Saturday, October 13, 2018

Desmet Collection 2018: Neighbours (curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi)


When Mary Grew Up (US 1913) di James Young. Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM)
Language: English
Grand piano, ukulele, song: Nick Sosin
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 6 Oct 2018

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi: Neighbours

"Some themes are truly timeless and universally recognizable. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the aphorism “Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” In his poem “Mending Wall”, published in 1914, Robert Frost writes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” (Franklin meant it in a joking way, while Frost was being bitingly ironic.) A good number of films in this selection take these words very literally."

"Almost all of them (with the exception of Park Your Car, featuring neighbours getting along so well that they decide to invest together in a shared car) are about the well-known neighbourly irritations: the noise, the messiness, or simply the unpleasant characters of those living next door. Of course the classic topic of “falling in love with the boy or girl next door” is not forgotten either."

"What is noticeable in this year’s selection is that almost all the films end up being comedies, albeit of different sorts. Also, music seems to form an undercurrent; three films are directly about overhearing the neighbours playing a musical instrument, allowing a nice insight into the firm and functional presence of (loud) music within early silent cinema."

"Visually speaking, it is interesting to note that the theme of neighbours seem to inspire a universally acknowledged cinematography: many of these films either have the camera pan up and down, or left and right, or the frame is split vertically (and sometimes horizontally) in order to show the neighbours simultaneously on both sides of a garden fence, balcony, apartments, or even different floors of a building."

"A number of other films that would fit the topic were not used this year because they were already screened in earlier editions; such as Le acque miracolose (1914), where Gigetta Morano gets pregnant with the special “help” of her upstairs neighbour, who also happens to be her doctor, and Cunégonde trop curieuse (1912), where her constant spying on her neighbours in the apartment building drives  everyone mad."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (GCM)

Max Linder in Mes voisins font danser (Repos Impossible) (Noisy Neighbors / My
Neighbors Are Giving a Dance) (FR 1908) di Max Linder?, Louis Gasnier?. Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

MES VOISINS FONT DANSER (28 mm Pathé-Kok: Repos Impossible) (US: Noisy Neighbors; GB: My Neighbours Are Giving a Dance) (FR 1908)
regia/dir: Max Linder? Louis Gasnier? cast: Max Linder. prod, dist: Pathé Frères. uscita/rel: 6/1908. copia/copy: 35 mm, 61.60 m (orig. 70 m), 3’04” (18 fps); senza didascalie/no intertitles. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione effettuata nel 2000 dall’Immagine Ritrovata a partire da un Pathé-Kok 28 mm gonfiato a 35. / Preserved in 2000 at the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory from a 28 mm positive Pathé-Kok film print, blown up to 35 mm.

"Max has a splitting headache and tries to take a rest. However, his upstairs neighbours are having a crowded party, complete with loud music and singing. Max is desperate and bangs on the ceiling for them to stop, but instead they all start stamping on the floor, bringing the ceiling crashing down in Max’s apartment."

"The print is a blow-up from the 28 mm Pathé-Kok release, and as such carries the re-release title Repos impossible. Like many upstairs-downstairs neighbour films, this comic short contains a pan movement to reveal the neighbours upstairs, who at the end of the film spectacularly tumble down into Max’s bedroom. According to Raymond Chirat and Éric Le Roy, the film is directed either by Louis Gasnier or Max Linder himself."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Inspired mayhem in a catastrophe comedy based on the hyperbole principle. Max Linder at his wildest. The visual quality: what can be expected from a heavily used blow-up from 28 mm.

THE LITTLE BOYS NEXT DOOR (Twee kleine nietsnutters) (GB 1911)
regia/dir: Percy Stow. prod: Clarendon Film Co. copia/copy: 35 mm, 341 ft, 5′ (18 fps); senza didascalie/no intertitles. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).

"This British film, held in the Desmet Collection, has always been known as Two Naughty Boys, by James Williamson. There were many comedies made around this time featuring naughty children in a variety of simple scenarios, generally misbehaving in the way that children do, with an anarchic glee. It was a popular genre in the 1900s and just into the 1910s, and could trace its origins back to the Lumières’ L’Arroseur arrosé (1895), in which a boy plays a trick on a gardener by standing on a hose-pipe to cut off the water, releasing it when the gardener squints down the tube to detect the blockage."

"In this film, two quite young boys race around a parlour, diving under furniture and carpets to evade an irate grown-up before the scene shifts to the garden, where the boys’ attempt to retrieve a lost shuttlecock somehow leads to an epic hose-pipe fight. Comparing the age of the boys to those in Williamson’s earlier film, Our Errand Boy (1905), starring his sons Tom and Stuart Williamson, leads me to think this is actually a Clarendon film of 1911, The Little Boys Next Door. The boys are much smaller and younger-looking, it fits Percy Stow’s anarchic style, and the storyline from the contemporary synopsis fits well."
Bryony Dixon

AA: Also this film escalates into an all-out battle mode from its Lumièresque premises. An appetite for wholesale destruction is evident in early cinema.

LES BOTTINES DU COLONEL (FR 1910)
regia/dir: ? scen: M. Lamsoon [Eugène Salomon]. cast: M. Grégoire (Colonel Ronchon), M. Tramont (Paul), Mlle. [Hélène] Maïa (Jeanne), M. [René] Bussy (orderly). prod: Éclair A.C.A.D. copia/copy: 35 mm, 182.70 m (orig. 205 m), 8’58” (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: FRA; titolo di testa mancante/main title missing. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection). Preserved in 1991 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Paul is in love with his next-door neighbor Jeanne, the daughter of Colonel Ronchon. They communicate through the adjoining balcony, but one day Paul accidentally drops a note in the Colonel’s boots, left outside to air. As he warns Jeanne, they both go out of their way to remove the Colonel’s boots to retrieve the note before he notices."

"The print credits the actors only by their surnames, together with the theatre troupes they belonged to at the time. Two of the performers appear to have been killed at the front during WWI: M. Grégoire of the Théâtre Cluny, who plays Colonel Ronchon, and Tramont (apparently not the actor Émile Tramont but a performer who only went by the one name), whose death on the battlefield in 1916 is confirmed by a belated obituary published in 1918 in Les Annales du théâtre et de la musique."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: The Colonel's Boots. A chase comedy about tricking the Colonel to remove his boot to retrieve a hidden love letter. Visual quality: obscured by heavy tinting.

Julia Swayne Gordon, Flora Finch, Clara Kimball Young
When Mary Grew Up (US 1913) di James Young
Photo: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

WHEN MARY GREW UP (Een meisje dat een jongen had moeten zijn) (US 1913)
regia/dir: James Young. cast: Clara Kimball Young (Mary [Dutch print: Marie]), E.K. Lincoln (John Benson [Dutch print: Johan Hammond]), Flora Finch (la domestica/the maid), Julia Swayne Gordon (la zia/Mary’s aunt), Wally Van (il ragazzo del droghiere/grocer’s boy), Max Koster? (poliziotto/policeman), James Young? (autista adirato/irate driver?). prod, dist: Vitagraph. uscita/rel: 28.1.1913. copia/copy: 35 mm, 958 ft (292 m; orig. 1000 ft), 14′ (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection). Preservazione effettuata nel 1992 presso Haghefilm da un internegativo. / Preserved in 1992 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Mary is an irrepressible teenager whose rambunctiousness drives her guardian aunt to distraction. When the family maid locks her in her room, she dons boy’s clothes and climbs out the window, getting into trouble when she’s caught by neighbour John Benson, stealing his apples. Attitudes change though when he discovers the pretty girl hidden underneath the mannish attire, and Mary seconds the flirtation, but clearly on her own terms."

"“If all comedies could be as captivating as When Mary Grew Up, reviewing would be a joy indeed,” crowed the critic for the New York Dramatic Mirror (5 February 1913), and few would gainsay his remarks, for the film is an absolute delight (it hasn’t been screened at the Giornate since 1987). It could just as easily have fit into last year’s “Nasty Women” programme, as Clara Kimball Young’s Mary is the sort of delicious spitfire whose headstrong pursuit of instant gratification knows few limits. When Mary Grew Up is yet further proof of the 23-year-old Kimball Young’s superb comic timing, and while she became a noted dramatic actress under Lewis J. Selznick’s guidance, one can’t help but feel a sense of loss that she, like Norma Talmadge, was pushed to jettison laughter in favor of d-r-a-m-a. As Moving Picture World (8 February 1913) wrote, “There is not a dull moment in this fine comedy.”"

"Be sure to notice the school pennants decorating Mary’s room, all of which attest to her strong-minded sense of female solidarity. There’s one for Belmont College for Young Women in Nashville, Tennessee (which merged the same year with a nearby school to become Ward-Belmont College); Western High School, founded in 1844 and the oldest public all-girls high school remaining in the U.S.; and Agnes Scott College, an all-women’s institute of higher learning founded in 1889 in Decatur, Georgia."
Jay Weissberg

AA: "Nasty woman" indeed, and also with an affinity with Ossi Oswalda in Ernst Lubitsch's Ich möchte kein Mann sein. Clara Kimball Young is a fireball in this Vitagraph comedy. Visual quality ranges from a duped look to beautiful.

