Sunday, October 04, 2009

La Nuit du 11 septembre

[The film was not released in Finland]
FR 1920, released: 1922. PC: Ermolieff-Films. D+SC: Dominique Bernard-Deschamps - based on the novel Le Crime de Jean Malory by Ernest Daudet (1877); CAST: Vera Karally (Renée de Brucourt), Eugénie Boldireff (Sophie Sterouska), Séverin-Mars (Jean Malory), Paul Vermoyal (Ivan Goubine), Henri Svoboda (Daniel de Maldrée); tinted; 957 m /18 fps/ [47' announced] 42'
Restored by La Cinémathèque française in 1994, a new tinted print in 2009. French+English intertitles. E-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Philip Carli. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 3 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "Even before Lenin signed the decree nationalizing the private film industry, Joseph Ermolieff (Josif Yermoliev), then working in Yalta, determined to move his company to France. On 4 April 1919 he set out for Paris, where he negotiated with his one-time employers Pathé. He immediately set up production as “Ermolieff-Films. Moscou-Paris-Yalta”, and within months had embarked on his first French film, La Nuit du 11 Septembre. The film was completed before Ermolieff returned to Yalta in January 1920, to bring back with him his major Russian collaborators to France. Thanks to problems with censorship, however, it was not released until 1 September 1922, shortly before the company became Albatros. The film figures in the Albatros inventory, but very little information is available about its production.
Ermolieff chose a French subject and a French director. Le Crime de Jean Malory was written in 1877 by Ernest Daudet (1837-1921), a prolific and talented writer, always dogged by the qualification, “elder brother of Alphonse Daudet”. The director Dominique Bernard-Deschamps (1892-1966) had a very sporadic career, directing only a dozen films between 1908 and 1940, of which the only ones remembered are his sound films, the excellent Le Rosier de Madame Husson, Monsieur Coccinnelle (1938), a gentle satire on the French petite bourgeoisie, and, if only for von Stroheim’s bizarre performance in an all-star cast, Tempête (1940). It is likely that Pathé recommended the young director, who had just completed two films for the company.
The surviving print of the film runs approximately 45 minutes – the original length was recorded as 70 minutes – but shows very few signs of truncation. However, such excessive compression of Daudet’s novel results in something of a comic-book narrative style, most evident in the final scenes of full-blown horror.
The story begins on a battlefield, where the officer Jean Malory encounters a sinister scavenger, Ivan Goubine, who comes to reflect and incite his own darker self. Implored by a dying officer, Commander Maldrée, to help his fiancée care for his orphaned son, Malory instead robs the lady and burns down her house. She escapes, but with the loss of her reason.
Years later, thanks to his ill-gotten fortune, Malory is the Baron de Brucourt, living in a castle with his daughter Renée. By chance Renée meets and falls in love with the son of Commander Maldrée. But Malory/Brucourt has promised his daughter to the sinister Prince Bebleden, who is revealed as none other than Ivan Goubine…
Goubine is played by Paul Vermoyal (1888-1925), who has the look of Conrad Veidt and, in corporeal and facial contortion, anticipates the more extravagant performances of German Expressionist horror: it is no surprise that he was acting at the Grand Guignol theatre when Abel Gance discovered and cast him in Le Droit à la vie (1917). Jean Malory is the stolid Sévérin-Mars (1873-1921), Gance’s leading actor in J’accuse and La Roue, who was to work with Bernard-Deschamps again in L’Agonie des aigles (1922), from a script by Julien Duvivier.
For the rest of his principal cast, however, Ermolieff found distinguished Russian émigrés, who seem fortunately to have been passing through Paris at that moment. Renée is played by one of Bauer’s major stars at the Khanzhonkov studio, Vera Karalli (1889-1972), who was also a soloist at the Bolshoi Theatre. (As mistress of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Karalli has always been supposed to have been a co-conspirator, present at the murder of Rasputin in December 1916, though her name was never exposed by the male perpetrators, Prince Dmitry and Prince Felix Yusupov.) Henri Svoboda, who plays the young Maldrée, was also an admired solo dancer of the Imperial Ballet. Comoedia (7 December 1919) reported that Karalli and three premiers danseurs of the Imperial Ballet – Svoboda, Eugenia Boldireff, and Tourievsky (whose role in the film is not established) – would appear in La Nuit du 11 Septembre, and planned to make other films, including Madelon and La Marche funèbre, neither of which appears to have been realized. Karalli, as Vera Caroly, was to make only one more film, the German Die Rache einer Frau (1921).
Although Ermolieff was without his regular design staff, the film is good-looking, with some striking skyline shots in the opening battlefield sequence. There is no evidence where the interiors were shot, but it is likely (from the use of narrow sets with deep vistas) that Ermolieff used the Pathé Montreuil studio, which he was to lease on 16 July 1920 following the foundation of Société-Ermolieff-Cinéma. Some recent sources credit Nicolas Toporkov with the photography, but Toporkov was a cameraman with Wrangel’s army, who only arrived in France in 1920, joining Ermolieff in 1921. Most likely Ermolieff was working with Pathé staff technicians.
The only explanation of the film’s title is that the grave of Jean Malory’s wife, who dies early in the film, is inscribed “Jeanne Malory …11 Septembre 1919”. - The film was restored in 1994 from a period nitrate print of a Canadian release version, acquired in the early years of the Cinémathèque Française, with French and English intertitles. The original tinting was reproduced in 2009. – David Robinson"

In the intertitles there are several quotes from Victor Hugo's lyrics. - The speed was fast. The tint was heavy. The print had the look of one intermediate too many (loss of fine detail, in certain shots facial expressions are missing). - It was impressive to see Vera Karalli again after Thursday's viewing of After Death. - Below average. The story and the performances are over-the-top melodramatic but the film is professionally made, and there is visual flair in the cinematography. Of historical importance.


Pekka Linnainen said...

Elokuvaa esitettiin Tartossa samoina toukokuun päivinä 1921, kun Eino Leino vieraili kaupungissa. Postimees-lehden mainos, joka kosiskelee Victor Hugon nimellä:

Antti Alanen said...

Pekka Linnainen, kiinnostava tieto! Antti