From Hollywood to Budapest – Paramount movie reel carrying case #88

The only indication of the origin of this grey metal box preserved in the Film Archive collection is the emblem on its side. The box with lid measuring 38 cm wide and 46 cm high was originally used to carry film reels by staff of Paramount Filmforgalmi Rt., the Hungarian subsidiary of Paramount of America.

Although Paramount is an American company, it still holds a special place in Hungarian film history. It has multiple links to the country but the most important is without doubt through the person of Adolph Zukor.

Adolph Zukor was born in the village of Ricse, east Hungary, in 1873. He was orphaned early on and at the age of just 15 he set off, totally alone and with just a few dollars in his pocket, on the long journey to America. There he made a success initially in the fur trade, but he quickly recognized the opportunities inherent in motion pictures, at the time still considered a recent invention. In 1912 he founded the Famous Players company, which drew audiences by employing top stage actors and adapting quality works for film. Just a few years later his company merged with that run by Jesse L. Lasky, becoming – as Famous Players-Lasky – a critical part of the American film market. Their productions were distributed by Paramount, whose business they eventually took over, operating as Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation from 1927, and later simply Paramount Pictures. Paramount, the name of which is well-known by movie fans to this day, was one of the legendary studios during Hollywood’s golden age, and which – through its films – exercised a major impact even in far-off countries.

Initially, films made by the prestigious American company were shown in Hungary by different distributors, and through them local audiences could get to see such global stars as Pola Negri, ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Rudolph Valentino. However, there was a problem: in the early 1920s, mainly those productions became available in Central Europe that had not been accessible due to the First World War, while the price of the latest releases skyrocketed. “Due to the enormous increase in American film production, newer films can only be obtained at the cost of great foreign exchange sacrifice for the Central European state, which is barely considered a market from a financial aspect. America is flooding Europe with old films because it demands such a price for new films that is near impossible to pay with German marks, Hungarian and Austrian crowns” was one of the complaints at the time.1 The situation only began to improve in 1923 when Österreichische Filmindustrie Aktiengesellschaft acquired the Central European distribution rights for Paramount, and they negotiated an agreement with Magyar-Osztrák Filmipari Rt. on film distribution in Hungary.

There was considerable demand among the Hungarian public for Paramount films, representatives of the company were often in the country so it was a logical step to eliminate the middleman and open a direct local representation. Paramount Filmforgalmi Rt., the subsidiary in Hungary, was founded with starting equity of 150,000 Pengő on 6 March 1928. The directorial board comprised Ike Blumenthal, Gusztáv Schäfer, Dr. Béla Weiszburg, Graham Cecil John, and Lajos Földes who also acted as managing director.2 In 1936, the highly experienced Földes was transferred to the faraway Dutch East Indies colony of Batavia (today, Jakarta in Indonesia), where he represented Paramount for 18 months, with his seat in Hungary going to Miklós Palugyay. An office complete with own screening room was established at Rákóczi út 59. in Budapest.

-Google maps
The central Paramount office in Budapest on Rákóczi street (Photo: Google maps)

Paramount films remained hugely popular throughout this period and the Hungarian press always looked out for, and trumpeted, any Hungarian associations of motion pictures. In 1929, for example, local writers Ferenc Molnár, Lengyel Menyhért, Lajos Bíró and Ernő Vajda were singled out, as were the season’s smash hits: “The Way of All Flesh (Lajos Bíró – Emil Jannings), «Wings», symphony of winged man (the most powerful work of film art), Loves of an Actress (Ernő Vajda – Pola Negri – Pál Lukács), The Last Command (Lajos Biró – Emil Jannings), The Patriot (Emil Jannings – Lewis Stone – Florence Victor), The Wedding March (Erich von Stroheim), The Woman on Trial (Ernő Vajda – Pola Negri – Oszkár Beregi), films in the Adolphe Menjou, Harold Lloyd, Clara Bow, Bebe Daniels series, all fine pearls of international taste.3

The Paramount movie reel carrying case, which is an interesting and practical artifact of international film industry relations burgeoning in the era, was most likely used in the 1930s. 35 mm film reels were quite heavy and their transport required considerable physical effort, not to mention the far from insignificant weight of the box itself. Still, metal was probably a better solution than anything else because it was durable and provided a measure of safety for those handling the highly flammable nitrate film stock.

A host of American studios pulled out of Berlin in the late 1930s, to be followed by withdrawals from the Central European region. Initially Warner, then Fox, and finally Universal, Paramount and MGM wound up their interests. Many members of staff fled but a tragic fate awaited several of those who stayed. The highly respected film and theatre expert Imre Roboz was murdered by Hungarian fascists in late 1944 or early 1945. Even though Paramount Filmforgalmi Rt. made a brief reappearance after the Second World War, by then it was unable to establish any influence on the market and the final references to it date from 1946.


[1] Megérkeztek a világhírű Paramount filmek Budapestre. Színházi Élet 1923/38, 54.
[2] Gazdasági, pénzügyi és tőzsdei kompasz, 1928-1929. Vol. 3, 909.
[3] A Paramount. Az Est Hármaskönyve. Volume I. 1929. 368.