Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Suzanne Grandais

The Dwarf (1912)

Dwarf1This short movie by Louis Feuillade is included as a bonus with the release of Fantômas by Kino. It represents one of his “Life as It Is” movies, which were early attempts at film realism, as defined by one of his manifestos on film.

DwarfThe movie begins with several Intertitles, which explain to us that a new play, “The Virgin of Corinth,” has become a tremendous critical and popular hit, and at its performance, when the audience calls for the author, the management displays a card explaining that the script was submitted anonymously, and that no one knows the author by face or by name. The next morning, we see the beautiful star of the piece (Suzanne Grandais) arise and read all the positive notices about herself and the mysterious writer. Then, we see another person (Delphin, whose name means “dolphin”) reading the same reviews: but he is a man of perhaps only four feet in height. He lives with his mother (Renée Carl), and dreams of his love for Suzanne, but he knows she would reject him. Suddenly, he gets an inspiration to use the high technology of the telephone to call her. If she only hears his voice, she will fall in love with his words, and perhaps someday overcome her reaction to his true size. He calls her, she is thrilled to receive a call from so talented an artist, and the moreso since he maintains anonymity in the world. We see a group of (female) telephone operators listening in on the call – to judge by their faces, it gets pretty hot. Suzanne has connections, however, and is able to discover the address of her mysterious caller. She goes to visit him, and meets his mother. Renée tells her son of his visitor, and he swallows his fears and goes out to meet her. The response, of course, is crushing. Suzanne laughs at him openly, and at herself for being so easily fooled. Renée tells her to leave, and tries to console her son, knowing that a mother’s love is no substitute for the love he has lost.

Pretty cool for 1912.

Pretty cool for 1912.

While the movie is largely typical in style for its time, there are some interesting aspects to it. Perhaps the most exciting for me was the use of a split screen to demonstrate the telephone call – a tactic that remains in use today. Feuillade handles it by dividing the screen into three segments: with Delphin on one side and Suzanne (in her bed – racy stuff!) on the other. In the middle is a shot of the Champs-Élysées facing toward the Arc de Triomph, seeming to signify that “Paris” stands between the two telephone sweethearts. I’m not going to say that this is the “first” time a split screen was used to show a telephone call – quite possibly I’ve seen other examples already – but it is a very interesting use of the concept, and seemingly original to Feuillade. Apart from this is the very fact that the little person is used not for comedy or to emphasize his “strangeness” as in a freak show, but with sympathy and as a tragic figure, a brilliant artist trapped inside a body that the world cannot appreciate. Even in much later years, shorter actors would still be playing monsters and clowns rather than protagonists of serious story lines. Finally, I found it amusing that the cliché of the snoopy telephone operator had been established so soon after the introduction of telephone technology. I think this is one of the better “Life as It Is” movies that I’ve seen from Feuillade, and I’m glad it was included on the disc, reminding audiences that he did much more than crime serials.

Alternate Titles: Le Nain

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Georges Guérin

Cast: Delphin, Renée Carl, Suzanne Grandais

Run Time: 16 Min

You can watch it (in two parts) here and here.

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.

Heart and the Money (1912)

Heart_and_Money 1912

Alternate Title: Le Couer et l’argent

Tonight’s movie by Louis Feuillade is a foray into tragic melodrama. A pair of young lovers on a boat is separated by the girl’s mother (the ubiquitous Renée Carl, who was in “Fantomas” and “The Defect”). Mom has plans for her child, Suzanne: she hooks her up with a local wealthy land-owner, portrayed by a rotund Paul Manson (also in “The Trust” and a number of Feuillade’s popular Bébé films). Soon, she is more or less hijacked into marriage by the schemers, and is driven off to his estate in a motorcar, despite the protestations of her jilted boyfriend. When the husband conveniently dies, he has his revenge by stipulating in his will that his widow receives nothing if she remarries. Undaunted, she sneaks past her mother and back to her lover, but he won’t have her, haunted as he is by images of her with the fat man. Poor Suzanne comes to a tragic end, as befits tragedy. It’s all pretty typical stuff, which I can’t help but compare unfavorably to work Evgeni Bauer would be producing just a year later, but not too bad I guess. The casting choice also disappointed me: Why make it a fat, older man? Wouldn’t Suzanne be more heroic if she spurned the love of an attractive, rich man who just happened not to be the man she loved? As it is, it seems like she likes the handsome guy because, well, he’s handsome.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Suzanne Grandais, Renée Carl, Paul Manson

