Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Rene Navarre

The Child of Paris (1913)

Alternate Title: L’enfant de Paris

This feature film from Gaumont Studios came out while Louis Feuillade was in the midst of his brilliant serial Fantômas, but comes from a very different director, Léonce Perret, who also gave us “Les mystere des roches de Kador” in the previous year. In style and plot, this is a much more lyrical storyline than the anarchic crime serials Feuillade was working on at the time, but it bears some similarity to earlier work he did at Gaumont.

child-of-parisThe movie begins by introducing the major characters in close-up, some with clips we will see later in the film. There is a surprising number of them, and it’s unlikely that many will stand out as we wait a half hour or more for them to be introduced, although the fact that the only female character introduced is a small child (played by Suzanne Privat) is noticeable. As the story begins, that child is happily ensconced in a loving middle-class home, with a father, a mother, an uncle and an affectionate nanny. Then, the father, a captain in the army (Émile Keppens), is summoned to duty in one of the Moroccan Crises, leaving the care of his wife and child in the hands of his brother. There are some very stagey battle scenes, but for the most part we find out about his exploits through a series of telegrams sent back home, where the child continues to play happily and eagerly runs up every time there is news of daddy.

Moroccans Attack

Moroccans Attack

Eventually, of course, the dreaded telegram comes informing them that the father has been killed in action, and that his body has not been recovered. The mother, who had moments before been frolicking with the daughter and a large ball, suddenly collapses with grief. Despite various concoctions prescribed to her by a “psychiatrist” (including morphine and ether!), she also dies. Now the child is an orphan, though her uncle does his best to console her. Then he, too, is called up, and has no choice but to instruct the nanny to deposit the child in a boarding school. She is miserable there: the other students pick on her and make her a “scapegoat” for their bad behavior, and the teachers are cruel and unsympathetic. Naturally, she runs away one night when everyone is asleep.



Now she is alone and defenseless on the streets of Paris. Perhaps she is looking for her home, but she has no idea how to get there. After hours of wandering the streets, she collapses from exhaustion, exposed to the elements on a street corner. She is found by an unseemly fellow known as “The Graduate” (Louis Leubas), who proceeds to take her rings and an identifying necklace while she sleeps. He is about to leave with his booty, when he seems to have second thoughts. He picks up the girl and takes her to a drunken cobbler (Marc Gérard), who takes her in and puts her to bed in a small loft-space or cupboard with no real mattress. She has to share this space with Bosco (Maurice Legranée), the hunchbacked assistant to the cobbler, who has soft, effeminate features and seems to fall in love with the little girl as soon as he sees her. The cobbler is cruel to her and refuses to give her bread if she doesn’t work hard enough, but Bosco waits until he passes out drunk and sneaks food in to her.

The nanny has not been idle. She goes to the police and initiates a search for the missing child, blaming the school for her disappearance, but the police can do nothing. Now she gets a sudden telegram from the father – he’s alive after all! We see newspaper stories telling us that he was assisted by a “sympathetic Moroccan woman” and hidden until he could return to France. He has heard about his wife’s death, but looks forward to seeing his daughter again. There is a triumphal ticker-tape parade for his return, during which he learns the truth. He seems completely deflated. Why did he bother to live, if everything was to be taken from him?

child-of-paris4Now the Graduate figures out that he’s on to something. He recognizes the officer’s name from the identification medal he pawned, and writes out a ransom note to the captain and arranges to meet him with a gang of “associates” on hand. Although the captain does bring a pistol (he’s no fool), he is forced to write a check for 50,000 francs. The Graduate takes this money and goes to the cobbler, offering him 100 francs to get the child back. The cobbler is thrilled – think of all the wine he can buy with 100 francs! – and willingly surrenders the child. Bosco is suspicious, sure that the Graduate is up to no good, and so he follows them, then reports the location of the meeting to the police.

The father and child are thrilled to see one another, but the Graduate isn’t willing to end his little game. He now demands an additional 50,000 francs. The father reluctantly begins to write the check, but suddenly the gang clobbers him and ties him up. Now the police rush in and begin making arrests. They find the father and release him from his bonds, but the Graduate has snuck off with the child.

child-of-paris5Familiar with the ineffectiveness of the police, Bosco writes a note to the father informing him that he will conduct his own investigation. He trails the Graduate to a train bound for Nice and sees him take a cab from the station. Then, alone and penniless in a strange city, he finds a place to sleep under a tree in a park. The next day he awakens dirty and hungry. While he ponders his next move, a rich woman gives him a coin. He runs after her to return it, protesting that he is not a beggar. The woman is so charmed that she takes out a 100-franc note and forces it on him. This is enough money for Bosco to get cleaned up, buy new clothes, rent a hotel room, have a sumptuous breakfast and send a telegram to the father, letting him know where he is and what he has found.

