Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Protsess o tryokh millionakh / The Case of the Three Million

Protsess o tryokh millionakh poster by Georgi and Vladimir Stenberg,
Protsess o tryokh millionakh poster by Georgi and Vladimir Stenberg,
Процесс о трёх миллионах / Protsess o trjoh millionah / Prosessi kolmesta miljoonasta (US: Three Thieves) [Il processo dei tre milioni / The Trial Concerning Three Million] (Mezhrabpom-Rus, Moscow – USSR 1926) D: Yakov Protazanov; SC: Yakov Protazanov, Valentin Turkin, Oleg Leonidov; freely adapted from the 3-act play I tre ladri by Umberto Notari, based on his 1907 novel; DP: Pyotr Yermolov; AD: Isaac Rabinovich; ass D: Yuli Raizman; second ass D: Jakov Urinov; SFX: Nikolai Sorokin; C: Igor Iliinsky (Tapioca, ragged thief), Anatoli Ktorov (Cascariglia, gentleman thief), Mikhail Klimov (Ornano, the third thief: the banker), Olga Zhizneva (Noris, his wife), Nikolai Prozorovsky (Guido, her lover), Vladimir Fogel (man with binoculars), Daniil Vvedensky (burglar), Alexander Glinsky (innkeeper), Vladimir Mikhailov, Marc Zibulsky (priests), Boris Schlikhting (Chief of Police), Mikhail Jarov (policeman), Serafima Birman (woman with rose seated at table), Olga Bobrova, Gulbike Scerbatova; rel: 23.8.1926; 35 mm, 1816 m, 79' (20 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia.
    With e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, with Frank Bockius in percussions, at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 7 Oct 2014

Natalia Noussinova (GCM catalogue and website): "According to his biographer Mikhail Arlazorov, Protazanov was so keen to make another comedy after the success of The Tailor from Torzhok that he refused the historical drama Stenka Razin, planned for him by Mezhrabpom, preferring to wait until a new comedy script could be found. However, he quickly recognized the Soviet public’s enthusiasm for the stage play I tre ladri (The Three Thieves) by the Italian Futurist writer Umberto Notari (1878-1950), which had played with success in several theatres, including Moscow’s Aquarium summer theatre and then at the Komissarzhevskaya Theatre. Both these productions featured, in the role of Tapioca, Igor Iliinsky, whom Protazanov regarded as his own personal star."

"Protazanov was untroubled that Notari’s play had already been adapted for the cinema three times. The first version, Vor (The Thief, with alternative titles The Benefactor Thief and The Ideal Thief, 1917), directed by Mikhail Bonch-Tomachevsky, could already be considered outdated in terms of ideology, since the thief is also a great philanthropist. Another obscure early version, of which the director is unknown, had Amo Bek Nazarov in the role of Cascariglia, and must also have seemed overtaken by time. However, Pyotr Chardynin’s 1924 adaptation, Nie Poiman – Nie Vor / Kandidat v Presidenty (Not Caught – Not a Thief / The Presidential Candidate), being so recent, might logically have appeared an obstacle. Nevertheless, on the contrary, Protazanov turned to Valentin Turkin, who had written the scenario for Chardynin’s film and was unhappy with its treatment. Protazanov took advantage of this, giving Turkin the chance to retrieve ideas that had been lost in the previous adaptation."

"In both cases, the films were shot in picturesque southern locations. Chardynin’s film was shot in the VUFKU studios of Odessa, and Protazanov’s at Yalta in the Crimea. For both directors these two cities had been their point of departure, the places where they had worked while waiting to exile themselves from Bolshevik Russia in the years 1918-1920. Since Chardynin had repatriated to Odessa in 1923 it was natural that he filmed in this city. Though Protazanov had returned to Moscow, he went back to Yalta for the shooting of The Trial Concerning Three Million, though the story did not really require it: was it chance that took him there, or a response to his ex-colleague of the pre-revolutionary cinema?"

