Was the Chicago Film Hunyak Wrongfully Convicted And Executed?

Was The Chicago Film Hunyak Wrongfully Convicted And Executed? 

In the musical film Chicago we are introduced to 'the six merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail' during the Cell Block Tango number, one of the strongest dance numbers in the movie, in my opinion. Each of the 'merry murderesses' describes why the victim 'had it coming' and why she is innocent, as 'it was a murder, but not a crime'.

In the dance routine, five of the women have red handkerchiefs and the Hunyak has a white one, which made me assume it is a symbol for her innocence. I have been searching online for discussions about the Hungarian's innocence, but the most I could find were pages where she is called innocent without any proof or self-doubt. So here are my two cents on this important subject:

Was The Chicago Film Hunyak Wrongfully Convicted And Executed? 

To prove the Hunyak's innocence we first need to prove that the red handkerchiefs are symbols for the murders and thus the white handkerchief symbolizes her innocence:

  • The red handkerchiefs are used in lieu of the actual weapons, and each of the women simulates the killing with the garment. After a short glimpse at the attached photo mosaic one can easily see who killed her male partner by:
    • firing a shotgun into his head
    • putting arsenic in his drink
    • stabbing him with a knife

    The other three modi operandi are not described.

  • Velma Kelly who killed both her husband and her sister has two red handkerchiefs, one for each of the murders.
  • The Hunyak has a white handkerchief and does not simulate a killing on her male dance partner. She just subserviently reveals her white handkerchief, while white limelight floods her dancing area, creating a sharp contrast with all the other dancers who are lit in red.

While all of this is just circumstantial evidence, I believe the Hunyak, played by Ekaterina Chtchelkanova, was wrongfully accused, convicted and executed.

Was The Chicago Film Hunyak Wrongfully Convicted And Executed?

If per chance you do not own a copy of the Chicago movie, you are more than welcome to purchase it here.

32 thoughts on “Was the Chicago Film Hunyak Wrongfully Convicted And Executed?”

  1. You’re on the right trail. The lyrics to her part of the song are:

    “Mit kersek, en itt? Azt mondjok, hogy a hires lakem lefogta a ferjemet en meg
    lecsaptam a fejet. De nem igaz, en artatlan
    vagyok. Nem tudom mert mondja
    Uncle Sam hogy en tettem. probaltam
    a rendorsegen megmayarazni de nem ertettek meg…”

    Which translates, roughly, as:

    “What am I doing here? They say my famous lover held down my husband and I chopped his head off. But it’s not true. I am innocent. I don’t know why Uncle Sam says I did it. I tried to explain at the police station but they didn’t understand.”

  2. But at the same time, this argument brings us back to square one. The white handkerchief, doubled with the fact that really her only lines in spoken in English are “Not guilty!”; we don’t know if she herself is innocent. The other women all admit to killing their victims, but all we know by the end is that Katalin plead not guilty. We don’t know if that’s true.

  3. I do believe she was innocent. She did plead not guilty and denied committing the murder. In The Cell Block Tango, her phrase was Uh-Uh, and during her verse, Roxie asked “yeah, but did you do it?” to which she replied “Uh-uh, Not guilty”.

  4. Also, don’t forget that the woman who stabbed her husband to death clearly states that her husband “ran into” her knife, which I took to mean that she’s going to tell the jury that she did not intentionally murder him.

    Despite her story, her handkerchief is still red to show her guilt. If the Hunyak was also guilty, then regardless of her story the handkerchief would also be red.

  5. The Hunyak, I believe, serves as a metaphor for justice — or the lack thereof — in the Chicago criminal system. Because no one could understand her, the Hunyak was railroaded, despite her innocence (symbolized by the white scarf). No one could be bothered to get an interpreter to find out the Hunyak’s version of events and then check it out. She serves as a contrast to Roxy and Velma, two obviously guilty women who get off because of the machinations of a smart and cynical lawyer, Billy Flynn.

    Because the Hunyak couldn’t afford a smart lawyer or even get a sympathetic interpreter, she perished. So much for justice.

  6. The white handkerchief and the lack of an actual murder as well as the white light are all the keys you need to understand that she is in fact innocent.
    And remember, while all the others are singing, The Hunyak is not. She goes through the routine with them, but she isn’t singing. Could it be that her character doesn’t speak English? Yes, but at the same time, during a dance number reality falls away and we’re allowed to incorporate fantasy which illustrates the point. The Hunyak does the routine because she is in jail with the other girls, but they are all singing their stories and the chorus and she does neither.

    Also, the ‘Ran into my knife’ line was quite clearly sarcasm. But possibly she could tell the jury that, but it was meant to be flippant in a situation where everyone knows they’re guilty.

    1. The hunyak, in Hungarian, translates to the crazy one. She is so nicknamed that because she is accused of cutting her husband’s head off. The character’s name is Katalin Helinski.

