The White Disease





Production year



21 December 1937


105 min


Hugo Haas




drama, anti-war, allegory, political, psychological


featuretheatrical distributionlong

Original title

Bílá nemoc

Czech title

Bílá nemoc

English title

The White Disease


The adaptation of Karel Čapek's legendary anti-war utopian play Bílá nemoc (White Disease) was directed by Hugo Haas, who also played the lead role. Since January 1937, the play has been successful in Prague's National Theatre. Hugo Haas also played the role of Dr. Galén on stage and the cast of most of the other roles matched with the production mentioned above. It was being staged despite protests from the German side (Baron Krüg's name, resembling the German word Krieg – war, had to be renamed Krog), and already at a time of the increasing danger to the Republic it became particularly relevant for its humanist message. In this parallel of a militaristic marshal threatening a small democratic peaceful state, Čapek created an analogy to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany threatening free Czechoslovakia. At the same time, the fatal white disease that is gradually spreading all over the world and threatening everyone without exception, poor and rich equally, is a parallel to the contagion of Nazism. The cure for this disease is found by the doctor Galén, who cures poor people and wants to make the cure available only on the condition of the world peace. – Despite Karel Čapek's initial disapproval, the director adds the character of Dr. Martin, a doctor from a small neighbouring state under threat, who is the only one who knows the secret of his cure after Galén's death, which changes the initially pessimistic ending; the hope of rescuing humankind and the nation remains. – Hugo Haas shot only in the studios (except for a documentary footage of the troops moving in) from 6 October to 1 November 1937 during twenty shooting days. For the crowd scenes he cast extras of 137 men, 20 women and 420 unemployed people. The film version premiered less than a year after the play's first production, in December 1937. After the events in Munich in 1938, when the film was immediately banned, the negative was rescued, exported abroad, and the French and English versions were produced. After the war, the original material was returned to Czechoslovakia, and with new opening credits, it was screened again on 5 April 1946 (in Kino Moskva cinema in Prague) and later on 22 August 1958 (in Kino Yalta cinema). – Both the play and the film warned about the soon-to-be events, which ultimately resulted in World War II. This achievement, unique even for international cinema, dominated by brilliant performances led by Hugo Haas and Zdeněk Štěpánek. The film can compete with Chaplin's The Dictator (1940) and several other works from the between-wars period. Footage from the shooting is captured in the short documentary The Illusion Factory (1937; directed by Jiří Weiss). – After almost eighty years, the National Film Archive brings the film back into distribution in a digitally restored version. The premiere took place at Bio Central cinema in Hradec Králové on 22 September 2016. A rare and fragile original negative on a flammable print was used to create the new version, and a duplication positive was used to transcribe the sound (for the first time since its release in the 1930s, the original opening credits have been used in the film). With financial support from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, and the partnership of the National Library of Norway and the CESNET association, the restoration was carried out in 2016 at the Magyar Filmlabor in Budapest. Upon request, the film was distributed with English subtitles. In addition to that, a short lecture and presentation of the digital restoration of the film with demonstrations can also be arranged.


The marshal provokes the men of his land to a war of aggression against the neighbouring country. The inhabitants accept his plans with enthusiasm, for according to the marshal's promises they will win fame and fortune in the war. In the meantime an incurable disease, called the white sickness, is spreading across the land. Dr. Galén, who treats the poor, discovers a cure and tests it in the clinic of Dr. Sigelius, the marshal's favorite. The results are excellent and Dr. Sigelius shamelessly accepts the credit for Galén's cure. But Galén will give out the process for preparing the cure only with the condition that preparations for the war be halted. The marshal refuses the condition and declares war. Thus Galén treats only the poor patients who have no share in the war. The marshal is stricken with the white sickness and only then is he willing to put an end to the fighting. He summons Galén, who hastens to the marshal's palace with the medication only to be killed by a militant throng. During the clash the ampule of medicine is broken. Nevertheless the marshal signs an order to end the fighting and speaks to the people about peace. The dead Galén is remembered by his friend, a doctor from the neighbouring country that was attacked. Before his death Galén had confided in him the secret of his cure and so the country can be saved.