Now he finds the cabby he saw drive off with the Graduate and pays him to take him to the villa where the child is hidden. He sneaks in and breaks down the locked door to her room, then spirits her back to the hotel without being detected. He sends word to the police as to the Graduate’s whereabouts, and they catch him climbing over the wall of the villa, following Bosco’s trail of broken branches. The daughter is returned to her home and the captain adopts Bosco as a reward for reuniting his family.

Middle-class comfort.

Middle-class comfort.

I found this a very interesting and charming film. It was also surprisingly long for 1913. Most of the movies I’ve seen from before 1915 are an hour or less, a few just a bit longer. This one clocked in at over two hours. That could be partly due to the decision to run it at 16 frames per second, “standard silent speed” for this video release (see my article on frame rates for more detail). Even running it at 18fps would have reduced the run time by 12.5% or about fifteen minutes. I can’t say that anything looked painfully slow, although the action scenes in Morocco and occasionally a horse running seemed a bit slower than “normal.”

This movie also has a surprising amount of opening credits for 1913. I suspect that these have been added by Kino or Gaumont for this 2009 release, and were not included in the original print. Giving any credits was unusual at the time, but these give not only a lengthy list of actors and the director, but also the screenplay, art direction, and cinematographer. The reason this matters is that the list of actors here differs from what is given on imdb. Here, actor René Navarre (known for “Fantômas”) is billed as “Chief of Police.” He does not appear as one of the actors shown in close-up, however, and I wasn’t sure I spotted him. He could have been the fellow who informed the nanny that the police were giving up the search, but that’s a pretty minor role. Imdb doesn’t list him at all for the movie, so it could be a mistake, although I would regard Kino as more authoritative than imdb. Imdb also fails to list the cinematographer.

The narrative struck me as somewhat unconventional. At first, I thought I was seeing a domestic drama, with a focus on the relationships among the adults, then it shifted to kind of a “Little Princess” storyline, and then suddenly the focus was on the Paris underworld. As we moved through these stories, the “star” of the show changed too: at first it seemed to be the captain, then the child, and finally Bosco. I actually somewhat enjoyed the way the protagonist changed during the course of the film, making it feel like we got the chance to meet new characters and get to know them as the story progressed. The one part of the narrative that didn’t work for me was the Graduate’s taking the child to Nice and locking her in a villa. What was his motivation for doing this? The only way he could make money by kidnapping her was to sell her back to the father, who was in Paris. Keeping her just meant added expenses and risk for him, with no clear benefit, and hauling her off to another city served no apparent purpose.

The squlaor of poverty

The squalor of poverty

Now, although I’ve complained about the Nice sequence in terms of the Graduate’s motivations, it does allow Perret to make some interesting observations about class in French society. When Bosco takes his 100 franc note to a café and asks for service, the waiter chases him off because of his dirty clothes, ignoring the money. Bosco has to buy a new suit before he can get service. He also makes a big deal out of the soft hotel bed – which is unlike any he’s ever slept on, and there seems to be a moment when he reflects sadly that the child had been used to such luxury before she fell into the Graduate’s hands (I could be reading that in myself, no title card cues us as to what he is thinking). In a way, much of this movie is about the tragedy of a child losing her middle class comforts, and about how the basic decency of Bosco allows him to move from poverty toward a more “normal” middle class existence. For that reason, I think the sequence in Nice was important to the narrative, I just don’t think it was set up properly.

There’s an interesting bit in a newspaper clipping during the father’s military service about how the Moroccans have “advisors” with “strong German accents. This reflects the tensions between Germany and France even in the years before World War I, and the fact that they were already in undeclared/indirect conflict repeatedly during the final years.

Great lighting

Great lighting

Most of the movie is edited in sequence, with each scene playing out before moving on to the next one, although there is some cross-cutting in the sequences when Bosco follows the Graduate and calls in the police. The real strength of the movie, however, is the photography by Georges Specht. There are a number of interesting backlit scenes, as well as some shots which are much darker than we usually see in movies from the time, including the “dark” themed crime movies of Louis Feuillade. The use of mise-en-scene establishes the contrast between the comfortable and opulent home of the family, and the squalid conditions of the cobbler and his underworld associates. I found it to be a technical as well as a narrative success.

Director: Léonce Perret

Camera: Georges Specht

Starring: Suzanne Privat, Émile Keppens, Louis Leubas, Marc Gérard, Maurice Lagrenée, possibly René Navarre

Run Time: 2 hrs, 4 Min

I have not found this movie available for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment.

The False Magistrate (1914)

Fantomas_1916A master criminal is helped to escape from prison by the very man who has been hunting him down and then uses his powers of disguise to become a respectable representative of law and order while his foe languishes behind bars. This final installment in the famed serial by Louis Feuillade is an exercise in reversals, deception, and brilliantly tortured logic.