      1. The nickname stands for her Hungarian origin and a mockery of it (which is quite ironic, as this mockery and prejudice kills her eventually, at least in my interpretation). Hunyak doesn’t mean anything in Hungarian. Another fun fact on that take is that the lines are told in a horrible Russian/Slavic accent, so it’s really hard for a native Hungarian to understand them (as one, I have no idea what she meant on “lakem”/”lakom”, as lakem is not a word and lakóm could possibly mean “my tenant” but I doubt that a native speaker would use it in this context (it would be “bérlöm” instead) – definitely not “my lover” though). I liked this as a child, when I didn’t speak English well and still could get that she’s an immigrant whose hard to understand. 😀

  7. Yes, it is nice to see other people’s interpretation of this. I was curious as to opinions on it.

    however, I am not certain of her innocence. I did not know it was her husband who was killed. in her case, maybe she was dancing with the lover and not the victim? to show a contrast? interesting….

  8. couple of quick things:
    1). I do believe that Hunyak is innocent, based not only on the symbolism given by the light and the handkerchief, but also because of the passion she shows while she is dancing with her partner.
    2). The name of the character is Hunyak not The Hunyak. For example you would not refer to a your friend John as The John, first of all The John is the toilet, and second of all his name is John

  9. I definitely think she’s innocent. In addition to the symbolism of the white light and handkerchief, there are two other key points, in my opinion:

    1. As Dartfin noted above, she doesn’t sing about her story. Billy talks at one point in the show about how the justice system, and in fact the whole world, is just “show business.” But it isn’t for Hunyak. She’s not doing a song and dance to fool anybody… she’s just speaking the truth. Speaking; not singing.

    2. It fits in perfectly with the whole message of the show: namely, that evil people who excel at playing the crowd will always thrive, and good people who just try to do what they believe to be the right thing, are chumps and losers.

    When you get right down to it, there are only three people we really meet at all in the show who could be considered “good guys.” Hunyak (assuming she’s innocent), Amos Hart, and District Attorney Harrison. What happens to them? Hunyak is hanged. Amos is cheated on, humiliated repeatedly, overlooked, and swindled out of thousands of dollars. Harrison loses convictions on two guilty murderesses, and is made the fool by Billy Flynn.

    Meanwhile, what happens to the “bad guys” (Roxie, Velma, Billy, and Mama Morton)? Roxie and Velma escape punishment for murders they committed, and start a successful nightclub act. Billy makes $10,000 and keeps his perfect record intact. Mama continues to bring in bribes and nookie by abusing her position at the prison.

    Clearly, it doesn’t pay to be a good guy in “Chicago”… 🙂

  10. I’m so glad I found this post and subsequent thread. I’m playing Katalin in a stage version and my director wants me to play her as guilty. The choreographer wants me to play both sides of the fence so that the audience has to decide for themselves whether or not the Hunyak is innocent.

    Prior to rehearsing the Cell Block Tango, I didn’t realize she doesn’t sing at all during that number. I find that telling. I think she is innocent. I think most people who are familiar with this show (both the film and stage versions) get the impression she is innocent. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to play her in those moments and scenes where all the other murderesses are hanging out and acting tough and thuggish. Would the Hunyak act that way; mimicking the other women as a form of assimilation? Or would she be scared and confused 99.9% of the time?

    Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

  11. It’s seems obvious to me that she was innocent.

    1) All of the others describe the true details of the murder they committed, all admitting, albeit ironically, that they’re guilty. In Katalin’s monologue, she says: “It isn’t true, I am innocent. I don’t know why Uncle Sam says I did it. I tried to explain at the police station but they didn’t understand me.”

    2) The others all sing, symbolising their awareness of their “audience”. Katalin speaks, because she’s the only one who doesn’t understand that being innocent isn’t enough; you also need to “put on an act”.

    3) The others sing in a sultry, self-righteous way, whereas she appears scared and emotional.

    4) The other handkerchieves are all red, whereas hers is white.

    5) There isn’t a single moment where she is portrayed as anything other than demure and pious. Granted: in real life, you can’t tell whether someone did it just by looking at them, but on stage, the characters are all there to serve a purpose. Her purpose is obviously “the innocent one that was found guilty because she didn’t play the game”, as opposed to Velma and Roxie, who were guilty but played (and won) the game.

    Incidentally, the name of the character is Katalin Helinski. “Hunyak” is a derogatory term for a Hungarian, so it’s not like referring to your friend as “the John”; it’s like referring to someone you don’t know as “the American”.

  12. She’s innocent, I pretty sure of that!
    The red scarfs means blood, and they represent something about the murder, like the girl that putted arsenic into her partner drink, she take the scarf of his mouth, the girl who said her partner ran into her knife ten times has the biggest scarf of all of them, representing all the blood that surely was at the crime scene, Velma has two scarfs, which one representing the blood of her husband and sister. That would be no meaning the Hunyak has a white scarf if she wasn’t innocent.
    Also the others reasons that have already been mentioned.

  13. You could also infer form the pictures that since Katalin is looking away that she had no idea that he would be murdered. All the other murder mistresses were looking at their victims and pulling the red cloth while see was looking away and pulling a white one. Most likely her lover did it without her knowledge.

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking. She has the white handkerchief, and she pulls it from looking away. I too think her lover killed her husband without her knowledge, and so…in a away she isn’t all that innocent, although she didn’t kill anyone.