Gontran et la voisine inconnue (FR 1913)
Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam


GONTRAN ET LA VOISINE INCONNUE (Gontran en zijn onbekende buurvrouw) (FR 1913)
regia/dir: ?. cast: René Gréhan. prod, dist: Éclair. copia/copy: 35 mm, 167 m (orig. 202 m), 8’22” (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).  Preservazione effettuata nel 1990 presso Haghefilm da un internegativo. / Preserved in 1990 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Gontran (René Gréhan) is so obsessed with playing the piano that he completely neglects his wife Arlette (or Alida as she is called in the Dutch intertitles). She moves to a house within hearing distance and begins to take piano lessons. Gontran is entranced by the music and starts courting this mysterious and talented neighbour from behind the garden fence, much to her satisfaction.
Gréhan (dates unknown) seems to have been a very prolific stage actor in the early 1900s at various theatres, including the Grand Guignol,“where five or six times an evening he switches between both tragic and comic roles with equal ease” (according to Film-Revue no. 13, 1913). Employed by Pathé as early as 1906, he moved to Éclair and was featured as the comic character Gontran between 1910 and 1913, when he was compared to Max Linder: “As played by Gréhan, (…) Gontran is an anxious, overconfident bourgeois type not unlike Max — and his polished style of performance and facial appearance (large eyes, hair parted in the middle, and thin moustache) do remind one of Linder.” (Richard Abel, The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914). In the United States, the series was first released using the Gontran name, but was changed to “Nutty” between 1913-14."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Gontran and the Mysterious Neighbour. Gontran starts to romance a mysterious neighbour on the other side of the fence who turns out to be nobody else than his own wife. A comedy of remarriage: music first separates, then unites them. Funny and Linderesque as Elif states.

Totò senz'acqua (1911) with Totò (Émile Vardannes).

TOTÒ SENZ’ACQUA (Toto sans eau / US: Toto Without Water) (IT 1911)regia/dir, scen: Emilio Vardannes. cast: Emilio Vardannes. prod: Itala Film. uscita/rel: 9.8.1911. copia/copy: 35 mm, 140.70 m (orig. 151 m), 5’08” (24 fps); did./titles: FRA. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione/Preserved: 1991, Haghefilm.

"The water is cut off in Totò’s apartment building, so he volunteers to go to the water company and demand an explanation. However, by the time he gets there his house starts flooding, since he’s forgotten to close the tap and the pipe has been repaired in the meantime. Luckily his neighbours manage to reach him by phone and make him come home as quickly as possible."

"Émile (or Emilio) Vardannes (born Antonin Bénevént, 1868? – 1951) was a French actor who entered films in Italy in 1909. In 1911, Turin-based Itala Film cast him in the Totò series, for which he’s often credited as director, scenarist, and main actor. His international popularity was swift, with Moving Picture World (11.08.1911) commenting on Toto Without Water: “Toto is something of a favorite and his antics in this picture will not reduce his popularity in any degree.” In 1912 Vardannes switched to Milano-Films, where he was featured in the “Bonifacio” comedy series into 1913, and then continued a rich career in both dramatic (Hannibal, in Cabiria) and comic roles into the sound era. The film was first released in France as Toto sans eau in 1911, but was reissued in 1914 when, according to Aldo Bernardini and Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano. 1911), it was re-edited."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Another comedy of hyperbole. First the comic possibilities of water shortage and then those of a mighty flood are milked to the utmost. So many early comedies appealed to our "Nero complex" to quote André Bazin's expression about the catastrophe genre. The satisfaction of total destruction. From a duped source full of scratches.

La Vengeance du sergent de ville (FR 1913) di Louis Feuillade
Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam


LA VENGEANCE DU SERGENT DE VILLE (De Wraak van den politie-agent) (FR 1913)
regia/dir: Louis Feuillade. cast: Paul Manson (Monsieur Brême [Dutch print: Brasem], il proprietario/apartment owner), André Luguet (suo figlio/his son), Yvette Andreyor (sua nuora/his daughter-in-law Marcelle), Louis Leubas (poliziotto/the policeman), Renée Carl. prod, dist: Gaumont. uscita/rel: 31.1.1913. copia/copy: 35 mm, 255 m (orig. 265 m), 13’33” (16 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione effettuata nel 1991 presso Haghefilm. / Preserved in 1991 at Haghefilm.

"Newlyweds move next door to a policeman (Louis Leubas) who delights in playing the horn whenever he pleases. This gets on everyone’s nerves, especially the young bride (Yvette Andreyor), who soon becomes hysterical from the noise. The doctor prescribes a peculiar cure; she must be provided with a substitute policeman she can torture as she wishes, for up to 8 days. The family brings in a life-size doll, the spitting image of the neighbour. The cure proves to be very efficient, and Mrs. Brasem’s health improves. Curious to know why she’s no longer complaining, the policeman drills a hole in the wall, and on seeing the doll, decides to take his place. Although the very last metres appear to be missing, this film is a must-see as one of the more bizarre examples within the “neighbours” theme. Some sources indicate Suzanne Grandais as among the cast, but it is hard to establish the source of this information, and she is nowhere to be seen." Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: A Policeman's Revenge. A funny farce directed by Louis Feuillade about a music-loving policeman. His instrument is a natural horn with which he dominates / terrorizes the surroundings. The house is shaking when he blows his horn. The neighbours' outlandish survival strategy is to acquire a life-size voodoo doll of the melomaniac. An ok print.

Park Your Car (1920) starring Snub Pollard.

PARK YOUR CAR (Auto-manieakken) (US 1920)
regia/dir: Alf Goulding. scen: Hal Roach. cast: Harry [“Snub”] Pollard, Marie Mosquini, Hughey Mack, Sunshine Sammy Morrison, Ernie Morrison Sr., Sammy Brooks, Earl Mohan, Vera White. prod: Hal Roach, Rolin Film Co. dist: Pathé Exchange. uscita/rel: 19.12.1920. copia/copy: 35 mm, 853 ft (260 m; orig. 1 rl.), 8’57” (24 fps); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Zaalberg Collection). Preservazione: 2008, presso Haghefilm./Preserved in 2008 at Haghefilm.

"Sometimes neighbours get along just fine, as in Park Your Car. Here the problem comes when Snub Pollard and Hughey Mack think they can save money by buying a car together – only the vehicle they get isn’t quite what they bargained for."

"Snub Pollard (1889-1962) is still one of the most recognizable faces of silent comedy. His screen character was that of a goofy goon with a long, droopy Fu Manchu moustache. But not in Park Your Car. This short is a rare example from a brief period in 1920 when producer Hal Roach decided to change Snub’s look. Having had great success moving Harold Lloyd from the grotesque Lonesome Luke to a young everyman with glasses, Roach thought he’d try the same thing with Pollard. The problem was the Pollard films were anything- for-a-laugh gag fests in the Mack Sennett tradition, and without the upper lip hair Snub got lost in the shuffle. So after being clean-shaven in a few entries like Cash Customers and The Morning After (both 1920) the moustache returned."

"Pollard was a graduate of the Australian children’s troupe Pollard’s Lilliputians, and began his film career in 1913 working for Universal and then Essanay, where he connected with Hal Roach. When Roach set up his own production company, Snub was hired to be second banana for his star comic Harold Lloyd. In 1919 he was given his own one-reel series, and he spent the 1920s as a star for Roach and Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures."

"Snub always got a lot of help from his friends in his comedies, and on hand in Park Your Car is his usual leading lady Marie Mosquini. His large buddy is Hughey Mack, former stalwart from the Vitagraph Company, who would move into support in features, and become a favorite of director Erich von Stroheim for pictures such as Greed (1923), The Merry Widow (1925), and The Wedding March (1927)."
Steve Massa

AA: Without realizing that this is a Hal Roach production I noticed the motif of a car coming apart, familiar from Max Davidson and Laurel & Hardy comedies, among others. Nobody could milk as much fun from the theme of a disintegrating car as Hal Roach. In this Snub Pollard comedy the motif is still pretty primitive, but already very funny. Alf Goulding has a touch for action comedy, but the characters are crude slapstick figures. Visual quality: from a duped to a fair look.

Desmet programs curated by Elif Rongen belong to my top favourites in Pordenone, and my only complaint is that there are not more of them. With Max Linder, Clara Kimball Young, Gontran, Totò, and Snub Pollard this selection is also a very nice cross-section of silent comedians.

In Old Kentucky (1927) (2018 restoration Library of Congress)


In Old Kentucky (1927). Drawings feature James Murray and Helene Costello, and Stepin Fetchit and Carolynne Snowden.

