Hungarian star of Hollywood back on the big screen

One of the highpoints of this year’s Budapest Classics Film Marathon is the screening of a rarely shown film, The Son of the Sheik, an iconic creation of the era of Hollywood silent films, although for Hungarians it is unmissable largely because of its female lead. Vilma Bánky has entered the history of the Dream Factory as the first Hungarian international star and she rose to heights that no actress born in Hungary had ever reached, nor has since.

Vilma Bánky (born Vilma Koncsics), who showed an interest in acting at a very early age, studied the craft under Artúr Somlay. The film industry soon began to show an interest in her. She was barely 18 when she appeared in a silent film in 1919, and for a good ten years after she was in front of the camera virtually nonstop. The young woman, who began work as a typist, was able to reveal her talent on an international stage almost immediately. Her career launched in Vienna and Berlin, among others alongside famous French comedian Max Linder. In 1924 they made the silent movie Max, der Zirkuskönig (King of the Circus) that can be viewed at the 2022 Budapest Classics Film Marathon, in which Vilma Bánky plays Ketty, the circus owner’s daughter, while Linder is the bohemian hero head over heels in love with her. The resulting easy-going, audience-pleasing motion picture was key to Hollywood eventually persuading the Hungarian silent film actress to journey overseas.

Studio founder Samuel Goldwyn introduced Hollywood to his new discovery with a massive PR campaign so she immediately began her American career at the very top. She played the heroine in The Eagle alongside Latin pin-up Rudolph Valentino. The heartthrob star immediately carried her into his next film, The Son of the Sheik. In this work Vilma Bánky plays Yasmin, the penniless dancer, who is secretly the lover of Ahmed, the sheik’s son. Their budding relationship is disapproved of by the male relatives, who do everything they can to keep the two apart. The dramatic, fast-moving film spiced with adventure, exoticism, even a dash of violence and sensuality, is on this year’s Budapest Classics Film Marathon programme in digitally restored format.

However, there were to be no more Bánky-Rudolph Valentino box office hits following the sudden death of the latter at the tragically early age of 31. The career of the actress who was still in her twenties continued on an upward trajectory for a few more years but her star, like so many of her colleagues arriving from abroad, dimmed with the arrival of talkies. She made a dignified exit and took up new hobbies and passions. She played golf into her eighties and she was able to live an untroubled life to the very end thanks to her smart real estate investments. The Dream Factory never forgot her, either. Vilma Bánky, who died in 1991, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, thereby establishing a permanent memorial to the Hungarian actress who became a world star.

You can read more about the adventurous life and incredible career of Vilma Bánky here.

To purchase tickets, click on the films page.