At the beginning of the movie, Fantômas is incarcerated in a Belgian prison at Louvain, but that doesn’t stop his gang from robbing a Marquis who tries to sell his wife’s jewels. The gang gets away with the jewels and the proposed payment, an amount totaling 500,000 francs. Juve is convinced that Fantômas will remain a menace until he is caught by the French police and executed for his crimes, so he hatches a plan to help Fantômas escape! He visits Belgium in the guise of an Austrian inspector of prisons and smuggles in a prison guard’s uniform for him to wear, then takes his place while Fantômas lets himself out of the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Juve vs Fantômas (1913)

Juve_versus_Fant_masFor my first “feature film” for October’s history of horror movies this year, I decided to return to the series I watched when I started this blog. While I did discuss the series and reviewed the DVD collection from Kino Lorber, I haven’t ever gotten around to doing each of the movies. This is the first “sequel,” the immediate follow-up to “Fantômas: Shadow of the Guillotine.”

Juve vs FantomasThis episode begins with a brief re-cap of the previous one, establishing that Inspector Juve continues his hunt for Fantômas with the aid of the reporter Fandor. They follow a woman believed the be connected, and Fandor manages to be on the scene when Fantômas’s gang holds up a railway car to get the money being transported by her lover, a bank agent. Unfortunately, he doesn’t prevent Fantômas from wrecking a train or getting away. Juve and Fandor both get messages leading them to a dockside warehouse, and shoot at each other, each mistaking the other for Fantômas. Then, the real gang springs up from behind barrels and starts shooting at them. The gang sets fire to the barrels and leave them to burn, but Juve and Fandor get into an unlit barrel and roll into the water, swimming away to safety. They make another attempt to arrest him when he meets the woman at a club called “The Crocodile,” but Fantômas escapes by putting on false arms, and running away as they lead him to a police car, leaving them holding his arms! He then returns to the Crocodile and finishes his evening in peace. Next, Fantômas makes contact with Lady Beltham, his lover from the previous movie, and they begin meeting at her now abandoned estate. Juve and Fandor put on disguises and take a tour of the place, posing as prospective buyers. They figure out a way to hide in a heating duct and listen in on Fantômas and Beltham. They learn that Fantômas plans to kill Juve in four days time with his “silent executioner.” This makes Juve think of a crushed body from an earlier case, so he takes the precaution of putting on armor with nails sticking out that makes him look like a middle-aged member of Immortal. Sure enough, when the boa constrictor enters through the conveniently open window, it is unable to get a crushing grasp and leaves in defeat. Now, Juve and Fandor bring a contingent of policemen to the estate and try to catch Fantômas, who eludes them by hiding in a cistern and breathing through a bottle with no bottom. While Fantômas’s worst plans have not paid off, he remains at large.

Juve vs Fantomas1Once again, I have to return to the question of, “is it a horror movie?” Not exactly, it’s a thriller about a super-genius villain and his almost equally clever pursuer. But, I have to think that horror film makers drew from the imagery and ideas of these movies in later years. Fantômas may not be a “monster” in the strict sense, but he calls himself a phantom and has a distinctly frightening costume. He often brings about multiple deaths as he does in this episode, and he hides in haunted houses and abandoned places. In this case, he even uses a snake for a weapon, and his power of disguise makes it possible for him to be anyone.

Juve vs Fantomas2

Snakes and spikes? How many Black Metal bands saw this movie?

The movie, like all of Louis Feuillade’s work, is very well done technically and a visual feast. I particularly enjoyed his exteriors of century-past Paris. He isn’t shy about using close-ups and camera movement, which adds to the excitement. The depth of field of some shots impressed me, particularly in the night club, in contrast to the difficulties Billy Bitzer had with deep focus in “The House of Darkness.” One criticism I have is that there is a heavy dependence on Intertitles and close-ups on documents like letters to explain the story, particularly at the beginning where an especially long letter backfills the audience on what happened in the previous episode. Probably unavoidable, but somewhat dull. Surprisingly, the big action sequences are some of the least interesting visual moments, in part due to the weakness of the special effects of the time. The train crash is handled with a tiny model train and the barrel fire mostly consists of smoke, in contrast to the lovely poster above. I wondered a bit about the frame rate of the transfer – at times it seemed to me that the movie was unnaturally slowed down, and I wonder if they over-compensated for earlier sped-up versions by playing it at a slower speed. The story is, as usual, impenetrably complex and contradictory. At one point, the police are not certain whether a body they have discovered is Lady Beltham, half an hour later, they are releasing her (alive) for “lack of evidence” with no explanation in between. That sort of thing has long been part of the charm of the series, however, so I won’t hold it against the movie.

