Before Michael Curtiz came to Warner Brothers in the ‘20s and became one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors of prestigious productions like Casablanca (1942), he cut his teeth on dozens of Hungarian and Austrian silent features as Mihály Kertész. Miraculously, an English print of his long-lost A Tolonc (1915), listed on Wikipedia as The Exile and on this Blu-ray as The Undesirable (the title on the print), was discovered in the basement of New York’s Hungarian House cultural center. Digital restoration reveals an astoundingly sharp image, perfect in textures and background details like dishware patterns and signs, now beautifully tinted and with a lush new score by Attila Pacsay.
The heroine of this “woman’s film” is a formerly abused wife (Mari Jászai, identified in the titles as a “famous tragical actress of the Hungarian National Theatre”) who has spent 15 years in prison for killing her husband: a premise that still feels relevant. The story of her release is cross-cut with the narrative of her grown daughter (Lily Berky, giving the film’s most natural performance), who gets a job as a servant, puts up with the checker-suited husband’s advances, and falls in love with the strapping Magyar-garbed son (Várkonyi Mihály, who came to Hollywood as Victor Varconi).