A century-old silent film by legendary Casablanca director Michael Curtiz – Budapest-born Mihály Kertész – is to be digitally remastered in Hungary, the Hungarian National Digital Archive and Film Institute (MaNDA) announced on Tuesday after securing a state grant.
A copy of the silent film A Tolonc (The Undesirable or, on movie database imdb.com, The Exile) had lain hidden for years in the basement of the Hungarian House, a cultural centre on East 82nd Street in New York. The lost piece of cinema history came to light in 2008, when rusty cans of film were brought to Hungary and examined by MaNDA.
Kertész shot the film in 1914 in the Romanian town of Cluj, at the time part of the doomed Austro-Hungarian Empire. The six-week shoot was wrapped up in mid-July, just days before the outbreak of the First World War. It is thought the film was screened in the US in the 1920s under the title The Undesirable.
The reels were sent to Holland because there were no domestic labs equipped to deal with the notoriously unstable nitro-cellulose film. The fresh copy spent some time in the US before returning to Hungary when MaNDA secured state funding for the digital remastering.
The Hungarian National Film Foundation, headed by Rambo and Terminator producer Andy Vajna, is subsidising the project to the tune of HUF 14 million (EUR 48,000). The work is expected to take about a year to complete – until then, the film can be viewed in its pre-restoration condition on YouTube (search for the Hungarian title).
MaNDA says there has been considerable interest in the silent flick due to its association with a legend of Hollywood’s golden era, and it plans to screen the film at international forums. Plans are also afoot for a celebratory release of the remastered film in Hungary, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of its making.