Russian emigré Alexandre Volkoff directed this French production from Ermolieff-Cinéma and Films Albatros that stars Ivan Mosjoukine, Hélène Darly and Charles Vanel, with support from Nicolas Koline, Francine Mussey and Bartkevitch.
Who isn’t in love with Régine de Bettigny (Darly) as this ten-part serial begins? Young and shy Julien Villandrit (Mosjoukine) has been blessed as her fiancé, however she is also loved and coveted by mean-spirited Henri Corradin (Vanel), Julien’s long-time friend and business partner, and rotund ex-banker Marjory (Bartkevitch).
In a month, Julien and Régine are married and in a short time they have a young daughter named Christiane. Life is good but the troubles begin with an embezzlement of 200,000 francs from Villandrit and Corradin’s textile mill. Marjory continues to buy the mill out of financial trouble in an attempt to win the emotional favors of Régine. Meanwhile, Corradin maliciously foments jealousy in Julien against Marjory. Julien attacks Marjory, who in desperation reveals the closely-guarded secret of the pond before he dies.
Circumstantial evidence convicts Villandrit of Marjory’s murder. But, like a mischievous boy observer of early Biograph comedies, amateur photographer Rudeberg (Koline) has taken snapshots of the true event. Instead of clearing Villandrit, he retains the photos for blackmail.
Years have gone by and Corradin controls the mill and Régine, with him incessantly trying to sway her affections. In time, Julien escapes imprisonment and is pronounced dead. He returns home in disguise, only to reveal himself to his daughter. As war erupts, Julien joins the Foreign Legion. Meanwhile, Régine is desperate for proof that her long-lost husband is innocent of Marjory’s murder.
Julien knows that he can only find the truth near his home and, in disguise again, he takes a job at the textile mill. After a series of wrenching plot machinations, a great fight sequence, and other seemingly unending delays, the whole truth is at last known. The journey is long but rewarding for both the characters and the audience.
Ivan Mosjoukine is the undisputed star of the production and his clear blue eyes are often on display in close-ups for the ladies. But it is Charles Vanel’s villainous, squinty-eyed performance that propels the film. The production is full of striking visual compositions, which must be the products of the collaboration of director Volkoff and the cinematographers Nikolai Toporkoff, Joseph-Louis Mundviller and Fédote Bourgasoff. The silhouette sequence of Julien and Régine’s wedding day in episode one is stunning. The shadowy tale of the death of Marjory conveys its dark hour. And a series of sequences on wonderful locations add to the beauty of the film. — Carl Bennett
2015 DVD edition
The House of Mystery (1921-1923), black & white, color-toned black & white and color-tinted black & white, 383 minutes, not rated.
Flicker Alley, FA0039,
UPC 6-17311-67819-6, ISBN 1-893967-81-6.
Pillarboxed 16:9 NTSC, three single-sided, dual-layered DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, French language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, chapter stops (9, episode one; 6, episode two), three-disc DVD keepcase, $44.95.
DVD release date: 31 March 2015.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD edition, produced by Le Cinémathèque Française, Film Preservation Associates and Lobster Films, has been mastered from the 1990 35mm restoration materials supervised by Renée Lichtig, which range in quality from good to excellent. The greyscale range of the overall picture is very-good, with controlled highlights and deep blacks in the nonetheless detailed shadows. There are a number of shots in the surviving material where there is little or no picture detail in the shadows. There remains in the restoration materials some evidence of print shrinkage, emulsion damage, dust, speckling, pronounced film grain, scratches, scuffing and other flaws.
Further digital restoration of the video transfer has been processed by Eric Lange. The image appears to have been digitally stabilized, and there is some evidence of further balancing of the picture’s greyscale range. The results vary from a very smooth filmlike picture to a coarser textured image where film grain is quite pronounced on high-definition monitors. Overall, the visual results are very-good and provide as visually consistent a viewing experience of the restoration print as is possible.
On occasion, there is a faint band (which may have been introduced somewhere in the digital workflow) that slowly rolls through the picture. It first appears in the picture of the first episode beginning at 9:11, and appears again in the shots beginning at 38:41 and 40:02. There are several examples of the band throughout the edition. Some viewers won’t see it at all, but those who do will be distracted from time to time as the band slowly passes through the picture.
The film is accompanied by an excellent piano music score by Neil Brand, which does much to add to the viewing experience. Lenny Borger has provided a new translation of the intertitles for the optional English language subtitles.
The serial is presented with episode one (52:50), episode two (29:02) and episode three (34:23) on disc one; episode four (41:44), episode five (32:21), episode six (24:19) and episode seven (45:21) on disc two; episode eight (43:31), episode nine (35:40), episode ten (44:21) and a supplemental slideshow (25 images – 3:30) on disc three. The edition is also supplemented by a 12-page booklet with an essay by Lenny Borger with David Robinson, which includes notes on the film, cast and crew.
With the obvious work that went into the film’s restoration and in the digital presentation, we enthusiastically recommend this edition.
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