Kladivo na carodejnice (Witches' Hammer) (1970)
Director: Otakar Vávra.
Starring: Elo Romancik (Lautner), Vladimír Smeral (Boblig), Sona Valentová (Zuzana), Josef Kemr (Ignác), Lola Skrbková (Maryna), Jirina Stepnicková (Dorota Groerová), Marie Nademlejnská (Davidka), Miriam Kantorková (Tobiásová), Lubor Tokos (Sattler), Blazena Holisová (Sattlerová), Jaroslava Obermaierová (Líza), Jirí Holý (Parish Priest König), Rudolf Krátký (Hutter), Cestmír Randa (Winkler), Blanka Waleská (Countess de Galle).
witch hunting in Czechoslovakia
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Court hearings text is taken from authentic court records of the Inquisition trials which took place at Velke and Losiny and Sumperk, 1678-1695. A religious speaker says that sin reached man through woman. Women practice sorcery with the Devil who appears to her in the shape of a man. At the church mass, an old lady spits out the communion wafer into her napkin. A churchman sees her and tells her: "Come to the sacristy." The mayor is fetched. As the head of the meeting of those concerned with witches, the mayor's wife says she wants to see the old lady because she has never seen a real witch before. She is informed that there is a whole group of witches. The old lady says the midwife needed the sacred host to give to a cow who had run dry. In turn, the midwife would give the old lady green peas. The David woman told her about the host. She can fix a broken arm and cast a spell on cattle. One of those at the meeting says: "Don't believe a word she is saying. Its' the devil who speaks through her." Those at the meeting agree that they are up against heresy. It will be reported to the Bishop. The group calls in a former Inquisitor, Master Boblig of Edelstadt. With Boblig is his nasty-looking assistant Ignác. Boblig says that he will rid the entire county of witches.
The pretty cook Suzana speaks with Deacon Lautner. Later two men fight because Boblig's assistant asked if Zuzana had a magic mark on her body (that is, the mark of the Devil). The Deacon breaks up the fight. He then talks with Zuzana who is not too confident about her own future: "Who would marry a clergyman's cook?" she asks.
Boblig starts to torture the old lady and some of the people she was forced to name. The tortures used include thumb screws, denial of sleep and the rack. They verbally abuse the old woman and then deny her sleep to make her give up more names. One of the names is that of Mrs. Tobias. Of course, the inquisitors feed their prisoners the "right" answers they want from them. If the prisoners do not cooperate or do not give the right answer, tortures are applied. They use the thumb screw on the old lady. She start cooperating. Then they demand more names.
The David woman is defiant so the hangman gives her a stretch on the rack. The Inquisitors want more names. When she still doesn't cooperate Boblig tells the hangman to shut her up. The executioner strangles her to death. Boblig tells others that the Devil broke her neck. He says the hangman had heard her fighting with the devil. The mayor's wife says she heard horrible cries during the night. She tells Boblig: "I will stay away from here until it's over."
Some people object to Boblig's use of torture. They tell him that the law says that torture can only be used in the presence of the tribunal. Deacon Lautner criticizes Boblig to some friends. Mrs. Tobias, wife of the bath house owner, is arrested. Boblig argues that both wealth and beauty come from Satan. And one of the beauties Boblig is especially interested in is the cook Suzana. He would just love to torture the cook. Mrs. Tobias provides some names. Mary Sattler, wife of the dye house owner, her husband and her daughter Elizabeth. Who else? Deacon Lautner and his cook. One of the judges, the commissioner, jumps up saying "You are making this up!" Boblig intimidates the commissioner and he apologizes for his outburst.
Three women are to be burned at the stake. One of the condemned women says that she has no choice but to accept the verdict. But this is not enough for the Inquisitors. The women must thank the Inquisitors. To obtain a merciful death, Mrs. Tobias agrees. But at the actual execution she shouts: "I was made to acknowledge my guilt. I was tortured for nine days." Another of the condemned shouts: "Friends, run away, or you'll soon have the same happening to you." Mrs Tobias adds: "I am dying an innocent. My children will curse you."
The Inquisitors have a big celebratory dinner at night. Boblig tells the assembled guests: "They (the women) were miserable servants of Satan." They actually laugh at what they had done during the day. A guilt-ridden priest tells Boblig: "For heaven's sake, Master Boblig, stop those trials. They were innocent." The priest then leaves the table.
New women suspects are brought in, accused of being witches. Deacon Lautner is becoming more and more frustrated at what is going on in the county. And he says that all the people worry about is the Turks, the war. But there seems to be a new principle today: "he who speaks up for heretics, is himself one." Still, the Deacon wants to do something to stop the injustices.
The guilt-ridden priest speaks with his brother. His brother's advice is: "Keep your mouth shut." Twelve more women are burned at the stake.
Boblig wants Deacon Lautner arrested. He is advised: "It won't be simple to arrest the Deacon." Boblig only says: "It's him or me."
Another clergyman tells Deacon Lautner that the people don't think too highly of him here. He is too popular with his parishioners. Not discouraged, Deacon Lautner gets an audience with the Bishop. The Bishop, however, is not very sympathetic. He says to the Deacon "but you speak up for the convicted disciples of the Devil!" He adds that he has received reports on the Deacon. One thing the Bishop demands: "I won't allow clergymen to have young cooks." The Bishop does ask one of his staff to ask Dr. Meyer to study Master Boblig's indictment. It accuses Deacon Lautner and priest Konig of sorcery.