Ritorno alla vita / Old Kentucky [Swedish title]
US 1927
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
scen: A. P. Younger, Lew Lipton; dalla pièce di/based on the play by Charles T. Dazey (1893).
didascalie/titles: Marian Ainslee, Ruth Cummings.
photog: Maximilian Fabian.
mont/edit: Basil Wrangell, Margaret Booth.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Ernest [Ernst] Fegté.
cost: Gilbert Clark.
asst dir: David Friedman.
cast: James Murray (Jimmy Brierly), Helene Costello (Nancy Holden), Wesley Barry (“Skippy” Lowry), Dorothy Cumming (Mrs. Brierly), Edward Martindel (Mr. Brierly), Harvey Clark (Dan Lowry), Stepin Fetchit [Lincoln Perry] (Highpockets), Carolynne Snowden (Lily May), Nick Cogley (Uncle Bible), [Sidney Bracy], Jiggs the dog.
prod: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.
dist: M-G-M.
uscita/rel: 29.10.1927.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 6154 ft (orig. 6646 ft), 78′ (21 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    The title song featuring prominently in the narrative since the overture, is Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" (1852).
    Not released in Finland.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
    Grand piano: Philip Carli
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (John M. Stahl), 13 Oct 2018

Imogen Sara Smith (GCM): "In 1927, Stahl left Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to become an executive of the independent Tiffany Pictures, renamed Tiffany-Stahl Productions, and while acting as a producer there took a three-year hiatus from directing. His last film for M-G-M, In Old Kentucky, thus also became the last silent film he directed. It seems an unusual project for him, a departure from the female-centered melodramas and light comedies for which he was known in the 1920s. The source was an 1893 stage melodrama by Charles T. Dazey, which it is impossible to resist calling a warhorse, both for its equestrian subject matter and the frequency with which it returned over the decades, both on stage and screen. (Louis B. Mayer had already produced an adaptation, directed by Marshall Neilan, in 1919, and a later version in 1935 would star Will Rogers.) These various films diverge widely, and each took great liberties with the play: Stahl’s version, adapted by A.P. Younger, focuses on the aftermath of World War I, and culminates in a Kentucky Derby race that manages to simultaneously heal the fortunes of a ruined horse-breeding family and the psyche of the war-damaged son and heir, played by the tragically troubled actor James Murray."

"The Bronx-born Murray was allegedly an unknown extra when director King Vidor discovered and cast him as the lead in The Crowd (1928), a performance that brought him immortality but which is invariably linked to the observation that his own sad fate echoed the film’s downbeat arc. Though his widely admired work in The Crowd led to other starring roles, a drinking problem seemingly tied to deep insecurity soon derailed his career; alcoholic and destitute, Murray drowned in 1936, whether accidentally or as a suicide. (In a sad coincidence, screenwriter A. P. Younger committed suicide in 1931.) If the account of Murray’s discovery is true, this would suggest that In Old Kentucky was made after, though released before, Vidor’s film. Though this film does not approach the level of The Crowd, the role of Jimmy Brierly also draws on Murray’s raw emotional intensity and foreshadows his personal self-destructiveness. Before going off to war, Jimmy is a carefree, golden youth; when he returns, he is a drunken, dissolute gambler who shuns or quarrels with all his loved ones."

"That his transformation is the result of combat trauma (“shell shock,” in World War I parlance) is never made explicit, but comes across strongly in Murray’s performance, redolent of self-loathing buried under a self-medicated haze. It is reinforced by the narrative link between Jimmy and Queen Bess, a prize racehorse contributed to the war effort by the Brierly patriarch; the two meet amid the rain, mud, and murk of the trenches, and much later the scarred and battered Queen Bess is recovered by the now-impoverished Brierlys and entered in the Kentucky Derby. Not surprisingly, this plot was met with considerable derision when the film came out: Variety’s review was so hostile (“inconceivably asinine in story and with kindergarten technique”) that M-G-M pressured them into a second review, with only slightly more favorable results. Even warmer reviews generally took for granted that the plot was ludicrous and the film’s success was in spite of it."

"Another element of the film that drew attention at the time and remains of interest is the substantial amount of time devoted to African-American actors Lincoln Perry, better known as Stepin Fetchit, as the ne’er-do-well Highpockets, and Carolynne Snowden as his long-suffering fiancée, Lily May, who works as a maid. These black characters are mainly treated as comic relief, much of it offensive to modern viewers, but given the extremely poor standards of such roles, they are presented sympathetically and allowed space for performances that, at least occasionally, feel natural and affecting. Snowden’s close-ups are so peculiarly touching that her recurring role as the butt of white laughter feels even more cruel (a familiar face, she would go on to play small roles, often as a singer or dancer, in well-known films like A Day at the Races, Murder at the Vanities, and Roman Scandals), and the eternally controversial Perry’s performance is more sly and rascally, less exaggeratedly slow-witted than the later style that would become notorious. This was his breakthrough film, and Stahl would cast him in three productions at Tiffany-Stahl. There was even talk of his directing Perry and Snowden in a film with an all-black cast; this never happened, though the director’s interest in African-American characters would return with greater nuance in Imitation of Life (1934)."
Imogen Sara Smith (GCM)

Synopsis from the AFI Catalog: "Disillusioned by his experiences in the World War, Jimmy Brierly returns, a gambler and a drunk, to his family of Kentucky horsebreeders. He finds poverty threatening the estate, all the horses having been contributed to the war effort. Then a famous racehorse, once owned by Mr. Brierly, that Jimmy rode in the war is by coincidence repurchased. Entered in the Derby, it recoups the family fortune."

AA: The Kentucky Derby is the site of thrilling sequences featuring the beloved racehorse Queen Bess. After the World War all hope seems lost in the final derby, but Jimmy the gambler (James Murray) covers the registration fee, and Queen Bess, a war veteran like Jimmy, is "a mudder", and when a torrential rain breaks out, Queen Bess wins the race.

The depiction of African-Americans is painful to a modern viewer. True, Stepin Fetchit's harmonica solo (in a silent film) is a stunningly emotional show-stopper for everybody. But in general the African-Americans are seen as stupid and childish people. This dates this film fatally.

Like in The Child Thou Gavest Me, war trauma is a key theme. Both Jimmy and Queen Bess have experienced permanent damage.

The whole family has suffered terribly because of the war. The family is so badly in debt that the performance of Queen Bess is fatal. In normal conditions the horse would not be fit to participate, but the rain and the mud change everything.

The story is closer to the conventional mainstream than Stahl's best films. The performances are again excellent. The feeling of sadness and loss is genuine, including among the black characters.

The physical production is handsome.

Philip Carli provided a vigorous piano interpretation, not forgetting the title song that brings everyone to tears in the overture.

Maximilian Fabian's cinematography is dynamic.

The visual quality is beautiful in this excellent Library of Congress restoration.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Memory Lane (2018 restoration by Library of Congress)


Memory Lane starring Eleanor Boardman.

La fidanzata rapita / Morsiamen ryöstö
US 1926
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
scen: Benjamin Glazer.
sogg/story: John M. Stahl, Benjamin Glazer.
photog: Percy Hilburn, asst. Eddy Fitzgerald.
mont/ed: Margaret Booth.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Arnold Gillespie.
asst dir: Sidney Algier.
unit mgr: Charles R. Condon.
cast: Eleanor Boardman (Mary), Conrad Nagel (Jimmy Holt), William Haines (Joe Field), John Steppling (il padre di Mary/Mary’s father), Eugenie Forde (la madre di Mary/Mary’s mother), Frankie Darro (scugnizzo/urchin), Dot Farley, Joan Standing (domestiche/maids), Kate Price (donna in cabina telefonica/woman in telephone booth), Florence Midgley, Dale Fuller, Billie Bennett, [Ruby Lafayette, Myrtle Rishell, Earl Metcalf, Marguerite Steppling, Thelma Salter].
prod: John M. Stahl Productions; pres. Louis B. Mayer.
dist: First National Pictures.
uscita/rel: 17.1.1926.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 6741 ft (orig. 6825 ft), 81′ (22 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano and song: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian, 12 Oct 2018

Lea Jacobs (GCM): "Memory Lane is in many ways the undiscovered gem of the Stahl silents. An affectionate but gently satirical evocation of American small-town life, a sentimental but restrained form of melodrama, and a brilliant experiment with aperture framings, it can take its place among Stahl’s best films. On the evening of her wedding to Jim (Conrad Nagel), Mary (Eleanor Boardman) is confronted by Joe (William Haines), a former beau who has been out of town for a year. "

"Mistakenly dragooned to drive the car for the newly married couple, Joe quarrels with the groom and speeds off with the bride. They spend the night miserably in the car after running out of gas and the next morning Mary returns to the groom. Some years later, Joe visits the couple and their baby. Mary is repulsed by his coarse, vulgar demeanor and decides she made the right choice, but her husband realizes that Joe has put on an act to ensure the happiness of the woman he still loves."

"The film was criticized by Variety for the slightness of the plot, but it was praised for the same qualities by others. The New York Times described it as “an amusing, smoothly running small town comedy,” in which the plot unfolded, “with a gentle appreciation for subtlety.” Film Daily noted: “‘Memory Lane’ is as subtle and pleasing a bit of entertainment as anyone would want. It has a simple little story that probably wouldn’t get very far without the unusually fine treatment given it by director Stahl.” The simplicity of the plot for which Stahl is both blamed and praised in the case of Memory Lane stands in sharp contrast to the complex plots and histrionics of the early melodramas, such as Sowing the Wind and The Child Thou Gavest Me."

