It was around fifty years ago – a half century – that the adaptation of Hungary's young adult classic Paul Street Boys, or Pál Utcai Fiúk, came out. Director Zoltán Fábri's version made a classic film from an already classic book. But far from being a relic of the past, Paul Street Boys continues to live on. The film was recently re-released in Hungary, the subtitled version was released in the States in 2015, the English translation of the book received a revision by a major author, and there is even an indie band named for the work.
Paul Street Boys was published back in 1906, written by Ferenc Molnár, the playwright and novelist who would become one of Hungary's most famous exports to the USA. The plot, set in 1889, concerns a gang of young boys residing in Budapest's roughest neighborhood. Having found a patch of land to call their turf, or 'the Grund' as it is known in the story, their street is soon threatened by an incursion of another gang, known as the Redshirts, culminating their having to defend their territory. Ultimately the book is about honor and bravery in the face of antagonism, and some would say, fascism.
The book has been translated into at least fourteen languages. Due to how the story resonates with the mood of pre-War Europe, the Hebrew translation made the book a classic in Israel. While it has yet to reach classic status in America, there are talks of another translation and re-release of the book for American readers. It is fair to say it would continue to resonate in this day, age, and climate.
The screenplay to the 1968 film was written by Molnár himself, so you can be sure the story was faithful to the book, though the author died sixteen years before that screenplay made its way to the screen. It is worth noting that the Hungarian film is not the first adaptation of Paul Street Boys. Director Mario Monicelli filmed an Italian version in 1935.
Despite experiencing huge success in the States, where his play Liliom was adapted for Broadway as the classic musical Carousel by the songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Molnár's life there was marred by tragedy. In despair over the fate of his Hungarian contemporaries under the Nazi's and depressed by the suicide of his secretary and confidant, Molnár became a recluse in his Plaza Hotel room before dying of cancer in 1952 in New York.
Still, as with great artists, he lives on through his work. Paul Street Boys may be his most enduring prose. In the book and in the film, which will do doubt get a remake before long, the boys of the Grund also live on.
Below find the trailer for the 1968 film. It is in Hungarian, but easily understandable.
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