Vilma Banky, The Hungarian Rhapsody

Vilma Banky Dec 1929 - A Lady To Love (Aka Sunkissed) - By Ruth Harriet Louise

According to my amazing Silent Film Calendar, today is Vilma Banky’s 114th birthday. At first I thought, “Happy birthday Vilma Banky!” Then I thought, “Wait a minute… who’s Vilma Banky.”

A quick google, and duh, she’s Yasmin in The Son of the Sheik. Oh, that Vilma Banky!

Rudolph Valentino - Vilma Banky - The Son of the Sheik

Poor Vilma, as popular as she was in her day, she’s no Mary Pickford these days. She was very beautiful and very Hungarian, known at the time as “The Hungarian Rhapsody.” She was exotic and beautiful enough to keep pace with the exotic man-beauty of Rudolph Valentino, pairing with him not only in The Son of the Sheik but also in The Eagle.  There’s an ugly rumor that Vilma’s thick Hungarian accent abruptly ended her career when the talkies came a knockin’, but there’s ample evidence to suggest she just wanted to quit acting when she married Rod La Rocque. After retirement, she played a lot of golf (0r says wikipedia). Bonus points to anyone who can produce a pic of Vilma swinging a golf club!

Vilma’s career remains fairly well documented with 8 of her films existing in their entirety and 3 as fragments.

1. Tavaszi Szerelem – 1921 (Only a few fragments exist)
2. Der Zirkuskonig – 1924
3. Hotel Potemkin (Die Letzte Stunde)– 1924
4. The Eagle– 1925
5. The Son of the Sheik – 1926
6. The Winning of Barbara Worth – 1926
7. The Night of Love– 1927
8. The Magic Flame – 1927 (Only the first five reels)á9. Two Lovers – 1928  (Fragment)
10. A Lady to Love – 1930
11. The Rebel – 1932/33 (German/English)

You can learn more about Vilma Banky at the fairly comprehensive http://www.vilma-banky.com and you can even buy a bio of Vilma at Amazon. Or you can celebrate by watching The Son of the Sheik on YouTube.

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About prettycleverfilmgal

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films. I often watch, consider, and write about movies when I should really be doing other things.

Posted on January 9, 2012, in Genre, Silent Film and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The more I’ve studied this, the more I become convinced that the tales of silent stars being unable to cut it vocally in the sound era are almost total b.s.

    I may be wrong, but Banky may have been one of those who just had no desire to act with dialog, and simply said “f”- it, or rather, just retired. I’m reminded of what Marion Davies allegedly said when asked her opinion of talkies. “I can’t talk and I can’t sing — that’s why I got into pictures in the first place!” paraphrasing of course. But she was referring to her well-known speech impediment — she “stuttered.” Fortunately, when it came to speaking her lines, the “impediment” disappeared. And as far as Hungarian accents are concerned, the Gabor sisters didn’t do to badly with theirs, did they? Garbo is almost unintelligible (to me anyway) in her earliest talkies, but MGM had invested a great deal in her, and her silent films had become big money-makers, and when money talks there’s no accent and the language is universal, right?

    Also, I happened to catch the beginning of Chaplin’s “City Lights” the other night, and was reminded of how crappy the sound recording and playback technology was initially — Chaplin satirized it with the squawky, screeching, unintelligible “speeches” given by the characters dedicating a new monument which, when uncovered has Charlie napping on top of it.

  2. I have seen Vilma Banky in “The Son Of The Sheik,” but I know her mainly for all the films she made and I will probably never see (lost or status unknown). She was certainly a beauty and a better than fair actress, but when it comes to the question of unsuitable film voices, her husband seems to have dispelled the myth. If there is one silent film actor whose sound career mystifies me, it must be Rod La Rocque. I can’t remember a single film of his when he didn’t sound like he was whining, no matter the content of his dialogue. I don’t have a photo of Vilma swinging a golf club, but I have a photo of Jacqueline Logan doing the same. Do I get bonus points?

  3. I enjoyed your post, and was most interested by the fact that she was married to Rod LaRocque — I’ve only seen him in one movie, Let Us Be Gay with Norma Shearer (though a quick peek at IMDB revealed that he also had a small role in Meet John Doe! I will have to look for him next time).

  4. Though that whole acting career destroyed by bad voice/ thick accent thing makes a great and tragic story, I’m not really buying it either. Most movies made in say 1930 make me think, “Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you should.” It’s not hard to believe that fine actresses like Vilma Banky might have decided to simply opt out of the standing around a potted plant speaking in an overly voice-coached vaguely British-ish accent zeitgeist that plagues early sound films.

    Whistling Gypsy – Yes, you totally get bonus points for Jacqueline Logan wielding a nine iron!

    Shadows and Satin – Here I was thinking I had never seen Rod La Rocque but he’s in Meet John Doe! There I’ve seen Rod, though I still couldn’t pick him out of a line up.

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