It all sounds like a cliche: on the one side, the poor but honest workers’ team who have to count their pennies and shower in the open air, and call their club “Linda” after the nice girl who has become their mascot; on the other, the stinking rich club “International”, who can buy the top players, have an indoor pool and rows of massage tables, and hire a “femme fatale” to do their dirty work when money can’t buy what they want.
The Eleven Devils was made in Berlin in the summer of 1927, in the last throes of the silent movie era. But it strikes one today as a prophetic film. One of its early captions is "Football, the sport of the century ". We are shown a ball bathed in light like some sacred relic, and observe how, even in those early days, fans on the terraces wouldn’t shy away from using their fists.
Finally, after the odd kickabout and plenty of commercial and erotic intrigue, we come to the showdown, the match that decides which team fields the better men. The film’s structure is like a long overture followed by a rip-roaring finale. Even in those days Zoltán Korda knew that, for credibility’s sake, he could only show the match in fragments. The credits reveal that the two teams filmed in long shot were made up of the best players from the top German clubs. But as none of them are identifiable on screen, the shots and close-ups of the main characters could be woven seamlessly into the whole. As the game proceeds, the cuts happen more and more quickly until the fictitious match develops a momentum of its own. Korda proves himself here – only three years after Murnau’s groundbreaking The Last Laugh – to be a model pupil in the use of the “unchained camera”, and anticipates with breathtaking virtuosity today’s rapid tracking shots along the touchline. Such camerawork in a silent movie must literally have taken the spectators’ breath away. At the end the film offers a hymn to the “unifying idea of sport”. But the subtext, the secret doubts and questions that partly undermine that conclusion, are unmistakable. —Hans-Günther Pflaum
The brother of producer/director Alexander Korda, Zoltan Korda achieved recognition in his own right as a director of action films, first in England and later in Hollywood. He was the second of three sons, born Zoltan Kellner in 1895 in Túrkeve, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The death of their father threw the Kellner family into personal and financial chaos, and Zoltan and his younger brother, Vincent (later a top art director), along with their mother, were forced to live in the home of their paternal grandfather, a cruel and ignorant man whose influence prevented either boy from realizing anything like his potential for years after. Meanwhile, older sibling Sandor Kellner, taking a new, less ethnic last name, established himself as a writer and journalist, and finally a filmmaker as Alexander Korda.
Zoltan served in the cavalry during the First World War, experience that he put to good use as a filmmaker in the decades that followed. He followed Alexander… read more