"The film is one of three that Stahl made with screenwriter Benjamin Glazer, and the only one to survive. Fine Clothes, released in August 1925, was adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s farce Fashions for Men (Úri divat), which Glazer had translated and directed on Broadway. The Gay Deceiver, released through M-G-M in October 1926, was based on the comedy Patachon by Maurice Hennequin and Félix Duquesnel, as adapted by Achmed Abdullah under the title Toto for the New York stage. Memory Lane, the final Stahl/Mayer production released through First National in January 1926, was from an original script credited to Glazer and Stahl. Glazer may also have influenced the casting of Memory Lane. He had provided the story for Hobart Henley’s flapper comedy Sinners in Silk (M-G-M, September 1924), which had Eleanor Boardman and Conrad Nagel in major roles, and thus presumably would have known their work. The subtlety of the film commented upon in the trade press shows the influence of the two previous farces made with Glazer, and more generally of the genre of sophisticated comedy on Stahl’s work. Indeed, in an article on Stahl written in 1924, Whitney Williams of the Los Angeles Times asserted a similarity between Stahl and Lubitsch, classifying them both as exemplars of a “Viennese school” of direction: “Whenever it is possible a light situation is utilized, albeit the lightness may be far more subtle than a heavy dramatic situation.”

"Mary sneaks out of her family house and meets Joe on the night before her wedding to Jim. The tone is nostalgic and sad rather than comic. As they pass the old schoolhouse they reminisce about their first meeting and about growing up together. Their conversation is interspersed with cut-aways to a group of boys singing on the village green. Fragments of the song lyrics are quoted in the intertitles. The first is “When You Were Sweet Sixteen,” James Thornton’s 1898 hit and a barbershop quartet standard. The second is the ballad “Memory Lane,” by Buddy De Sylva (lyrics) and Larry Spier and Con Conrad (music):"

I am with you, wandering through, memory lane.
Living the years, laughter and tears, over again.
I am dreaming yet, of the night we met, when life was a lovely refrain.
You were so shy, saying goodbye, there in the dark.
Only a glance, full of romance, and you were gone.
Though my dreams are in vain, my love will remain.
Strolling again, memory lane with you.

"Mary tells Joe she would have waited forever for him, but he did not ask, and now it is too late: she feels obliged to carry through with her promise to marry Jim. She embraces him and they part.
The film shifts into a light comic register, with the device of having Jim mistake Joe for the driver. After a quarrel develops between the men, Joe impulsively drives off with Mary, leaving Jim to walk back to town. The elliptical and amusing evocation of an innocent but potentially scandalous night is typical of the “lightness” associated with Lubitsch and what the Los Angeles Times reviewer saw as the “Viennese school” of direction. Joe, outside the stopped car, tries to signal to Mary within that they are out of gas. They gesticulate and try to speak to each other without words. He re-enters the car and confirms that they are out of gas and miles from anywhere. A side view of the car shows Joe in the front seat and Mary in back, framed through separate windows. She puts her head down and begins to cry. Cut to the interior of the Bradley living room, where Jim sits waiting with Mary’s parents. Her father, distraught, refuses a cup of tea proffered by Mary’s mother. She also puts her head down and begins to cry. Cut to the car, a view through the rear window showing that the couple are now both in the back seat. Mary continues to cry and leans her head on Joe’s shoulder. Cut to a town gossip on the phone, and then to a shot of exterior telephone wires alight with multiple calls. Cut to the car, where we see Mary and Joe asleep in the back seat. Fade to black."

"Percy Hilburn’s cinematography is elegant throughout, but is most notable in the film’s middle sections. The sequence of the wedding makes use of aperture framings as Joe, in tears, watches the wedding through the front window of the house, while Mary also cries within. Later, there are varied framings through the windshield, windows, and door of the car that contains Joe, Jim, and Mary. Stahl also organizes terrific compositions in depth in the relatively confined space of the car. It is a mark of Stahl’s skill as a director that the ending returns, in an ironic mode, to the nostalgia of the opening (and to the title song). The film’s final act clearly points to the director’s continued investment in melodrama and sentiment as well as his interest in sophisticated comedy."
Lea Jacobs (GCM)

AA: Like Husbands and Lovers, John M. Stahl's Memory Lane is a triangle story where the other man is the best friend of both husband and wife. This film is different, but both are intriguingly serious beyond the light and entertaining surface.

Love is a play with fire.

Husbands and Lovers is an example of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding. In Memory Lane only the wedding night is cancelled. Due to a series of accidents, the husband Jimmy (Conrad Nagel) is expelled from the bridal car which runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere. It is pouring with rain, and so it happens that the wife Mary (Eleanor Boardman) spends the night in the arms of her best friend Joe (William Haines).

It is a scandal from the viewpoint of outsiders, and we see an amusing trick shot of hot telephone wires burning like fire.

The three friends, Mary, Jimmy and Joe, handle it with tact and good judgement. This is not a tale of jealousy. Joe would do nothing improper with Mary. Jimmy knows they wouldn't.

Meanwhile, Joe has always loved Mary and always will, and Mary knows this. But the choice has been made, and Jimmy's love has an even more profound character, and they all realize this. The fact that Jimmy can put the humiliation of the wedding night behind him is a proof of that character.

The final twist is Joe's boorish behavior as a crude upstart when he reappears in his home town three years later. Mary and Jimmy are startled, but Jimmy guesses that Joe is putting on an act to finally estrange Mary from him.

We have learned to know John M. Stahl as a talented director of women and children. Here he proves also an excellent director of babies in the funny sequence of the first birthday party of the little one.
The male performances of many of Stahl's best films of the thirties are strikingly wooden, but in his silent films they are complex and interesting.

An amusing coincidence: two wives of King Vidor's starring in Husbands and Lovers (Florence Vidor) and Memory Lane (Eleanor Boardman).

Donald Sosin provided an inspired musical interpretation, making good use of the title song "Memory Lane".

Luminous cinematography by Benjamin Glazer and a brilliant restoration from Library of Congress.

The Home Maker (UCLA restoration from 16 mm)


The Home Maker starring Alice Joyce as Eva Knapp.

US 1925
regia/dir: King Baggot.
scen: Mary O’Hara.
photog: John Stumar.
cast: Alice Joyce (Eva Knapp), Clive Brook (Lester Knapp), Billy Kent Schaeffer (Stephen), George Fawcett (Dr. Merritt), Virginia Boardman (Mrs. Prouty), Elaine Ellis (Molly Prouty), Maurice Murphy (Henry), Jacqueline Wells (Helen), Frank Newburg (Harvey Bronson), Margaret Campbell (zia/Aunt Mattie Farnum), Martha Mattox (Mrs. Anderson), Alfred Fisher (custode/janitor), Alice Flowers (Miss West), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hennessy), Lloyd Whitlock (Mr. Willings).
prod: Universal-Jewel.
uscita/rel: 22.11.1925.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 7755 ft, 86′ (24 fps); did./titles: English.
fonte/source: UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Restauro a cura di Robert Gitt che ha utilizzato una copia 16mm “Show-At-Home” della collezione Hampton. / Restored by Robert Gitt using a 16 mm Show-At-Home print from the Hampton Collection.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
    Grand piano: José Maria Serralde Ruiz
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 12 Oct 2018

Kevin Brownlow (GCM): "The director of this picture, King Baggot, was responsible for two of the worst silent pictures I’ve ever seen – Raffles (1925) and Down the Stretch (1927).  How can the same man possibly have made one of the best?"

"The Home Maker seems to me a forgotten classic. It was recommended to me by Bob Gitt , then at UCLA. He had recently restored another of my favourite silents, The Goose Woman (1925) – and had just finished work on this. I watched it on a flatbed viewer –the harshest test for any film – and I quickly realized I was watching King Baggot directing like King Vidor. How did this happen?
Baggot was one of the remarkable number of Irish-Americans attracted to the picture business. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1879, he went into real estate with his father and also played semi-professional baseball. He was active in amateur theatricals and was one of the earliest stage personalities to move permanently into pictures. This was in 1909, when actors preferred to be anonymous. He was the first to make a public appearance under his own name – a mob stormed the railroad station when he and co-star Leah Baird arrived at his hometown. He was one of the top stars of the period 1910-1916, playing in more than 300 pictures. He came to England in 1913 to make Ivanhoe for director Herbert Brenon – a fellow Irishman.  He began directing in 1915 and wrote and directed many of the films he played in. Perhaps his most famous production was Tumbleweeds (1925), William S. Hart’s elegiac tribute to the Old West."

"Although everyone liked him, he was a heavy drinker, and when he made a return to the stage in 1919 he was assigned a special assistant. I met this fellow [Frank Blount], who was actually a cameraman, paid simply to keep him sober. Perhaps it was the alcohol that made his work so wildly unpredictable? Baggot directed his last film in 1928, but continued, like so many early directors, playing bit parts until his death in 1948."

"He owed his film career to Carl Laemmle, who turned the IMP company into Universal Pictures, turning out inexpensive pictures on an assembly line for the undemanding audiences of the Midwest. These cheap pictures were called Red Feathers and Bluebirds. Universal later invested in spectacular epics to try to capture the big theatres.  Films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) were known as  Super-Jewels. But sometimes equally interesting were the Universal-Jewels, such as Clarence Brown’s Smouldering Fires and Baggot’s The Home Maker, both made in 1925. They were given extra time and money and unusual care and affection, and some have survived with a higher reputation than the epics."

