Presented by the Melbourne Cinémathèque & ACMI
The White Disease
Wednesday 16 September 2020
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Hugo Haas' greatest and most enduring work as director.
Karel Čapek's play The White Disease premiered at the National Theatre in Prague in 1937; that same year Hugo Haas adapted it for the screen using the same cast in the main roles. This included himself as Dr. Galén, a humble physician who has developed a cure for a plague affecting the globe but who refuses to treat the wealthy – or to hand it over to those attached to his nation’s military-industrial complex…
The White Disease (aka Skeleton on Horseback) now carries a doubly uncanny prescience – its leprous pandemic speaks eerily to the current moment, while the political backdrop to the fictional disease’s emergence is highly resonant of a Europe about to succumb to fascism’s warmongering thrall at the time of the film’s production.
Haas, a Jew, fled Czechoslovakia promptly after the 1939 German occupation of Prague for the United States, where he embarked upon a second career on both sides of the camera. The independently produced B-movies he made there have some notable champions (see the related materials below), but The White Disease is surely his greatest and most enduring work as director.
– Cerise Howard