Our great-grandparents and grandparents may have watched a Hungarian time-travel film, but they were probably a long way from a carefree cinema experience. This is not the fault of the film, but of the era in which it was made. “Sirius” was released in 1942.
“Sirius” was the first Hungarian science fiction film that not only influenced the few domestic representatives of the genre but also, in a strange way it also anticipated some of the motifs of the American hit film “Back to the Future”.
Although there is no DeLorean in Ákos D. Hamza, his film, only a helicopter flying with a funny mini propeller, there are frothy scientists in both, and the young protagonist, who goes back in time, falls in love, if not with his own mother, then with one of the professor’s ancestors.
“Sirius” was one of the first in the world to use the idea of time travel. Ferenc Herczeg‘s novel preceded H.G. Wells‘ “The Time Machine” by one year, and “Sirius” preceded the film based on it by 18 years, making it the first time-travel science fiction film.
He was also the first to fire off recurring jokes in science fiction based on it, such as the sensationalization of an everyday commodity, such as matches or cigarettes in the past. He was one of the first to develop the rules of time travel (the hero is not allowed to change the past) and to play with the possibility that the whole time travel was a (drunken) dream.
The plot is that Sergius, a once brilliant but slowly obsessing professor, invents a machine with a speed faster than the Earth‘s rotation and can fly back to the past. He promises his daughter and his fortune to anyone who dares to ride in this machine. Count Ákos Tibor, an adventurous man, undertakes to do just that, and so he embarks on a strange adventure in the 18th-century Austro-Hungarian world and falls in love with the beautiful singer, Rosina.
Ákos D. Hamza was one of the most successful and prolific Hungarian directors of the 1940s. He was responsible for such classics as “Suburban Guard Room” (1942), which was influenced by French lyrical realism, and “A Skirt and Trousers” (1943), starring Kálmán Latabár and Gyula Csortos. He moved confidently in almost every genre: in the course of his career, he directed a noir-flavored love story (“I am guilty!”, 1942), adventure film (“The Devil Rider”, 1943), comedy (“A Skirt, a Trouser”), and science fiction.
With “Sirius”, Hamza adapted the 1894 novel by Ferenc Herczeg, one of the most popular writers of the Horthy era, and the 1908 play by Imre Földes based on it. It was not the first time the director had used Herczeg‘s writings, adapting his first two films, the highly successful “Gyurkovics Boys” and “I am guilty!”, from him. “Sirius” was one of Hamza‘s favorite childhood reads. The anti-German director saw in the story of the Count visiting the time of Maria Theresa an opportunity to put a spanner in the works of the Germans.
Although sci-fi motifs had already appeared in Hungarian cinema (“The Caveman”, 1917, “The Soul-Clearing Ray”, 1918), and “Sirius” is more of a romantic adventure film, Ákos Hamza D.‘s film is usually considered the first Hungarian sci-fi.
“Sirius” was screened at the 1942 Venice Film Festival, but the Third Reich appropriated it, and the film was a success, but in the end, the film by the house director of Nazism, Veit Harlan Veit, about Hitler‘s idol Frederick the Great (“The Great King”, 1942), was awarded the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film. A big-budget film for its time, it was also a hit with Hungarian audiences.