Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Luitz-Morat

The Murderous Corpse (1913)

Murderous CorpseHere at the end of October, I’ve chosen to return to the series I started out with to close out this year’s discussion of the history of horror film. While Fantômas may not meet a strict definition of “horror movie,” the crime serial undeniably influenced the imagery and methods of later horror directors, and titles like “The Murderous Corpse” certainly evoke the conventions of the later genre.

Murderous Corpse1The movie begins by catching us up on the series, telling us that Fantômas (played by René Navarre) destroyed the villa in which he had been hiding, hoping to kill those who were pursuing him, but, of course, the heroic Fandor (Georges Melchior) escaped with minor injuries, from which he recovers in the hospital. Juve (Edmund Breon) is missing and presumed dead. We see a criminal gang at work smuggling, and then Fantômas murders a baroness, cleverly framing the artist Dollon (André Luguet) for the crime. Dollon is mysteriously murdered in prison, but not before the police make a big production of taking his fingerprints and other physical data. Fantômas, with the help of a bribed guard, then removes the body from the prison. This makes it all the more baffling when the dead man’s fingerprints are found at other crime sites! In Juve’s absence, Fandor continues to investigate on his own, while a mysterious lowlife named Cranajour seems to take an odd interest in him, all the while working with the gang of Mother Toulouche, who is clearly in cahoots with Fantômas somehow. Meanwhile (everything in a Fantômas movie is happening “meanwhile”), the banker Nantauil shows up at an important society dance and creeps around the house until he is alone with the hostess, princess Davidoff (Jean Faber), knocking her out with chloroform and stealing her valuable pearl necklace – Nantauil is just another disguise of the master of crime, Fantômas! Naturally, he leaves one of Dollon’s fingerprints on the lady’s neck as a clue, leading to the first indication that a dead man is now a criminal mastermind. Renée Carl, as Lady Beltham, again appears, seeking an audience with the banker Nantauil, and is instructed to transport two pearls and the necklace, using them to attempt to get a ransom from Thomery (Luitz-Morat), the princess’s fiancée. This turns out to be another ruse, allowing Fantômas to murder Thomery, leaving behind another false fingerprint. Meanwhile (once again), Elizabeth, the sister of the dead man (Fabienne Fabrèges) has found a note which appears to outline Fantômas’s insidious plan, and of course she’s being stalked for it. Will Fandor save her? Will inspector Juve be found? Will we learn the secret of Cranajour? Will the police ever figure out how Fantômas has set up the corpse of Dollon?

Murderous Corpse2Well, if you’ve made it this far, you probably know that the answers to all of those questions is, “yes.” trick of making gloves from a dead man’s hands is probably one of the more believable ones Fantômas uses in the series. Cranajour is, of course, Juve in disguise, and for once he actually does look pretty different under the makeup. Fantômas and his gang are able to kill several people and steal a necklace, but overall their operations are curtailed by the good guys, while still allowing him to escape and continue the series another day. This episode is quite long, as long as a standard feature film is today, which is quite a change from the shorter episodes I’ve been seeing from “Les Vampires” lately. It isn’t as laden with iconic imagery, I’ll grant you that, and the absence of Juve seems to leave it without a center to a large degree. Whose story is this? Sometimes it is Fandor’s, sometimes Elizabeth’s, but for the most part is belongs to Fantômas. The camerawork is fairly static in this one, though with somewhat more interesting angles than we see in American studio work of the time. The sets are beautifully decorated and again I find the exteriors exquisite (this may just be because Paris was so attractive in the early twentieth century). I have grown rather fond of the music that Gaumont chose to use from a library as the background score, although I said at first that it was sometimes overwhelming; it is distinctive and playful. The editing is unimaginative and there is a heavy reliance on intertitles and especially close-ups on written documents to keep the audience informed as to what’s going on. Despite some of this clumsiness or seeming-clumsiness, it’s still a fun movie, and I do like Fandor better than his dull counterpart in “Les Vampires.”

Murderous Corpse3That’s all for this year’s Halloween special! Next week, I’ll be back to normal, trying to make up for lost time as we get into Century Awards Season for 1915!

Alternate Titles: Le Mort Qui Tue, Fantômas III: Le Mort Qui Tue, The Dead Man Who Killed.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Georges Guérin

Cast: René Navarre, Georges Melchior, Edmund Breon, Renée Carl, André Luguet, Jean Faber, Luitz-Morat, Fabienne Fabrèges.

Run Time: 90 Min.

I have been unable to find this for free on the Internet. If you find it, please comment.

Agony of Byzantium (1913)

Agony of Byzance

Alternate Titles: “L’Agonie de Byzance,” “The Agony of Byzance”

This will be the last Feuillade film I look at for a while – at least until I get around to watching “Les Vampires” later this year. It is the newest of all the short, non-“Fantômas” pieces I have reviewed, being released in October, 1913. In it, Feuillade attempts to create a historical epic on a very limited budget and entirely on indoor sets. He almost succeeds, but I have to point out that movies like “Judith of Bethulia” were shot around the same time and that battle scenes had been staged far more effectively in both “The Massacre” and “The Battle at Elderbush Gulch.” In other words, this is one area where D.W. Griffith surpassed Feuillade, although the freedom of using exteriors and his larger budget were surely factors. However, it also lacks human interest and compelling characters, which Feuillade was entirely capable of generating in other instances. The movie followed the First Balkan War, and at least one historian has seen its subject matter – the fall of Byzantium to the Turks in 1453 – as a political statement on contemporary events. Indeed, a year later Turkey and France would be on opposite sides of World War One, although most French propaganda would focus on the more immediate threat of Germany by that time.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Luitz-Morat, Renée Carl, Albert Reusy

Run Time: 29 Min, 38 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Roman Orgy (1911)

Roman Orgy

OK, let’s get it out of the way right off, in case anyone came here because they were Googling for porn: There is no orgy in this film. Move along, nothing to see here. Nothing, that is, except for an odd costume drama directed by Louis Feuillade and starring Jean Aymé (whose talents as a baddy we previously saw in “The Defect”). Aymé camps uncontrollably as the debauched Roman emperor “Heliogabalus” (that’s a mouthful, but the end title makes it even worse by telling us he was the “Sardanapalus of Rome”), who sets lions loose on his dinner guests, spoiling the planned orgy. Having had enough of his tyranny, they call in the Praetorian Guard to do away with him There’s limited hand painting of the costumes in this movie, which is mostly pretty understated, but is striking in the gold helmets and armor of the Praetorians. Gaumont must have had a decent budget or some pull with a local zoo, because there’s at least seven or eight lions running around the studio, apparently with actors and crew right nearby.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Cast: Jean Aymé, Renée Carl, Luitz-Morat

Run Time: 8 Min, 52 secs

You can watch it for free: here.