"Admittedly, the 1924 novel by Dorothy Canfield was an exceptional book, and Mary O’Hara’s adaptation stays close to the original, but it was still possible – just possible – for a film company to ruin a fine book. There is, however, an intelligence apparent throughout this picture which does credit to all those who worked on it."

"Of the critics,  the all-important Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times seriously objected, “I could not abide the leading character’s weakness.” Otherwise, Screenland called it “terrific”, and Photoplay “intelligent, sternly realistic”, although Variety judged “Too much delving into child psychology when the picture definitely gets on the wrong track”. And Picture Play wrote: “Interesting picture, ruined by too much baby talk.”"

"When I interviewed Clive Brook in the 1960s, he showed me a photograph of Alice Joyce signed “Memoranda of a most pleasant engagement”. And yet not once does he refer to The Home Maker in his unpublished autobiography. I did ask him about King Baggot (“Oh yes, such a nice chap”) and Alice Joyce (“very impressive and very difficult”), but I knew nothing of the distinguished film they both worked on. Alice Joyce, incidentally, was married to director Clarence Brown."

"Historian Richard Koszarski, an expert on Universal, wrote that The Home Maker was one of the few dramatic works of the 1920s to argue unequivocally for the abandonment of stereotyped sex roles and to criticize the structure that prescribes such behaviour."

"Lester Knapp (Brook) is fired from his job in the office of a department store, and in order that his wife, Eva (Alice Joyce), can benefit from his insurance, he tries to commit suicide. He is crippled and confined to a wheelchair, so Eva has to become the breadwinner. She finds work far preferable to domesticity, and does so well she is quickly promoted. Lester equally enjoys being a house-husband, and because he pays so much attention to the children, they are far happier than before."

"As the slogan on the poster put it: “IT WILL START A RED-HOT DISCUSSION.”"

"According to Sally Dumaux’s book on King Baggot, the story is very similar to an IMP picture of 1910, Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens, which featured Baggot and Florence Lawrence."

"Nicola Beauman of Persephone Books, who reprinted Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s novel in London in 1999, was deeply impressed by the film. “I sat there with my mouth open. I thought it amazing how well they had adapted the book. And that child [Billy Kent Schaeffer] – how on earth was he directed?”"

"Billy Kent Schaeffer also appeared in The Hills Of Kentucky (1927), a Rin-Tin-Tin melodrama in which he was directed to give a more routine performance. Jacqueline Wells was renamed Julie Bishop when she grew up."

"When sound arrived, Universal gave orders for most of its 35mm silent negatives and prints to be destroyed – I have seen a letter which listed the titles to be saved. The Home Maker was not among them."

"In an unintended tribute to the output of the silent era, Variety said, “There are moments when The Home Maker almost reaches the heights of greatness. Unfortunately, the general impression … is only that of one more average feature picture.”"

"I suggest we all keep looking for more of those average feature pictures.
" Kevin Brownlow (GCM)

AA: A rewarding discovery and the biggest surprise in Kevin Brownlow's anniversary celebration tribute.

When Lester Knapp (Clive Brook) is fired and when he becomes crippled after a failed suicide attempt, the family happiness starts to blossom.

The Home Maker is a tale of "a blessing in a curse".

Despite being an invalid, Lester proves an excellent family father at home.

Most importantly, the true talents and qualities of his wife Eva (Alice Joyce) start to emerge as soon as she is free from home chores and able to start a career of her own. She proves superior in her job career. Everybody, especially the children, are happy until it turns out that Lester is recovering from his paralysis.

The doctor is invited but Lester persuades him to keep quiet of his improved condition. This is against the doctor's ethics. "No doctor can do him any good" is his final verdict.

"Who is the home maker?
The one on guard?
Or the one who goes to battle?"

Bob Gitt has performed some wizardry with a battered 16 mm source. A watchable print has emerged from a very special and intriguing film.

Ett farligt frieri / A Dangerous Wooing (2010 Desmet print from Svenska Filminstitutet)



Ett farligt frieri: Folkkomedi i fyra akter efter Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons berättelse med samma namn / Vaarallinen kosinta
SE 1919
regia/dir: Rune Carlsten.
scen: Rune Carlsten, Sam Ask; dal racconto di/based on the short story by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, “Et farligt frieri” (1856).
photog: Raoul Reynols, Carl Gustaf Florin.
scg/des: Gustaf Hallén.
cast: Lars Hanson (Tore Næsset), Gull Cronvall (Aslaug), Theodor Blich (Knut Husaby, il padre di Auslag/Aslaug’s father), Hjalmar Peters (Thormund), Kurt Welin (Ola, il figlio di Thormud/Thormund’s son), Hugo Tranberg, Gösta Cederlund (i fratelli di Auslag/Aslaug’s brothers), Hilda Castegren (la madre di Tore/Tore’s mother), Uno Henning, Torsten Bergström (corteggiatori/suitors).
prod: Filmindustri AB Skandia.
uscita/rel: 26.12.1919.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 1277 m (orig. 1339 m), 62′ (18 fps); did./titles: SWE.
fonte/source: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: Mauro Colombis.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (The Swedish Challenge 2), 12 Oct 2018

Magnus Rosborn & Casper Tybjerg (GCM): "In 19th-century Norway, the wealthy farmer’s daughter Aslaug has grown up to become a beautiful young woman, desired by most young men in her village. Night after night, her father and brothers have a hard time trying to keep all the young suitors away from her. Aslaug has eyes only for Tore, a poor crofter’s son and therefore an unworthy spouse in her father’s eyes. Following Aslaug’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy farmer’s son, she is sent up to the summer pasture on the mountain above the farm, but this does not stop Tore from visiting her. When Aslaug’s father and brothers catch him on the way home from a secret meeting with her, they beat him up and over-confidently defy him to try again: if he can get past them next Saturday night and reach the high pasture, the girl will be his. Since the only path is well-guarded, Tore decides to try to reach his goal by scaling the sheer cliff-face instead."

"A Dangerous Wooing is the second of two Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson adaptations made by the production company Skandia in the summer of 1919 in order to compete with their rivals Svenska Bio – the other one being John W. Brunius’s Synnöve Solbakken (A Norway Lass, shown in last year’s Giornate program). At first glance, the two films may seem very similar – they both take place during the same time period, they both star the tremendously popular Lars Hanson, and their exteriors were in both cases shot on location in the scenic Norwegian countryside. A Norway Lass, however, is a serious drama, while A Dangerous Wooing is better described as a light comedy with action sequences."

"Nevertheless, it shares the three characteristics most often associated with “Golden Age” films: it is a prestige production, it is based on an acclaimed literary work, and it makes effective use of Nordic nature as something more than a backdrop. Indeed, A Dangerous Wooing presents one of the era’s most evident examples of nature being integrated into the story: here, a mountain wall literally stands between the hero and the girl he loves. Its final image (very brief because of print damage) references one of the versions of the painting Brudeferd i Hardanger (The Wedding Party in Hardanger) by Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude, one of the most famous Norwegian artworks."

"The Swedish critics gave the film good reviews, writing that Rune Carlsten in his directorial debut had succeed in fashioning a cheerful and spirited movie with wonderful scenery, even if there were some complaints that the fight scenes had been given too much room. From a modern-day perspective, the gender roles in A Dangerous Wooing can seem stereotypical even compared to other films from the same era. It is difficult to find a more obvious depiction of passive female sexuality than Aslaug just sitting on her mountaintop, waiting while the men fight over her down in the valley. Still, the situation is given a certain archetypal depth by having her sing the haunting “Det var en lørdag Aften,” a poignant Danish folk song well known in Norway as well, about a girl waiting in vain for her faithless lover one Saturday night. What A Dangerous Wooing may lack in complex plotting and depth of characterization, it certainly makes up for in technical craftsmanship; the efficient editing stands out, especially in the fight scenes and the suspenseful cliff-hanging finale.
Carlsten, who also appeared as an actor in many movies, would continue to skillfully direct films up in the 1940s. Of his other surviving silent films the most notable ones are the wacky, very entertaining farce Robinson i skärgården (1920) and the artistically impressive August Strindberg adaptation Let No Man Put Asunder (Högre ändamål, 1921) – two films which both need proper restorations to be able to meet new audiences."

"About the restoration: In 1965 a duplicate negative was made from a nitrate print. Supplemented with new full-length intertitles made from the original text cards, a Desmet print was struck from the negative in 2010, using the tints in the original but decomposing nitrate print as reference. This new version received its restoration premiere in Oslo the same year, during the centennial commemorations of Bjørnson’s death."
Magnus Rosborn & Casper Tybjerg (GCM)

AA: As Magnus Rosborn and Casper Tybjerg state, Ett farligt frieri is similar to Synnöve Solbakken, also based on a Björnstjerne Björnson story, also starring Lars Hanson as the premier, also shot on locations among the magnificently scenic Norwegian mountains.

In this film the mountains are a truly central element, and Ett farligt frier is indeed a Bergfilm. In the mountain pasture Aslaug is spending her summer as a shepherd, and all suitors aspire to reach her there, blocked by a firm front of Aslaug's sturdy male family members.