Juve vs Fantomas3

Alternate Title: Juve contre Fantômas

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Georges Guérin

Starring: René Navarre, Edmund Breon, Georges Melchior, Renée Carl

Run Time: 1 hour, 2 min

I have not found the entire movie available free online. You can watch about half of it: here. If you find a free version, please say so in the comments.

Tragic Error (1913)

Tragic Error

Alternate Title: Erreur Tragique

This early Feuillade is something of a reversal of “The Obsession.” Here, instead of a woman driven to obsession by her fixation with palmistry, a man is driven to obsession with his suspicion of his wife. The Marquis de Romiguières (played by René Navarre) is married to a lovely and charming young woman (Suzanne Grandais, also in “Le Mystères des Roches de Kador” and “The Heart and the Money”), but while he is in Paris on business, he sees a film that disturbs him. There is Suzanne, in the background, with another man on her arm! He buys a copy of the film and looks at it under a magnifying glass to be sure. Later, when he finds a note from her estranged brother, he puts it all together and decides that she is unfaithful, sabotaging the carriage she will take to meet her “lover” so that she will pay for her crime. Now, there’s two things I found interesting here: one was the portrayal of the movie theater and the film-within-a-film (a slapstick comedy in which a tramp beats up some policemen). The French “cinema” is a very small Nickelodeon-style space, but with room for three musicians at the front. The other thing is, once again, Feuillade’s willingness to shoot in the dark, both here and in the marquisse’s bedroom. Where Griffith’s “Avenging Conscience” from a year later seems overlit to me for a horror story, Feuillade (or his unknown cameraman) appears willing to show a very darkly lit room, and is able to make it work well. One shot even has the marquis enter a darkened room before bringing up the lights – trusting the audience to anticipate the new space. So far as I recall, I haven’t seen another filmmaker of the period use darkness so well.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: René Navarre, Suzanne Grandais, Paul Manson

Run Time: 24 Min, 34 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Obsession, The (1912)


This cautionary short by Louis Feuillade allows Renée Carl to show nearly every emotion during its 23-minute duration. She plays a woman who is duped by a phony fortune teller into believing that her husband (René Navarre, from “Fantômas” and “The Trust”) is doomed to die, a suspicion confirmed for the audience when he books a passage aboard the Titanic! But, he survives and returns, causing her to fear that her son must be the one fated to die. The avuncular godfather tricks the palmist into returning and giving a glowing prediction, giving away the game and saving Renée from her obsession. Unfortunately, the final scenes are missing, so had to be summarized in intertitles, but what there is here is interesting. I was particularly struck by the a-typical (for the time) lighting, as demonstrated in the still above. The practical lamp on the right is used again in a scene where the mother worries over the child, and she is able to pick it up and shine it on the bed. This is remarkable, because my understanding is that film of that time was not fast enough to “see” light from a practical source, unless you put a super-powerful bulb in it. So, either there was a clever lighting trick done to make it seem like the light moved with the lamp (without it casting a noticeable shadow), or Renée was in danger of seriously burning herself when she picked it up. Or else I’m badly misinformed on this point. At any rate, it’s a rare shot for the period, and looks pretty good, however it was done.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Renée Carl, René Navarre

Run Time: 23 Min, 43 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Trust, the (1911)


Alternate Title: “Le trust, ou les batailles de l’argent”

With this film, I can see Feuillade’s development towards “Fantomas” and other crime serials for which he is remembered. Bearing in mind that I’ve only seen a small sample of the over 700 movies he made for Gaumont Studios in France, the thing that has stood out up to now is the range and diversity of his movies. This time, he produced something that appears to be a direct antecedent of his most famous works, even introducing his future master criminal, René Navarre, in the role of a private detective hired by an unscrupulous corporate executive to get the formula for artificial rubber from a hapless scientist. Navarre uses an intoxicating gas to render his rival’s secretary unconscious, in order to steal her hat and coat, so that he can impersonate her and steal the telegram that tells when and where the scientist will arrive. The audacity and outlandishness of the plot, of course, just makes it all the more certain it will succeed, and the detective then has the outrageous good fortune to be hired to be the man’s bodyguard! He kidnaps him and brings him to his masters, who wear masks and conspire in an underground grotto. But, the scientist has the last laugh when he gives them the formula in disappearing ink. The externals are more limited in this movie than some of the other Feuillades I’ve reviewed recently, and the whole thing is slowed down a bit by extensive use of text such as telegrams and intertitles to move the plot forward, but it was very interesting to see Navarre establish his scheming on-screen persona.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: René Navarre, Renée Carl, Paul Manson

Run Time: 24 Min, 42 secs

You can watch it for free: here.