  14. The hunyak’s name was Katalin I personally think that, like all good musicals, katalin was used as a contrast to the two main antagonists. Xxx

  15. The white scarf by itself seems enough to make it obvious (to me at least) that she’s innocent.
    But, since some people need more proof…

    Others have pointed out she doesn’t sing the chorus with the others.
    I’ll point out that what they’re singing and she’s not is “he had it coming, and you would have done the same”

    They all feel comfortable enough with their present company to confess the truth of their crimes, and there is no reason to imagine that another guilty character would not do the same. All six dancers tell the truth (or issue blatantly insincere denials indicating the story they’re using at trial).

  16. But what would uncle Sam’s role be in this story?
    That makes me quite curious, just because nobody is saying anything about him.

  17. The white scarf says it all.
    When RoXie Hart is declared “innocent”, they hang a white scarf out the window to show the decision.

    So when Katalin floats around with a white scarf in her part, it just breathes innocence.

    And as said above, I definitely feel that they used the Hunyak to contrast Roxie and Velma

  18. I agree with all the above statement but would like to add my own two cents.
    I think the choreography is also important. The ‘guilty’ women all dance a very aggressive tango whereas Katalin dances a ballet routine, a very fragile and innocent dance.

  19. I think what a lot of people are missing here is that – in the movie, at least – the musical numbers represent what is going on in Roxie’s head. The Cell Block Tango represents the time while Roxie was getting used to prison, meeting the women around her. Thus, while the imagery of the Hunyak as innocent is frankly very obvious, it only represents what Roxie thought. Katalin could have been the most bloodthirsty killer of them all, but if Roxie thought she was innocent, that’s how she would be portrayed. Still, it doesn’t really matter whether she was really innocent or not; she blatantly represented innocence, and that’s what’s important.

    1. I don’t see the dance routine as being in Roxie’s head. It’s true that Roxie sits down in a chair, right before the dance routine. But you don’t see Velma talking to her, she tells her story to the journalist.
      All their stories are rearsed, they must be telling the same lines from the moment they were put in jail.
      The song are just words, well chosen so that they seem a bit less guilty. But is in the dancing, and all the symbolism around them, there is the truth.
      I really don’t like the idea that’s all in Roxie’s head. Because I can see a lot of truth in the dancing, so it can’t be just an interpretation of Roxie’s head.

      About the rest of the comments, thank you for participating in the discussion, I liked it very mush. I never had a doubt about her innocence, and I think that who does, didn’t understood the movie. Where is the drama if they are all guilty?
      I think all the symbolism is more than enough to “prove” her innocence. Just from her dance, you can see her love for the men. Not a single agressive move. Not like the others. Nothing.
      Really… When I saw the white handkerchief for the first time, I just thought to myself… Genius. We don’t even have to understand what she says, because we already saw all we need to know, to realize that she’s innocent. The fact is, they most likely chose a foreign character for “the innocent”, so that we don’t ever doubt her innocence while watching the movie. If we understood her words, it would only put a lot of questions and opinios in our heads. I love this character for this reason, she’s not there by chance.

      The thing I love about this movie, is that you only see and ear, what you need, to follow the main story. All characters that are irrelevant, don’t show their face. There allways in the black (except for Lucy Liu lucky husband).

      And you guys talked about the fact that she’s not singing like the others, putting a show like the ones who know Chicago. Well… I really have to see the scene again.
      What I know is that, there’s not a single agressive note, from her speach. We can only feel pain when earing her, even if we do not understand what she’s saying.

      I just love this movie. So mush….

      1. The producers of the movie have said that they took the approach of all the musical numbers being in Roxie’s head (with the exception of those which are clearly onstage such as All The Jazz at the beginning) as a way to make it fluid and not have to “explain” why characters were bursting into song. I don’t know why they chose this, but yes- in the movie most of the dance numbers were Roxie envisioning how they would be in “her show”

        The Hunyak is intended to be innocent. Throughout, they talk about how no woman has ever been hanged in Cook County. So, essentially, even though they’re all (other than her) guilty, they have no need to fear their trials. The Hunyak is misunderstood and wrongly accused, and is meant to show just how much they all have at stake because times are changing and they are no longer safe just because they are women. Additionally, to show the injustice to innocents and immigrants.

  20. I know I’m late on this what I just got from reading everybody comments and seeing the movie that Roxie understood her so in real life the Hunyak as her real name is Katalin Helinszki she was talking to a woman that understood what she was saying but yet didn’t help her out now real that sad

  21. I haven’t actually seen this musical, but I do have another interesting tidbit to add to this conversation:

    The name Katalin literally means pure. Even her name symbolizes innocence.

  22. I believe that she was wrongfully punished, hence the white flag and the ‘Not guilty’. I also agree that she’s another metaphor for the injustice in the Chicago criminal system.

    However, she’s based on a real person. In the link below you’ll see the first woman to be convicted to hang in Chicago, Sabella Nitti. Nitti was sentenced to hang in 1923 for the murder of her husband Francesco Nitti. Despite the fact that this woman is from Italy and not Hungary, it’s pretty similar.


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