There is no chance for Tore (Lars Hanson) to get onto the path that leads to Aslaug. That he realizes having been brutally beaten by the family patrol.

Tore and Aslaug now communicate through horns, singing and other sound signals.

Finally Tore decides to scale the steep and dangerous mountain bare-handedly. It is a thrilling action high point, similar to the rapid-shooting sequence in The Song of the Scarlet Flower, which had premiered in April in 1919. The premier proves the premier's manhood. And even though Tore comes from a poor family, now Aslaug's father is convinced, as well. "This boy is worth having".

Original art titles bring a charming flavour. Folk songs are quoted in the intertitles.

This is like a folk tale, attractively made, but without the dark and complex currents of The Song of the Scarlet Flower.

A fair print, visual quality adequate, not brilliant, with a tinting too heavy to my taste.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Enemy (with a representation of the missing final reel)




Viholliset / Hjärtan som lida
US 1927
regia/dir: Fred Niblo.
scen: Willis Goldbeck, Agnes Christine Johnston; dalla pièce di/based on the play by Channing Pollock (NY, 1925).
adapt: Willis Goldbeck.
did/titles: John Colton.
photog: Oliver Marsh.
mont/ed: Margaret Booth.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Richard Day.
cost: Gilbert Clark.
asst dir: Harold S. Bucquet.
cast: Lillian Gish (Pauli Arndt), Ralph Forbes (Carl Behrend), Ralph Emerson (Bruce Gordon), Frank Currier (Professor Arndt), George Fawcett (August Behrend), Fritzi Ridgeway (Mitzi Winkelmann), John S. Peters (Fritz Winkelmann), Karl Dane (Jan), Polly Moran (Baruska), Billy Kent Schaeffer (Kurt).
prod: M-G-M.
première: 27.12.1927 (New York).
uscita/rel: 18.2. 1928.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 7693 ft (orig. 8189 ft), 93’ (22 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: John Sweeney.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian, 11 Oct 2018.

Kevin Brownlow (GCM): "What always surprises me is the number of outstanding silent films still confined to the vaults. Yes, The Enemy is missing its last reel. That is indeed sad, but why deny us the pleasure of seeing the previous eight?"
 

"For The Enemy is that rarity, a truly pacifist film, almost an M-G-M version of Isn’t Life Wonderful? A friend was showing me a tape of silent-era censor cuts from Finland when a close-up of Lillian Gish appeared – it had such an intensity that I was determined to see more of whatever film it came from. It turned out to be The Enemy, directed by Fred Niblo – whose career was on the wane after his dazzling success with Ben-Hur (1925). Furthermore, the film survived in the old M-G-M vault, ignored  merely because of that missing reel."

"The Enemy is a fine, sincere piece of work, but it remains a movie – exquisitely put together, but still a movie. Its characters are stereotyped. There is no time for anything deeper. Titles go to the heart of the matter – slogans, admittedly, but effective nonetheless, as you hardly ever see films of this period dealing with this controversial subject."

"The great June Mathis, who had written The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), produced two drafts, which were found unsatisfactory, and Willis Goldbeck wrote the final script."

"Lillian Gish, who played the lead, didn’t think much of it, or Annie Laurie. “Mother was ill, so I let the studio do them. I just played my part. Nurses and doctors were constantly in the house. My only thought was to get to the studio as late as possible and leave as soon as possible. I remember little of The Enemy. I couldn’t tell you the story if my life depended upon it.”"

"Pauli Arndt (Lillian Gish) and her grandfather, a teacher (Frank Currier), are peaceful inhabitants of Vienna. Pauli marries a student, but the next day he must leave for duty at the front. During his absence, her grandfather loses his job and he and Pauli become destitute. Pauli finds she is pregnant. After giving birth, she becomes a prostitute in order to buy milk for her child. Her husband is reported missing in action, and Pauli’s misery increases…"

"Motion Picture Magazine said, “This is frankly a propaganda picture, but one that you’ll welcome as its aim is to stop the next war. It is ragged, repetitious and sometimes extreme to the point of absurdity, but it is a powerful picture and if you’re half the pacifist I am you’ll be stirred by it.”
Robert Herring, Close Up’s critic, thought the film had some “slight quality” because it was surprisingly anti-war. “Gish has a baby and when it dies, she screams out that she is glad her child at least will not be food for the guns. I thought this surprising in a London cinema. War, ‘legalised murder,’ is the real enemy, and the film deals with the overthrowing of values it causes.”"

"The critics tended to unite in their opposition to the ending – i.e., the last reel. “A happy ending has been tacked on,” said Close Up, “which completely destroys all that has been previously said about war.”"

"John Colton, a former newspaper man, the co-author of the Broadway hit Rain, and Thalberg’s closest friend, was brought in to write the titles."

"“Highbrows will condemn it for its lowbrow ending and lowbrows will condemn it for its highbrow beginning,” said Welford Beaton in Film Spectator. “But even with the manhandling that ignorant supervision gave it, The Enemy is a picture which you must see. There are many shots in it which indicate that Niblo is a student of foreign technic [sic]… He opens the picture with a succession of dissolves which effectively plant its atmosphere, and then with incident and symbolism he tells his story rapidly but clearly. Newspaper headlines superimposed on the whirring wheels of a multiple press tell graphically the sweep of the world war…. Some of his intimate scenes are beautiful and touching, splendid examples of intelligent direction. The wedding of Miss Gish and Forbes is one of the high spots of the picture. It is a superb bit of simplicity in a majestic setting.”"

"When in l986 it was given one of its rare screenings by the Society for Cinephiles at its annual Cinecon, it was described as being very interesting, and reminiscent of Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm (1940): “… a beautiful MGM print, tantalizing but frustrating – the last reel missing.”"

"The script survives, so Warner Bros., who have inherited the picture, should be able to reconstruct the ending with titles and stills, and make this refreshingly angry picture, with its vitally important message, widely available."
Kevin Brownlow (GCM)

AA: Twenty years ago I was for two years a temporary director of the Finnish Board of Film Classification (VET), appointed by the government for a transitional period during which we prepared a change to the legislation to end film censorship.

I had the privilege to get familiar with the history of film control and stumbled upon a showreel of "old cuts" from the period before VET (before 1946) when the film industry itself was in charge of the film control like it still is in the US, England and Germany.

There were three copies of an unforgettable cut of a silent film starring Lillian Gish in a film that I had not seen before. The cut scene was the one in which Gish prostitutes herself to obtain food for her baby, similar to Die freudlose Gasse. I presumed the scene might be from The Enemy and alerted Kevin Brownlow who kindly replied that this is not a lost film. The Enemy survived as an incomplete print albeit with this cut scene included, so it was not a lost scene, either.

It was very moving to see the film today, and an impressive film it is. Like Kevin Brownlow states in his program note above, this is an angry film about war, powerful in the same way as Frank Borzage's anti-Nazi stories.

The Professor's predicament, his violent marginalization when he refuses to endorse militarism. The abrupt change of atmosphere at the dinner table when war is declared and the English friend immediately becomes an enemy, brutally beaten. The Mater Dolorosa tragedy of Pauli (Lillian Gish), comparable to Way Down East. The breadlines. The callous exploitation of the grain speculator.

But also the dignity of the finale. Who is the real enemy? "That enemy is hate". The irony of the multiple endings, finishing with children playing war. "When I'm big I'm going to be a soldier".

A beautiful print in which the final reel is represented with a montage of photographs and texts.

Husbands and Lovers


Husbands and Lovers. The cancelled wedding: Rex Phillips (Lew Cody) waits in vain for the bride.

Aviomiehiä ja rakastajia / Äkta män och älskare
US 1924
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
sogg/story: Frances Irene Reels, [John M. Stahl?].
scen: A. P. Younger.
did/titles: Madge Tyrone.
photog: Antonio Gaudio.
mont/ed: Margaret Booth, Robert Kern.
scg/des: Jack Holden.
asst dir: Sidney Algier.
cast: Lewis S. Stone [Lewis Stone] (James Livingston), Florence Vidor (Grace Livingston), Lew Cody (Rex Phillips), Dale Fuller (Marie), Winter Hall (Robert Stanton), Edithe Yorke (Mrs. Stanton), Dick Brandon (bambino/little boy), Betsy Ann Hisle (bambina/little girl).
prod: John M. Stahl, Louis B. Mayer, Louis B. Mayer Productions.
dist: First National Pictures.
uscita/rel: 2.11.1924.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 7709 ft (orig. 7822 ft), 93′ (22 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
    Grand piano: Mauro Colombis.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (John M. Stahl), 11 Oct 2018

Imogen Sara Smith (GCM): "Husbands and Lovers was Stahl’s second film in a row on the theme of divorce and remarriage, following Why Men Leave Home. Both feature actor Lewis Stone, who would make a total of six films for Stahl, as the once and future husband. Here he embodies a particularly scathing portrait of male solipsism and insensitivity, a subject that Stahl would return to in some of his finest early talkie dramas, such as Seed (1931), Back Street (1932), and Only Yesterday (1933). A subject that veers towards tragedy in those films is mostly played for laughs here, but with a keen eye for subtle details of behavior and some fine cinematic grace notes."