"Chardynin’s film is quite close to the style of the old Russian cinema, notably from the point of view of the very accentuated make-up of the actors. Cascariglia, played by Oleg Freylikh as a handsome rascal in frock coat and top hat, is in the style of male stars of the 1910s. Despite the Soviet message, depicting the conspiracy of the big thieves as opening the door to parliament, the film is also provided with the classic unhappy ending of the Tsarist cinema for the poor little thief Tapioca, who is imprisoned at the close of the film. For Protazanov the pre-revolutionary cinema also has its attractions, but in a more ironic fashion. When the banker-husband knocks on the door, Cascariglia puts a pistol to his head. But the classic situation of the Russian melodrama is shattered and parodied in the following scene, where we realize that the pistol is only a cigarette lighter with which the banker’s wife lights a cigarette. For Chardynin the principal hero was Cascariglia; for Protazanov it is certainly Tapioca/Iliinsky who is the central figure of his film. In both cases Tapioca is the comic figure, but in Chardynin’s version he is the loser, while for Protazanov he becomes the victor, and for this reason it becomes necessary to add a scapegoat at the end of the film, a small-time thief who robs the now-rich Tapioca and offers a moral in defending “the sacred principle of private property”."

"Melodrama and comedy coexist in both versions, but with Protazanov it is Western-style comedy which prevails. It is possibly precisely this element that Turkin could not achieve with Chardynin, but it was also very much in the spirit of Protazanov to integrate parody of pre-revolutionary melodrama in Soviet comedy, which he had already done in The Tailor from Torzhok – as Peter Bagrov justly writes in his article on the evolution of comedy in Russian cinema. However, Turkin is not mentioned in the credits of the film. Nor is Oleg Leonidov, who was to become Protazanov’s regular scenarist, and according to his memoirs was already working in this capacity on The Trial Concerning Three Million. The film credits simply state, “Scenario and direction, Y. Protazanov”. Protazanov seems to have been kinder to his actors than to the other members of the unit. His actors are always very appreciative in their memoirs, and it is not by chance that he retains the same cast from one film to another. Iliinsky, Ktorov, and Zhizhneva had already appeared in The Tailor from Torzhok, and here Mikhail Klimov joins the family, to which he would belong for a long time."

"The film had many problems with censorship. It was close to being labeled as promoting “foreign ideology”, but it was miraculously saved by the respected writer Mikhail Koltzov and Anatoli Lunacharsky, the Minister of Culture, who both declared that it was good that the Soviet cinema was capable of creating films of Western style and level while dealing perceptively with social problems. (Luckily this compliment was not paid at the time of the anti-cosmopolitan campaign, when it would have cost the director dearly.) In 1926 Mezhrabpom was sufficiently proud of the film to include it in the programme of studio successes screened for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford during their visit to the USSR. They seem however not to have found it very interesting, in their eyes lacking a national style and too much like an average American film." – Natalia Noussinova

AA:  A satire.
    The three thieves are: the banker Ornano, the gentleman thief Cascariglia, and the small time crook Tapioca.
    Ornano is a financial speculator who gathers fortunes thanks to a poor harvest.
    Cascariglia volunteers to help an old lady, and robs her of her jewels.
    Tapioca is believed to have robbed three million, and he becomes immediately a figure of respect - he is called a hero - a genius - a saint - a prince. Lawyers offer assistance for free. Ladies find him handsome.
    The grand climax is the trial in a magnificent palace of justice. Protazanov is at his best here, staging an imposing show of the theatre of the law. Cascariglia appears with a circus stunt, swinging on a rope like Douglas Fairbanks, and letting the three million fly all over the palace. In the general chaos he escapes with Tapioca. But the bank notes are in fact just blank pieces of paper.
    There are inventive aspects in Protazanov's imagery. He uses close-ups expressively, and he knows how to use the landscapes of Crimea, topical in this year's headlines. The combination of the splendid landscape and the robbery plot brings to mind To Catch a Thief.
    The Case of the Three Million belongs to the charming cycle of NEP satires. It is an enjoyable film, but some of the farce is exaggerated, some of the satire not so subtle.
    In this print there is an explanatory introduction that has been added later.
    The visual quality is largely good, but perhaps the deepest black level is missing.

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