Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Der geheime Kurier / The Mysterious Messenger / Le Rouge et le Noir (Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv restoration 2010)

DER GEHEIME KURIER / Salainen kuriiri / (IT: Le Rouge et le Noir) [Il corriere segreto/ The Mysterious Messenger] (Greenbaum-Film GmbH, Berlin, for Terra-Film AG, Berlin, DE 1928) Italian title: Le Rouge et le Noir. D: Gennaro Righelli; P: Hermann Millakowsky (Greenbaum-Film), Marcel Hellmann (Terra-Film); SC: Curt J. Braun, Walter Jonas, based on the novel Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendahl (1830); ass. D: Richard Royce (Loewenstein); DP: Friedrich Weinmann; AD: Hans Sohnle, Otto Erdmann; C: Iwan Mosjukin [Ivan Mozhukhin] (Julien Sorel), Lil Dagover (Thérèse Rénal), José Davert (Bürgermeister/Mayor Rénal), Jean Dax (Marquis de la Môle), Agnes Petersen (Mathilde de la Môle), Félix de Pomes-Soler (Norbert), Dillo Lombardi (Abbé), Valeria Blanka (figlia dell’albergatore/the innkeeper’s daughter), Hubert Von Meyerinck (Duc d’Orléans); filmed: summer 1928 (studio: Ufa- Ateliers Neubabelsberg); première: 19.10.1928 (Mozartsaal, Berlin), 20.11.2010 (restored version, Cinefest, Hamburg); 35 mm, 2928 m, 128' (20 fps); print source: Bundesarchiv- Filmarchiv, Berlin. Deutsche Zwischentitel. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano: Stephen Horne, 9 Oct 2013

Lenny Borger: "Ivan Mozhukhin’s fall from grace is one of the sadder episodes in the annals of Hollywood-European culture shock. In five years, he had shot from émigré obscurity to superstardom. In December 1926, he naïvely ventured forth to Hollywood with a five-year contract with Universal Studios. Carl Laemmle had purchased Mozhukhin’s Jules Verne vehicle Michel Strogoff (1926) for U.S. release and had promised to make him a household name. A year on, Mozhukhin had only made one Hollywood picture, Edward Sloman’s Surrender!, an old-world stage melodrama dear to Laemmle’s old-world heart. Mozkhukhin played an aristocratic Russian officer in an occupying army in Poland. The film failed; critics were unkind, audiences giggled. Mozhukhin was thought to look like slapstick clown Larry Semon. Worse, rival studios were humming with pictures about imperial Russia and revolution, Russian princes and peasant girls."

"What happened next has remained an enigma: Mozhukhin fled back to Europe – not to Paris, but to Berlin, where he would fulfil the rest of his contractual commitments to Universal under the aegis of independent producer Hermann Millakowsky. There was however a Gogolian twist: somewhere along the line, Mozhukhin submitted to plastic surgery at the behest of studio executives– having once refused to shorten his French screen name Mosjoukine (to Moskine), he now agreed to flatten the bridge of his nose and widen his nostrils! Mozhukhin made his screen comeback in Der Präsident (The President, 1928), a political satire directed by Gennaro Righelli, an Italian studio contract director who worked in Berlin in the 1920s. The film (now believed lost) did well enough to warrant another collaboration between the actor and director (and producer Hermann Millakowsky). Righelli next directed Mozhukhin in a literary adaptation, Der geheime Kurier, which – as you wouldn’t suspect from the German title – was inspired by Stendahl’s novel Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black). Mozhukhin, then old enough to be the hero’s father, plays a proud, provincial opportunist who seduces and connives his way up the social ladder of 1830s French society. One of the most acclaimed and allegedly unfilmable of classic novels, The Red and the Black here is subjected to the dumbing-down treatment so typical of mainstream attempts to simplify complex material for general European audiences. A typical example of this comes in the final reels, when the hero, Julien Sorel, is sentenced to death by a court of provincial notables. In the book, Julien goes to the guillotine; in the movie, revolution breaks out on the day of his execution. Julien is freed by rioters (led by Julien’s aristocratic lover) only to meet a heroic death on the barricades. Shades of Victor Hugo! These scenes, which make nonsense of Stendahl’s theme and dramatic irony, are visually the most exciting in the film. The production on the whole is convincingly lavish, recreating 19th-century France on the backlots of Ufa Babelsberg with plenty of duels, pursuits on horseback, and revolutionary scenes, and Lil Dagover in a diaphanous nightgown as Mme. Rénal."

"French critics went out of their way to be kind to Mozhukhin, even though at 39 he was much too old to play Julien Sorel – the fire and playfulness had gone out of his gaze, and moments in his performance seem like pastiches of earlier roles, notably Kean, Casanova, and Mathias Pascal."

"With the talkies closing in on the European cinema, Mozhukhin had the good fortune to be reunited with two of his former émigré directors, Tourjansky and Volkoff. Recovering some of his erstwhile élan, Mozhukhin appeared in Tourjansky’s picaresque melodrama Manolescu (1929), then made his silent cinema swan song as the Tolstoyan hero Hadji Murat in the spectacular Der weisse Teufel (The White Devil), filmed in the summer of 1929 with synchronized sound sequences."

"Ten years and five mediocre sound films later, Ivan Mozhukhin died on 18 January 1939, aged only 49." – Lenny Borger

AA: A big budget light entertainment version of Stendhal's novel Le Rouge et le Noir, the first novel about class consciousness, this adaptation, however, no longer content with merely "the truth - the bitter truth" to be served "to the happy few". I watched 20 minutes from the beginning and 20 minutes from the conclusion, and judging by that this is a well-made historical film with a good sense of the revolutionary turbulence of 1830 but with not much of the Stendhal spirit. There is true sensuality in the relationship between Madame Renal (Lil Dagover) and Julien Sorel (Ivan Mosjoukine). Hans engelska fru and Der geheime Kurier reveal an authentically moving, daring, passionate and sensual side from Lil Dagover, not afraid in appearing in scenes of implied nudity. A physically handsome production with great production values. Splendidly restored and reconstructed by the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv.

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