"This was the last story credit of Stahl’s wife Frances Irene Reels before her death in 1926, adapted by his frequent collaborator A. P. Younger. The film opens with a long, detailed scene that establishes the nature of the central couple’s marriage through their morning routine, which involves the wife, played by Florence Vidor, waiting on her husband hand and foot, only to be rewarded with insulting criticisms of her appearance. She responds by going out for a makeover and a fashionable new wardrobe, which earns her no points with her husbands but does attract the attention of their lecherous friend, played by Lew Cody."

"Vidor is a perfect interpreter of Stahl’s restrained, elegant, yet dryly amused style, though this was the only time he directed her. A popular and admired leading lady in the late 1910s and 1920s, she retired with the coming of sound, and of her silent films only a few are still watched today – one being Ernst Lubitsch’s The Marriage Circle (1924), to which Husbands and Lovers was compared by several reviewers on its release. Lewis Stone had similar qualities of reserve, easy expressiveness, and humor, and he is able in a few extended close-ups to gain some sympathy for a character who, as written, evokes none. He is also helped by the casting of Lew Cody as his rival. Cody specialized in playing smooth cads and lounge lizards; he has “other man” embroidered on him like a monogram, and a reptilian face that betrays little feeling. Still, his character hardly deserves the cruel humiliation to which he is subjected in the film’s climactic scene."

"The centerpiece of the film is a scene of mistaken identity, a twist that might be hard to swallow if it were not staged with such beautiful and assured style. Vidor sits by a window, with bars of light falling through shutter-slats and slanting across her, a lovely half-lit image that distills the ambivalence of her character. Stone stands almost completely concealed by darkness, with just a crescent of light tracing one side of his face; he advances into the light and then retreats back into the shadow, like the moon waxing and waning, as he listens silently to his wife’s confession of love for another man. Cinematographer Tony Gaudio, who masterminds the extremely low lighting in this scene, would go on to an illustrious career at Warner Brothers, shooting classics such as Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Letter, and The Adventures of Robin Hood."

"Gaining popularity at a time when divorce was only just becoming more socially acceptable, remarriage dramas seem driven by conflicting desires to critique and affirm marriage, to flirt with being “modern” about adultery and women’s autonomy, and yet to ensure a final retreat back into the romantic conventions of happily-ever-after. These films made comedy out of the battle of the sexes and at the same time tried to smooth over the very divisions they illustrated, resulting in stubborn ambiguities of tone."

"Husbands and Lovers was well received, with reviewers noting the film’s similarity to Why Men Leave Home and other entries in the genre of marital comedy-drama, but praising Stahl’s deftness and finesse with this type of sophisticated material. Stahl himself seems to have worried that he had gone to this well once too often, and in November 1924, he apparently announced to the press that he would move away from marital subjects, prompting the Philadelphia Inquirer to run the headline “Resolves To Stop Breaking Up Homes: John M. Stahl Has Wrecked His Last Home!” Like the many husbands and wives in his films who toy with divorce only to reunite, Stahl would change his mind, return to his roots, and continue to mine the dramatic possibilities of troubled marriages for many more years to come."
Imogen Sara Smith (GCM)

AA: "Dedicated to the poor American wife who has a husband and craves for a lover".

"A man is as old as he feels and a woman as old as she looks".

Made in the wake of the cinema's new sophisticated current in dealing with marital relations John M. Stahl proves his talent in a trend launched by Cecil B. DeMille, Erich von Stroheim and Ernst Lubitsch.

The beginning of the film starts with situations familiar from Cecil B. De Mille's satires, but Stahl soon steers the narrative into original directions.

Lewis S. Stone plays James, the husband who is the definition of insensitivity. His wife Grace (Florence Vidor) has had enough, and soon James has his comeuppance. The humoristic situations evolve in long wordless sequences. There are few intertitles in this film.

Lew Cody plays Rex, Grace's admirer, in a part similar to Dr. Müller (Creighton Hale) in The Marriage Circle in which Florence Vidor also carried the female lead. And Lew Cody was the male lead (= worthless cad) in Three Women, another Ernst Lubitsch connection. All of which does not harm Stahl at all, instead he proves original also in this most demanding comparison.

Let's notice that Lew Cody faces new challenges as the cad Rex. He also needs to grow, as to his shock he realizes that James is giving up Grace, and Rex must now marry and give up his bachelor ways.

The setpieces of this film are brilliantly unforgettable. There is the scene in the dark library where Grace explains her feelings to who she believes is Rex (instead it is James who does not reveal his identity).

Like in The Marriage Circle, the husband remains courteous towards his rival. He is so generous that it is unsettling to both Grace and Rex.

The final setpiece is the wedding party of Grace and Rex. Husbands and Lovers is another title to demonstrate the cinema's obsession with the theme of cancelled wedding.

Poor Rex is kept waiting at the altar when Grace fails to emerge. His compassionate friends present him a lily, a funeral plant, the flower of which soon starts to nod.

Stahl demonstrates a perfect sense of timing in the comedy of remarriage. He dares to prolong scenes in the right moments.

In my opinion it is far from obvious that the callous husband of the opening scenes would be able to experience such a change, but Lewis Stone and John Stahl make it believable. More believable than Monte Blue in The Marriage Circle.

A fair print with a slightly duped look.

The Lincoln Cycle 10: Under the Stars


The Lincoln Cycle. Benjamin Chapin as Abraham Lincoln, the President (he also plays the parts of his father Sam Lincoln, and his grandfather, also called Abraham Lincoln).

The Lincoln cycle: "I model my life after Washington". Abraham Lincoln with his two sons and a visitor from home.

Series credits see The Lincoln Cycle.
US 1917
DCP, 27’18’’
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
Grand piano: Daan van den Hurk
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (John M. Stahl), 11 Oct 2018

AA: The more we advance in the present the further we go back into the past.

In the opening images we see the log cabin and the White House.

Four generations of Lincolns are present in this film. Abraham Lincoln faces a particularly painful crisis: Kentucky, his home state, a slave state, wants to stay neutral in the Civil War. We now go back to Abraham's grandfather, also called Abraham, a frontiersman who gave his life in a battle with Native Americans. Daniel Boone was a houseguest at the Lincoln home. "The welfare of Kentucky is very dear to me", the President declares to the neutrality movement. "I'd rather lose my life than lose the star of Kentucky from the flag". With devotion and commitment the President convinces Kentucky to stay with the Union.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Liebe



Histoire des treize: La Duchesse de Langeais
DE 1927
regia/dir: Paul Czinner.
scen: Paul Czinner, dal romanzo di/based on a novel by Honoré de Balzac (La Duchesse de Langeais, 1833-34).
photog: Arpad Viragh, Adolf Schlasy.
scg/des: Hermann Warm, Ferdinand Bellan.
cost: Ilse Fehling.
stills: Walter Lichtenstein.
cast: Elisabeth Bergner (duchessa/Duchess de Langeais), Hans Rehmann (marchese/Marquis de Montriveau), Agnes Esterhazy (contessa/Countess Serezy), Paul Otto (marchese/Marquis de Ronquerolles), Elza Temáry (contessa/Countess Fontaine), Nicolai Wassiljeff (il giovane principe/the young prince), Olga Engl (la vecchia principessa/the old princess), Arthur Kraußneck (vice reggente/Vice-regent de Pamier), Else Heller (badessa/abbess), Leopold von Ledebur (duca di/Duke de Navarra), Jaro Fürth (duca di/Duke de Grandlieu), Hans Conrady (monaco/monk), Karl Platen (domestico/servant).
prod: Elisabeth Bergner-Film, per/for Phoebus-Film AG, Berlin.
v.c./censor date: 3.1.1927.
uscita/rel: 24.1.1927.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 2433 m (orig. 2697 m), 106′ (20 fps); did./titles: FRA.
fonte/source: Cinémathèque française, Paris.
    Not released in Finland.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: Günter Buchwald.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (Honoré de Balzac), 10 Oct 2018

Jay Weissberg (GCM): "La Duchesse de Langeais forms part of a trilogy of novels that Balzac grouped under the title “Histoire des treize”, loosely connected by recurring characters, The Thirteen, who form a masonic cabal operating among the highest levels of Parisian society. The lure of Antoinette de Langeais, headstrong, seductive, and tragically fallible, proved irresistible for both screenwriters and actresses, and Paul Czinner surely saw it as an ideal vehicle for Elisabeth Bergner, one of Germany’s most important theatre stars as well as his life-partner (they married in 1933). When shooting began in 1926 he would have known that comparisons would be made with Frank Lloyd’s 1922 version The Eternal Flame, given that Bergner and that film’s star, Norma Talmadge, were considered two of the greatest dramatic actresses of the era. Czinner, unlike Flame’s screenwriter Frances Marion, deviated far less from the novel, to the relief of French critics who had praised Talmadge’s performance but were dismissive of the American need for happy endings. (Curiously, Carmine Gallone’s lost 1917 version, La storia dei tredici, adapted by Lucio D’Ambra and starring Lyda Borelli, likewise eliminated the downbeat finale – fancy that, a Borelli film with a happy ending!)"

