Paul FejÖs - Director

Nationality: Hungarian. Born: Pál Fejös in Budapest, 24 January 1897; became U.S. citizen, 1930. Education: school in Veszprem and at Kecskemet; studied medicine. Military Service: Served on Italian front, organized plays for soldiers, 1914–18. Career: Set designer for opera and for Orient-Film studios, 1918; director for Studio Mobil, from 1919; travelled across Europe, worked with Max Reinhardt and Fritz Lang, left for United States, 1923; medical research assistant at Rockefeller Institute, moved to Hollywood, 1926; signed to Universal, 1928; with cameraman Hal Mohr, designed crane allowing great camera mobility, 1929; signed to MGM, 1930; invited to Paris by Pierre Braunberger, 1931; director for Films Osso in Hungary, broke MGM contract, 1932; signed to Nordisk Films, 1934; went to Madagascar, 1935–36; signed to Svensk Filmindustri, travelled to Indonesia and New Guinea, 1937; director of Viking Fund, New York, 1941; later director of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Died: In New York, 23 April 1963.

Films as Director:

(in Hungary):


Pan ; Lidércnyomás ( Nightmare ; Hallucination ; Lord Arthur Saville's Crime ) (+ co-sc); Ujraélök ( Reincarnation ); Jóslat ( Prophecy )


Fekete Kapitany ( The Black Captain ); Arsén Lupin utolsó kalandja ( The Last Adventure of Arsène Lupin )


Szenzáció ( Sensation )


Egri csillagok ( The Stars of Eger ) (+ sc, incomplete)

(in United States):


The Last Moment ( Le Dernier Moment ) (+ sc, ed); Lonesome ( Solitude )


Broadway ; The Last Performance (working title: "Erik the Great")


Captain of the Guard ( Marseillaise ) (co-d, uncredited); Menschen hinter Gittern (German version of George Hill's The Big House )

(in France):


Fantômas (+ co-sc)

(in Hungary):


Tavaszi zápor ( Marie, légende hongroise ; Une Histoire d'amour ) (+ co-sc); Itél a Balaton ( Storm at Balaton )

(in Austria):


Sonnenstrahl ( Gardez le sourire ) (+ co-pr, co-sc); Frühlingsstimmen ( Les Voix du printemps )

Paul Fejös (right) poses with the cast of The Last Performance
Paul Fejös (right) poses with the cast of The Last Performance

(in Denmark):


Flugten fra millionerne ( Flight from the Millions ; Les Millions en fuite ) (+ sc)


Fange nr. 1 ( Prisoner No. 1 ) (+ co-sc): Det gyldne Smil ( The Golden Smile ; Le Sourire d'or ) (+ sc)

(in Madagascar):


Svarta Horisonter ( Horizons noirs ) series: 1. Danstävlingen i Esira ( Dance Contest in Esira ); 2. Skönhetsvård i djungeln ( Beauty Care in the Jungle ); 3. Världens mest Användbara Träd ( The Most Useful Tree in the World ); 4. Djungeldansen ( Jungle Dance ); 5. Havets Djävul ( The Sea Devil ); 6. Våra Faders Gravar ( Tombs of Our Ancestors )

(in Indonesia and New Guinea):


Stammen Lever an ( The Tribe Lives On ); Bambuå påldern på Mentawei ( The Age of Bamboo at Mentawei ); Hövdingens Son är död ( The Chief's Son Is Dead ); Draken på Komodo ( The Dragon of Komodo ); Byn vid den Trivsamma Brunnen ( The Village Near the Pleasant Fountain ); Tambora ; Att Segla är Nödvändigt ( To Sail Is Necessary ) (completed by Åke Leijonhufvud)

(in Thailand):


En Handfull Ris ( A Handful of Rice ); Man och Kvinna ( Homme et femme ) (co-d)

(in Peru):


Yagua ("directed" by Yagua tribe shaman with Fejos controlling camera)

Other Films:


Land of the Lawless (Buckinham) (adapt)


L'Amour a l'américaine (supervision)


On FEJÖS: books—

Dodds, John, The Several Lives of Paul Fejos , New York, 1973.

On FEJÖS: articles—

Bréchignac, Jean-Vincent, "La Carrière de Paul Fejos," in Pour Vous (Paris), 31 January 1929.

Doré, Claude, "Fantômas reparait," in Ciné-Miroir (Paris), 22 January 1932.

Wunscher, Catherine, "Paul Fejos," in Films in Review (New York), March 1954.

Kraft, R., "Fejos's Broadway," letter in Films in Review (New York), April 1954.

Molnar, Istvan, "Fejös Pal es a Tavaszi Zapor ," in Filmkultura (Budapest), October 1960.

Bidney, David, "Paul Fejos (1897–1963)," in The American Anthropologist (New York), February 1964.

Balint, Lajos, "Fejös Pal—A Tavolbalato," in Filmvilag (Budapest), 15 July 1966.

Haudiquet, Philippe, "Paul Fejos 1897–1963," in Anthologie du Cinéma (Paris), vol. 4, 1968.

Ban, Robert, in Film, Szinhaz, Muzsika (Budapest), 17 August 1968.

Petrie, Graham, "Fejos," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1978.

Petrie, Graham, "Paul Fejos in America," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), no. 2, 1979.

"Fejos Issue" of Filmkritik (Munich), August 1979.

* * *

Few directors have had such a curious and diverse career as that of Paul Fejös, who was equally at home behind a camera directing entertainment features and documentaries or on anthropological expeditions to South America and the Far East.

After an early career in his native Hungary that embraced medicine, painting, and play production, Paul Fejös became a film director in the late teens. A trip to Paris persuaded him that he wanted to direct in the West, specifically the United States. In 1921 he arrived in America and started to work at the Rockefeller Institute. Eventually, Fejös journeyed to Hollywood—despite his penniless situation—and made his first American film, The Last Moment , for $5,000, borrowed from Edward Spitz. An experimental drama in which a drowning man (Otto Matiesen) relives his life, The Last Moment was hailed by the Hollywood intelligentsia and enabled Fejös to land a contract at Universal. The film also indicated that Fejös was to be no ordinary Hollywood-style producer. He was going to use every technical trick the cinema offered in the creation of his films, whether the works were melodramas about magicians ( The Last Performance ) or screen adaptations of popular Broadway productions ( Broadway ).

Paul Fejös's one genuine screen masterpiece (and the only one of his films which is readily available for appraisal today) is Lonesome , which uses cinéma vérité to provide a study of two lonely New Yorkers who spend a Saturday afternoon and evening at Coney Island. Not only are the visuals in Lonesome stunningly exciting, but the director manages to obtain realistic performances from his two stars, Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon, neither of whom had previously shown much indication that they were capable of such performances.

The director's Hollywood career ended as suddenly as it had begun. There were arguments over the direction of All Quiet on the Western Front , a project which he cherished but which was assigned to Lewis Milestone. Fejös returned to Hungary, where he directed Marie , generally considered the best pre-war production from that country. He also directed films in Austria and Denmark before embarking on a documentary filmmaking trip to the Far East, China, and Japan, where he made Black Horizons and A Handful of Rice , among others. In 1941 he joined the Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York. He spent the rest of his life directing anthropological research.

—Anthony Slide

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