Hugo Haas

MUDr. Galén

Karla Oličová

maršálova dcera Aneta

Bedřich Karen

dvorní rada profesor MUDr. Sigelius

Václav Vydra st.

baron Olaf Krog

Ladislav Boháč

Krogův synovec Pavel, maršálův pobočník

Jaroslav Průcha

MUDr. Martin, lékař z malé sousední země

Karel Dostal

ministr propagandy

Rudolf Deyl st.

vysoký úředník ministerského kabinetu

František Smolík

otec, účetní ředitel u Kroga

Helena Friedlová

matka, manželka účetního ředitele

Eva Svobodová

dcera účetního ředitele

Vítězslav Boček

syn účetního ředitele

Otto Rubík

maršálův pobočník

Vladimír Šmeral

první asistent kliniky

Miroslav Svoboda

druhý asistent kliniky

Marie Nademlejnská

matka druhého asistenta

Karel Jičínský

vysoký úředník ministerského kabinetu

Eduard Blažek

člen maršálovy družiny

Viktor Dintr

člen maršálovy družiny

Vilém Pruner

asistent na klinice

Frank Rose-Růžička

asistent na klinice

Vladimír Smíchovský

vrátný ve zbrojovce

Jaroslav Vojta

pacient doktora Galéna

Emil Dlesk

pacient doktora Galéna

Fráňa Vajner

pacient doktora Galéna

Antonín Šolc

pacient doktora Galéna

Karolína Vávrová

pacientka doktora Galéna

Marie Bibikoffová

ošetřovatelka na klinice

Erna Ženíšková

ošetřovatelka na klinice

František Filipovský

pacient na klinice

Julius Baťha

muž z baronovy suity

Marie Holanová

zfanatizovaná žena z davu

Anči Pírková

zfanatizovaná žena z davu

Jan Šebor

zfanatizovaný mladík z davu

Jindřich Adolf

zfanatizovaný muž z davu

Crew and creators


Hugo Haas

Assistant Director

Antonín Kubový

Based on

Karel Čapek (Bílá nemoc – divadelní hra)


Hugo Haas

Director of Photography

Otto Heller

Production Designer

Štěpán Kopecký

Set Designer

Arnold Reimann

Film Editor

Antonín Zelenka

Sound Designer

Vilém Taraba


Willy Ströminger (fotograf)


Music Composed by

Jan Branberger

Selected Music

Ludwig van Beethoven (Symfonie č. 9 d moll /1. věta/)

Music Performed by

Orchestr F.O.K. (Music Conducted by Karel Ančerl)


bez exteriérů

Production info

Original Title

Bílá nemoc

Czech Title

Bílá nemoc

English Title

The White Disease




featuretheatrical distribution


drama, anti-war, allegory, political, psychological

Origin country




Production Year


Production specifications

start of filming 6 October 1937
end of filming 1 November 1937
date of censorship 12/1937 (kulturně-výchovný)
withdrawal from distribution 11 November 1938
projection approval 7 March 1946 (konec povolení k promítání 7. 3. 1947)
withdrawal from distribution 7 January 1948
withdrawal from distribution 20 February 1959


premiere 21 December 1937 /unsuitable for youths/ (kino Alfa /3½ týdne/, Praha)
renewed premiere 5 April 1946 /suitable for youths/ (kino Moskva /4 týdny/, Praha)
renewed premiere 22 August 1958 /suitable for youths/ (kino Jalta, Praha)
renewed premiere 29 September 2016 /suitable for all ages without limit/



Copyright Holders

Národní filmový archiv


Moldavia (původní 1937), Státní půjčovna filmů (obnovená 1946), Ústřední půjčovna filmů (obnovená 1958), Národní filmový archiv (obnovená 2016)

Technical info

Duration typology

feature film

Duration in minutes

105 min

Original length in metres

3 110 meters

Distribution carrier

35mm, DCP 2-D, BRD

Aspect ratio



black & white



Sound system/format

Tobis – Klang



Dialogue languages


Subtitles languages

without subtitles

Opening/End credits languages




Festival: Festival Cannes 1939 Orléans

Orléans / France


Festival: Festival restaurovaných a nalezených filmů s tematikou tolerance UNESCO Paříž

Paříž / France
Národní filmový archiv


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