Hollywood Classics with a Czech Connection

Did you spot these Czech characters in Hitchcock thrillers? What about a Bela Lugosi vampire in Prague?

A few months ago, I wrote about some modern-era Hollywood movies that had a connection to the Czech Republic, whether in story, setting, or even just throwaway dialogue. 

Well, here are some classic films from the 1930s through the 1950s that feature the same: 

Casablanca (1942)

The plot of this Hollywood classic revolves around Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine obtaining letters of transit for Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) the husband of his former lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) – and also a renowned Czech resistance leader.

Okay, so you knew about Casablanca. But did you know about the featured Czech players in these other classics:

Night Train to Munich (1940)

Henreid plays a German spy in this WWII thriller, who goes up against a British counterpart (Rex Harrison) to capture Czech scientist Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt) after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Lifeboat (1944)

The survivors stranded at sea in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller include a John Kovac, a Czech-American man played by John Hodiak. When they pull a German boat captain (Walter Slezak) aboard the lifeboat, Kovac insists they toss him back in the sea!

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Cluny Brown (1946)

Charles Boyer plays a Czech refugee who gets tangled up with the titular character (played by Jennifer Jones) in WWII England in this delightful comedy from director Ernst Lubitsch.

The Third Man (1949)

In this classic set in WWII Vienna, Italian actress Alida Valli plays Anna Schmidt, the Czech girlfriend of Orson Welles’ Harry Lime.

Hitler’s Madman & Hangmen Also Die (1943)

The story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague was adapted into a pair of B-movie Hollywood thrillers released in 1943 – both made by acclaimed German directors who had emigrated to the USA during the Nazi rise to power, Douglas Sirk (Hitler’s Madman) and Fritz Lang (Hangmen Also Die).

Sirk had once even met Heydrich at a party. “He made my blood run cold,” the director reportedly later recalled.

Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)

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Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers romp around in pre-WWII Europe. Tagline: “HE kissed her in VIENNA…SHE kissed him in WARSAW…THEY kissed each other in PRAGUE.”

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Circus World (1964)

In this travelling circus drama, John Wayne brings his Wild West Show to a variety of cities across the Atlantic, including Prague, in an effort to find a former lover played by Rita Hayworth.

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

This Bela Lugosi vampire movie – one of a number capitalizing on the success of Dracula during the 1930s – is set entirely in Prague (recreated in studio at MGM). Amusingly, a character named Jan is referred to by both the Czech and American (hard J) pronunciations.

Man on a Tightrope (1953)

In this forgotten gem from Elia Kazan, Frederic March plays a Czech circus clown who attempts to get his entire troupe out from behind the Iron Curtain during communist rule.

Bavarian locations – as close to the border as they could get – filled in for Czechoslovakia.

Death of a Scoundrel (1956)

Based on the death of Russian finance wiz Serge Rubinstein in 1955, Hollywood changed the name of the character (played by George Sanders) to Clementi Suborin (?) and his nationality to Czech. For some reason.

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The Lady Vanishes (1938/1979)

Though his background is never delved into, Paul Lukas’ character introduces himself as “Dr. Hartz of Prague” in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic train-set European thriller, remade with Herbert Lom as Hartz in 1979.


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