Run Time: 17 Min, 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Le mystère des roches de Kador (1912)


Alternate Titles: The Mystery of the Kador Cliffs, The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador.

The French had the largest and most successful film industry in the world prior to World War One, and so it’s no surprise that their movies appear rather “advanced” already by 1912. Of the films of this period I have reviewed so far, this made the strongest use of text – both in the form of intertitles, and many handwritten documents that characters wrote and sent to one another, or found and used as evidence. Unfortunately, since I don’t read French and no translation was provided, this was an impediment to my following the action. It also didn’t help that the version I watched had a very modern Dark Ambient soundtrack superimposed (I turned it off after 15 minutes). It did have some interesting bits, however. I particularly liked that they solved the “mystery” with the relatively-new science of Psychotherapy, and that the method of treatment was showing the traumatized witness a film recreating the event they had experienced. This gave the filmmakers a chance to reflect on some of their own techniques for the audience.

Update 12/12/2016: I wrote this review shortly after starting the project of watching 100 year old movies back in 2012. I have now been able to see it with English subtitles (and a decent soundtrack), so the time has come to update the review.

mystere-des-roches-kadorThis movie is the story of a young woman whose rich father dies while she is still a minor, and who then falls into the clutches of the malicious executor, who hopes to inherit by means of marrying or killing her, whichever is more convenient. If that plotline sounds familiar, that’s probably because it was used with rather less subtlety by Pathé in the famous serial “The Perils of Pauline” in 1914. In this instance, the scheming trustee is played by the director, Léonce Perret, who brings a certain decadent boyishness to the role. Unlike Pauline, the heroine (Suzanne Grandais) doesn’t want to seek “adventure,” she just wants to marry her true love (Max Dhartigny), who she met once at a spa and fell instantly in love with. When she therefore spurns Perret’s advances against the backdrop of a lovely rock formation at the beach, he decides to poison her and shoot her lover. He leaves them lying on the beach, but neither one is actually dead, so they manage to crawl into a rowboat and spend the night adrift instead of drowning when the tide comes in.

mystere-des-roches-kador1The whole experience remains a mystery, however, because Max didn’t see who shot him and Suzanne is so traumatized that she becomes catatonic. So, the brilliant psychiatrist Émile Keppens is called in and he brings a camera crew back to the beach to shoot the whole incident and makes Suzanne watch. This triggers her memory, but now they have to trap the evil Perret. They arrange to show up in costume at a masquerade he is holding and spring a trap, demonstrating that he must have written the note that lured the lovers to their near-doom.

mystere-des-roches-kador2As with “The Child of Paris,” this movie’s strength is in its imagery and a series of well-chosen shots, not in pacing or editing. The use of the motion picture as a new technology to recover memory is also interesting, particularly the scene in which we see the recreation of a scene we just watched, only now there is a cameraman in frame, cranking the film by hand as the action plays out. The doctor/director then says “OK, let’s get the shots on the waves,” letting the audience in on the fact that movies are shot out of sequence. It still strikes me as a clever and effective idea, however unlikely that it would actually help someone with PTSD. Perret’s approach works because the whole movie seems to occur in a kind of fairy tale or mythic space, so that the scientific details don’t really matter.

Director: Léonce Perret

Camera: Georges Specht

Starring: Suzanne Grandais, Léonce Perret, Émile Keppens, Max Dhartigny, Jean Aymé, Louis Leubas

Run Time: 44 minutes

You can watch it for free: here