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Movie Poster of the Week: “The Virtue King” and the Posters of Gustav Mezey

A stunning 9 foot tall Austrian poster for a French farce leads to the work of a distinctive mid-century designer.

Above: Gustav Mezey three-sheet poster for Le Rosier de Madame Husson (Bernard Deschamps, France, 1932).

This stunning Austrian deco poster, which I came across on a Berlin antiquarian site, stands a magnificent 9 foot tall (110" x 49" to be precise) and comes in three sections. The poster is for a 1932 French film, whose German title, Der Tugendkönig, translates as “The Virtue King.” In the US the film was titled He (or He - the Virgin Man), but the original title is Le Rosier de Madame Husson. Based on an 1887 Maupassant novella of the same name, the story concerns the titular Mme. Husson who seeks to promote chastity in her village by crowning a rosière, or a Rose Queen: a girl of unimpeachable virtue. But when none of the young women in town are equal to the title she selects the village idiot (played in the film by Fernandel) as her rosier.

Above: Roger Cartier poster for Le Rosier de Madame Husson / He (Bernard Deschamps, France, 1932).

The film was remade in 1950 with a script by Marcel Pagnol and starring Bourvil.

Above: Guy Gerard Noel poster for Le Rosier de Madame Husson (Jean Boyer, France, 1950).

The Austrian poster, created especially for the film’s premiere in Vienna at the Schweden Kino or Swedish Cinema* was designed by one Gustav Mezey who, it turns out, was one of Austria’s major designers of the era. His trademark monogrammed M can be seen in the top right of the poster, which is startlingly different from the Fernandel-centric French version. They would barely seem to be advertising the same film.

Born in 1899 (he lived to 1981), Mezey started out as an illustrator of large outdoor displays for advertising companies in Budapest, Belgrade, Vienna and Berlin. From the early 1930s until the late 1950s he concentrated on movie posters, using a combination of paint and airbrush.

Above: Gustav Mezey painting in 1951.

I found a number of other Mezey posters in the online collection of the Vienna Library, most of which are from the late 40s and early 50s. His portraiture and use of color and composition is exquisite, as well as quite distinctive. And pay special attention to the lettering which is always varied and inventive. As with most poster illustrators, I question whether Mezey did the lettering himself, though given the perfectly balanced interplay of composition and type on the Virtue King poster I have a feeling that he probably did.

Above left: La main du diable / Carnival of Sinners (Maurice Tourneur, France, 1943); right: Schleichendes Gift (Hermann Wallbrück, Austria, 1946), an educational documentary about STDs.

Above left: 1951 re-release poster for Tabu (F.W. Murnau, USA, 1931); right: Insel ohne Moral / Island without Morals (Volker von Collande, West Germany, 1950).

Above: An klingenden Ufern / On Resounding Shores (Hans Unterkircher, Germany, 1948).

Above left: Fièvres (Jean Delannoy, France, 1942); right: Liebling der Welt / Beloved of the World (Max Neufeld, Austria, 1949). 

Above left: Hochzeitsnacht im Paradies / Wedding Night in Paradise (Géza von Bolváry, West Germany, 1950); right: La tentation de Barbizon / The Temptation of Barbizon (Jean Stelli, France, 1946). 

Above left: Martin Roumagnac / The Room Upstairs (Georges Lacombe, France, 1946); right: 1948 Austrian re-release of Les Misérables (Raymond Bernard, France, 1934). 

Above: Der Singende Haus / The Singing House (Franz Antel, Austria, 1948).

Above left: Dernier atout (Jacques Becker, France, 1942); right: Menschen, die vorüberziehen / People Pass By (Max Haufler, Switzerland, 1943). 

Above left: La Ronde (Max Ophuls, France, 1950); right: Lulu / No Orchids for Lulu (Rolf Thiele, Austria, 1962). 

Above left: Nuit de décembre / Night in December (Curtis Bernhardt, France, 1940); right: La symphonie pastorale / Pastoral Symphony (Jean Delannoy, France, 1946). 


*According to the website KinTheTop, an archive of Viennese theaters, the Swedish Cinema, billed in Mezey’s poster as “Vienna’s first avant-garde cinema,” was built in 1919 and destroyed in the Allied bombing of Vienna in 1944 (which destroyed a quarter of all Viennese cinemas).

Excellent choice! I note certain similarities between the poster for a 1932 French film, whose German title, Der Tugendkönig, translates as “The Virtue King,” and Criterion’s design for Sidney Gilliat’s “Green for Danger”. [] Also, love the the South Seas Saguaro on “Tabu”!
Stu, are you saying that cactus wouldn’t be found in the South Seas? And I like your comparison with Green for Danger: not immediately obvious but definitely working off the same grid.
I couldn’t say if there are cacti on the South Sea Islands or not. Probably there are, however, I’d be willing to bet the Saguaro is not one of them. The tall, branching cactus pictured is, if it’s anything other than the artist’s impression of a cactus (I know I spent the first dozen years of my life thinking the Saguaro = cactus and could be found all over the American West, if not further. But then, I also thought that no matter how long John Wayne was on the trail he was still in Monument Valley), a Saguaro or some form of Pachycereus pringlei. All of which are present in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem of North America. But that’s not important right now…. It’s a very fine poster and a lovely article. PS: I’m certainly no expert on cactus (ouch!). Perhaps one of your readers is and will prove me wrong.

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