"Also unlike the Lloyd version, Czinner didn’t bother to include the Duchess’s husband as a protagonist; for Balzac, Antoinette’s unhappy marriage with an absent spouse was a catalyst for her flirtations, but Restoration France was not 1920s Hollywood (though it was arguably closer in spirit to Weimar Germany), and the Duchess’s refusal to indulge in a consummated sexual liaison comes from a far more psychologically complex place than mere morals. Unsurprisingly given the film’s title, Liebe, Czinner develops the contrasts between Antoinette’s calculated coquetries at the start and her desperate, all-consuming love after the Marquis de Montriveau (Hans Rehmann) teaches her a lesson, allowing Bergner a range of emotions more celebrated by critics on the film’s original release than in subsequent discussions of the film. Liebe remains one of the least appreciated of the Czinner-Bergner collaborations, though when viewed through a Balzac lens the film is ripe for re-evaluation. Reviews in Germany were ecstatic, with most newspapers commentating on the prolonged ovation during the opening, when Bergner wasn’t allowed to leave the stage. The Berliner Morgenpost’s critique is a representative example: “A melancholy variant on an eternal melody, with compellingly beautiful images and a shattering main performance…much remains unforgettable….”"

"French reviews following Pax-Film’s release in March 1928, as Histoire des treize, were almost as glowing, with most writers celebrating Czinner’s adherence to the original narrative: “Of all the films drawn from Balzac until now, Histoire des treize is the only one that conveys in its smallest details the atmosphere of his novels… Not the slightest error, nor any fault of good taste, mars this beautiful reimagining, so clearly evocative of the Restoration.” (Le Gaulois, 13 August 1928) Henry Poulaille, in his article “Balzac au cinéma” (Cinéma, 15 March 1928), echoed those words, with an important coda: “We may add that this lovely film comes at the right time. It is a respectful nod by one of the young masters of the universal language that is Cinema, to the great Balzac, his senior, who also, with his pen, addressed the universe.”"

"Germaine Dermoz, Lyda Borelli, Norma Talmadge, Elisabeth Bergner: it’s quite a roster. But the most famous cinematic incarnation of the Duchess of Langeais never got beyond the planning phase: Greta Garbo, directed by Max Ophuls. Just imagine." Jay Weissberg (GCM)

AA: To Jay Weissberg's listing above of film adaptations of Honoré de Balzac's novel La Duchesse de Langeais let's also add the latest one, Jacques Rivette's Ne touchez pas la hache, starring Jeanne Balibar. The Rivette connection is relevant because of the importance of Histoire des treize for his oeuvre in general, especially Out 1. My favourite sequence in it is of Éric Rohmer as "le balzacien" giving a lecture to Colin (Jean-Pierre Léaud) on the Histoire des treize.

Out 1. The Balzac specialist (Éric Rohmer) gives a lecture to Colin about Histoire des Treize.

Before their exile Paul Czinner and Elisabeth Bergner collaborated in a series of seven wonderful Kammerspiel films (Nju, Der Geiger von Florenz, Liebe, Doña Juana, Fräulein Else, Ariane, and Der träumende Mund / Mélo). Czinner belongs to the cinema's greatest directors of women, and this series is their key achievement, comparable with Ingmar Bergman's cycle of films starring Liv Ullmann, "his Stradivarius". Also bringing to mind other great collaborations such as: Lillian Gish / D. W. Griffith – Ingrid Bergman / Roberto Rossellini – Monica Vitti / Michelangelo Antonioni – and Anna Karina / Jean-Luc Godard.

The Bergner-Czinner range was great from Shakespearean androgyny to Schnitzlerian studies of female sexuality. They elevated and transcended conventions of melodrama in triangle dramas such as Nju and Mélo (both tell the same story: could Henri Bernstein's play have been inspired by Nju?). Elisabeth Bergner's performances were all about nuance. Their work is a key instance of le théâtre intime conveyd cinematically. It would be easy to imagine their producing a perfect film adaptation of Ibsen, Strindberg, or Chekhov.

I had never seen Liebe before, nor have I read Balzac's novel which has never been translated into Finnish. The love story is twisted, but not in the implausible way of John M. Stahl melodramas many of which we have been seeing this week. There is a conviction of authenticity in Balzac's story, which, as an introductory title announces, is representative about noblewomen of the faubourg Saint-Germain during Restoration. They are rich heiresses convinced of their superior standing.

The Thirteen of the original novel do not appear by that name in this film adaptation, but the gang is all here. They prove fatal in turning back the clock and preventing the Marquis's appointment with the Duchess. He is not credited, but is it not Anton Walbrook / Adolf Wohlbrück as the very man who turns back the clock?

In the finale they help the Marquis intrude the monastery where he has found the Duchess now as Sister Thérèse. They are determined to abduct her, only to find her as a corpse in her cellule.

They play with love, they suffer with love, they burn with love, she dies by love, he withers by love. Elisabeth Bergner's performance is a masterpiece of silent pantomime. From abundance the film proceeds towards austerity. Not without longueurs: this feature film is somewhat prolonged in contrast to the starter, the Les Films d'Art version which managed to squeeze the plot into eight minutes.

The melody of the soul was played sensitively by Günter Buchwald.

A modest and duped visual quality in a presumably rare print which it was a great privilege to experience in this presentation.

Madame de Langeais (Les Films d'Art 1910)


Madame de Langeais (Les Films d'Art, 1910). André Calmettes (General de Meyran), Germaine Dermoz (Antoinette de Langeais). Please click on the image to see it enlarged.

The Duchesse de Langeais
FR 1910
regia/dir: André Calmettes.
scen: Paul Gavault, dal romanzo di/based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac (La Duchesse de Langeais, 1833-34).
furniture: Maison Krieger, Paris.
cast: Germaine Dermoz (Antoinette de Langeais), André Calmettes (General de Meyran), Gavary (il cappellano/the chaplain).
prod: Les Films d’Art, Pathé Frères.
uscita/rel: 2.1910.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 171 m (orig. 215 m), 8′ (18 fps); didascalie mancanti/intertitles missing.
fonte/source: CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, Bois d’Arcy.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: Günter Buchwald.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (Honoré de Balzac), 10 Oct 2018

Jay Weissberg (GCM): "Antoinette, Duchesse de Langeais is one of Balzac’s most bewitching characters, the representative par excellence of a profligate nobility reasserting its power and privileges under Louis XVIII. Vain and coquettish, she toys with General Armand de Montriveau, delighting in being worshipped yet refusing to consummate the relationship – not out of prudishness on Balzac’s part, but because the duchess takes more satisfaction out of power games than carnal pleasures. Pushed beyond reason by her emotional cruelty, he has her kidnapped and threatened with branding, but returns her unharmed. The experience transforms her and she realizes she’s fallen in love, yet Armand will hear nothing of it, and Antoinette’s family, disgraced by her indiscreet behavior, has her squirreled away in a Spanish convent. Several years later, after searching for the woman he still loves, Armand finds her and attempts to forcibly liberate her from the nunnery, but he’s too late and she dies."

"Pathé’s Madame de Langeais, released in France in February 1910 (and in the U.S. as The Duchesse de Langeais in April) was adapted by popular playwright Paul Gavault, responsible as well for La Grande Bretèche, also programmed here. Gavault assembled one of the great personal libraries of the early 20th century and certainly knew his Balzac, but was well aware of the need to reduce great literature to one reel. To clarify and abbreviate the drama, he has the duchess humiliate the general, here renamed de Meyran, for not succumbing immediately to her charms. It’s after this that she discovers her feelings for him, but he rejects her and she enters the convent. The film’s ending remains more or less true to the novel, minus Balzac’s final injection of cynicism."

"As with La Grande Bretèche, the director was Pathé’s reliable André Calmettes, also appearing as General de Meyran (in 1911 he made the first version of Colonel Chabert). Actress Germaine Dermoz (1889?-1966) was already making a name for herself on stage as a protégée of the great Réjane before appearing in her first films with Éclair. Now remembered for Germaine Dulac’s La souriante Madame Beudet (1923) and as the originator of “Yvonne” in Jean Cocteau’s 1938 play Les Parents terribles, she had a fruitful, well-regarded career on stage (including in St. Petersburg on the eve of the Revolution) and in cinema; one can imagine that her unpublished memoirs, housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, might provide fascinating insight into her varied life."

"In the silent era, La Duchesse de Langeais was adapted twice in the U.S., first in 1911 by Rex (The Ultimate Sacrifice, probably directed by Edwin S. Porter) and then more famously with Norma Talmadge in 1922 as The Eternal Flame, directed by Frank Lloyd, for which an incomplete print exists at the Library of Congress. The German version Liebe (1927) is also part of our Balzac series."
Jay Weissberg (GCM)

AA: A classic novel condensed into eight minutes of vignettes in characteristic Les Films d'Art fashion. Filmed theatre with a grandiose early cinema approach (long shots, long takes). Titles are missing. There is an elementary fascination in this interpretation of the strange, unrequited love story, ending with the former Duchesse de Langeais (Germaine Dermoz) finally found as a corpse in a Spanish nunnery by the General (interpreted by the director himself, André Calmettes). A duped visual quality.