Boblig tells a lawman that two witches have given evidence against him. The implication is that the lawman better cooperate with the Inquisitors. Boblig wants him to arrest the long lists of suspects, even if they are friends of the lawman. The officer answers: "Persons suspected of intercourse with Satan cannot be my friends." Mary Sattler and her daughter, along with Suzana the cook, are arrested.
Friends of Deacon Lautner tell him that the authorities and the Inquisitors know that he went to see the Bishop. One of the friends is the First Councilor. They suggest that he leave immediately. But the First Councilor says that he will not leave. The Deacon goes to see Boblig. He asks him about why he arrested Mrs. Sattler, Elizabeth and Suzana. Boblig says: "All I do is in their own interest." He then asks the Deacon: "Why do you have a grudge against me?" The Deacon denies he holds a grudge. He asks Boblig: "Can't you let anyone off?" Boblig says that the Deacon will have to prove they didn't have intercourse with Satan. But "How do we prove that?" Boblig answers: "I don't know." Around 20 more people are burned at the stake.
Elizabeth tells her jailer that she will give him some money if she can speak with her mother. The jailer then tells her to give him the money right now and when she can't he rapes her.
Boblig gives the order to arrest the revenue officer and the commissioner of woods, both members of the tribunal. The administrator complains to Boblig about the arrests and so Boblig has the man arrested too.
The brother of the guilt-ridden priest tells the mayor's wife that Boblig checks on the arrested people's financial situations. She answers that he surely has lawful reasons for this, adding: "Don't count on my protection any longer." The brother is very shaken. He turns and walks away. He falls down the stairs and dies. His brother finds his body. Boblig comes to pay his respects to the deceased.
Boblig's assistant tells him that Boblig has been too lenient with Suzana: "Her statement would jolt the Bishop." Boblig says it's a pity that he is so old: "Can you imagine her naked?" They bring Suzana before the Inquisitors. One of the court members says that he thinks Suzana is innocent. But Boblig tells her that she will be tortured. "Bring in the thumb screws!" When she still doesn't cooperate, they bring in leg squeezers and torture her some more. They demand that she acknowledge her guilt. She finally gives in and answers "yes" to the question "Was the Deacon with you?" They then have her stripped naked so that Boblig's assistant can look for the Devil's mark on her body. The assistant says he has found a mark, more proof of her guilt.
At a get together of some of the top officials, Deacon Lautner is placed under arrest by order of the Bishop. Lautner's two close friends get out of town in a hurry. Suzana tries to hang herself, but the jailer finds her in time to save her life.
Deacon Lautner demands that the Inquisitors bring the witnesses against him to testify in his presence. Lautner listens and is amazed at what he hears. But he does not blame them. He knows they have been tortured. They then, at Lautner's request, bring out Suzana. She makes her accusation, but she cannot make herself tell the whole story to the Deacon's face as Boblig demands. Boblig says: "The Devil makes her mute." Deacon refers to her as the girl Boblig and the Inquisitors have driven mad.
The mayor is told that the trial is growing. There are almost 40 of them now. And ex-judge Hutter has filed a protest. But the mayor does not seem to care. He is more concerned that the Turks are near Vienna.
Boblig takes the executed people's property and sells it to his supporters for 1/3 the value of the property. Then Boblig uses the proceeds to pay for the trials.
There is some worry that torturing Deacon Lautner may not break him. The defense for this is that "only with the Devil's help can a delinquent keep quiet when put to torture." The Bishop approves torture to be used on the Deacon. They torture Deacon Lautner and he takes a lot of abuse. Finally, the tortured Deacon lets his head fall forward. Boblig jumps on this, saying that he nodded twice and therefore acknowledged his crimes. Some judges want to let him go saying that he is innocent. Boblig will not hear of it. He will keep the torture going until he gets a clear confession.
One of the judges comes to the jail cell to talk with Deacon Lautner. He tells him that he gave up his membership; he is ill. "Can you forgive me?" he asks. Deacon Lautner says: "I cannot censor you. We are both miserable and weak." With the use of the rack, the Deacon cooperates and signs his confession. Master Boblig is very happy with himself. He kisses his own image on the outside of his golden wine glass. He says: "I've made it to the top." And the movie implies that since he is at the top, he feels no more need to look for more witches.
Master Boblig lived to a ripe old age and even got married.
Good movie, but another one that is tough to watch. The reasoning used by the Inquisitors is so obviously flawed that at times the movie seemed like an outlandish comedy. You think to yourself: "Only liars and nincompoops could believe this crap!" The reasoning is totally circular, always justifying the unjust and ridiculous tenets of the law. And once this kind of idiocy gets established, who can stop it? If you protest, they say, you protest because you too are a heretic and a witch or warlock. These types of movements of mass hysteria seem to pop up during various times of troubles. They are often sanctioned by the rich and influential as long as they don't negatively affect the upper class. Usually these types of movements are stopped when they start to go too far. That's what happened in Salem, Massachusetts. It was o.k. as long as the accused were in the lower rungs of society. But as soon as the young girls starting mentioning very influential and powerful people, the witchcraft trials were brought to an end. So these hysterical movements are often a tool used by those who imagine the movement will improve their own situations.
Witchcraft type movements still continue. In the 1950s we had the hysterical hunt for the "communist under every bed". And then there are hysterical movements such as nativism, where the wealthy support an hysterical red-neck movement that wants to punish the poor immigrants who have come to this country. These movements will probably never stop, unfortunately. But a few good people will recognize them for what they are.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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