes her love for Háry, Örzse shows up and the two argue over who should have Háry.

Mária Lujza (Kató Bárczy) and Örzse (Margit Dajka)
fight over Háry (Antál Páger).
Háry returns to the Austrian Imperial Palace and is accorded a grand reception. He is given a seat at the right hand of the Emperor Francis. Mária Lujza and Napoleon's seven young children (!) are presented to Háry and he kindly gives them money. A feast is brought in, and Háry joins Francis, the Empress Maria Theresa, and Mária Lujza at the table. Francis proclaims that Háry will be given half of his kingdom and the hand of Mária Lujza in marriage. Háry rises from the table and refuses the honor, as he wants to marry Örzse, much to Mária Lujza's disappointment.

Ebelasztin, who had stirred up the trouble between Austria and France, is brought in, his hands in chains, followed by Örzse. Háry removes the chains and the chastised Ebelasztin apologizes. Francis expresses his gratitude to Háry. The hero wraps his arm around Örzse and the two leave the palace to the cheers of the court.

The scene fades back to the Inn where the elderly Háry began his tale. Only one of his listeners remains, and as he gets up to leave it's clear that he has doubts about Háry's story. Háry looks to a painting of Napoleon hanging on the wall and winks. The painting winks back at him.


omment: Háry János is based on a comic opera of the same name that was composed by Zoltán Kodály in 1926, which in turn was based on The Veteran, a poem written by Hungarian poet János Garay in 1843. The movie was produced by the small film company, Palatinus, and its main draw was the casting of popular Hungarian film star Antál Páger as the lead character.

Háry (Antál Páger) sits at Francis I's (Zoltán Makláry) right hand.
The film's story is a rather faithful adaptation of Kodály's opera, and audiences at the time would surely have appreciated its relevance to current events. Hungary was one of the Axis Powers aligned with Germany during World War II, and by 1941 the Axis Powers had already occupied France. Háry's easy subjugation of the French Army and the humiliation of Napoleon must have resonated with the wartime audience.

The Hungarian film industry experienced a temporary boost during the war, and Palatinus was one of a number of small companies that saw an increase in production. But despite their sudden prosperity, most of these small companies were out of business by the end of the war, and the IMDb lists no productions for Palatinus after 1943. Háry János seems fairly typical of the romances and romantic-comedies that were popular with the cinema audiences of the time.

Film star Antál Páger also experienced a brief decline after the war. He had aligned himself with right-wing politics before the war, and had lent assistance to Nazi propaganda efforts during the war, so when Hungary was incorporated into the Soviet Union following the defeat of Germany he emigrated to Argentina where he took up painting. His film career resumed when he returned to Hungary in 1956. He died in 1986.

Ernö Mihályi gives a broadly comic impersonation of Napoleon in Háry János, having trouble extricating his hand from his waistcoat while accurately portraying Napoleon's flares of temper and affectionate ear-pulling of subordinates. After he has been "diminished" by Háry, he gets to play part of his role in over-sized sets, and is doubled by a child actor from behind.


istorical Context: One would be ill-advised to look to a story of a teller of tall tales for any hope of historical accuracy. For example, while it's true that the Empress Marie-Louise eventually cheated on Napoleon following his first abdication, there is no evidence that she was chasing after Hungarian Hussars while he was still in power.

Some sources say that Háry János was an historical figure, but I have not been able to verify this as a fact. The character depicted in János Garay's original poem may have had his source in reality, but he also fits the archetype of the braggart soldier that has existed in western literature since Ancient Greece.

Availability: A VHS-quality DVD-R of Háry János is available from Dunafilm, but please be advised that it is in Hungarian and does not have subtitles.

References: IMDb; Wikipedia; Cunningham, John Hungarian Cinema: From Coffee House to Multiplex, Great Britain, Wallflower Press, 2004; Makkai, Adam (editor) IN QUEST OF MIRACLE STAG: The Poetry of Hungary, Chicago, Atlantis-Centaur, Inc. 1996; Ferguson, Donald N. Masterworks of the Orchestral Repertoire: A Guide for Listeners, St. Paul, University of Minnesota, 1954.

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