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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Fantasy > Magic > Surrealism > Acting > Stage > Stardom > Love Triangle > Romance > Death > Mistaken > French Masterworks – Russian Émigrés In Paris: 1923 – 1928 (Silent Cinema/Flicker Alley DVD Box Set)

French Masterworks – Russian Émigrés In Paris: 1923 – 1928 (Silent Cinema/Flicker Alley DVD Box Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Films: B-



The amount of silent films lost worldwide is terrible ands frankly an embarrassment to so many people, countries, studios and industries that “no one thought any one would want to see them again” becomes one of the lamest excuses of all time.  The more we see restored silent films in their entirety, the more we want to see.  The more you see them, the more you realize how much greatness is lost forever.  Flicker Alley has issued a new 5-DVD, 5-film set entitled French Masterworks – Russian Émigrés In Paris: 1923 – 1928 and it is a strong volume on five remarkable films assembled here together to be seen again and celebrate an amazing period in French Cinema.


The Russian filmmakers in question had left Russia as the 1917 Revolution drove the Czars out of power and the USSR/Soviet Union was formed, including suppressing filmmaking and arts of all kinds.  France was a big beneficiary as one company formed in all of this was called Film Albatros, but it was far from a clumsy or slow bird.  Their amazing talent created some amazing films that have been little-seen and deserve to be rediscovered, know and enjoyed.  Here are the five in this set:



Ivan Mosjoukine’s (aka Mozzhukhin’s) The Burning Crucible (1923 aka le Brasier ardent) is a comical fantasy work with some surreal elements about a married couple having troubles and how their personal conflicts get them both into overblown, wacky, hilarious and even outrageous situations.  Mosjoukine plays no less that 11 parts (!) in the film as the industrialist husband (Nicolas Koline) does what he can to make her happy, but “Elle” (Nathalie Lissenko) wants something more than that and finds that behavior mechanical and possibly loveless.  After a nightmare that includes one Detective Z (Mosjoukine) who she has been reading about, they have a falling out about leaving Paris.


He goes to hire someone to help him get her to see he loves her, it is Detective Z!  This includes a crazy business contract he really needn’t sign; we get some amusing idiot plotting, big set productions and other sight gags.  Running 110 minutes, it definitely has some funny moments and great visual set pieces and other bits you have to see because they are like few others you have ever seen.  The energy, fun comic mode and fine pacing make this seem more alive than many (would-be) comedies I have seen in the last few months.  Hard to believe this is celebrating 90 years, but some of this is still ahead of its time and very much worth yours.



Alexandre Volkoff’s Keen (1924 aka Edmund Kean: Prince Among Lovers) is the second known filmed telling of the tale of the greatest actor of his time, notorious off-screen and at a time when acting was not as respectable as it is today.  Based on the Alexander Dumas play, the great stage actor (played very well by Ivan Mosjoukine) is also in total command of Shakespeare and we see him in action often, but as things get worse for him, starting with falling for a woman married to the Ambassador Of Denmark and things only get worse and more complicated.


I liked the twists, turns and stuffiness projected on the screen and too us throughout, further communicating the atmosphere to us of the societal place and positions the characters exist in.  If that is not all enough, this has what is considered the longest death scene in cinema history still to this day, one that is still imitated, laughed at, spoofed, mocked and so few have seen the original film.  That makes it all very amusing.


Besides being loosely referenced in a few cartoons (like those of Bugs Bunny), Rossano Brazzi, Anthony Hopkins, Vittorio Gassman and Ben Kingsley have since played the role, so this is another must-see film for all serious film fans to see.



Marcel L’Herbier’s The Late Mathias Pascal (1926) is a film we already reviewed in a great Blu-ray from Flicker Alley, which you can read about along with the epic-long comedy at this link:




I liked this film even more than the previous ones, but it is three hours with intermission, but it is worth getting through the first half to get the full impact of the second.



Jacques Feyder’s Gribiche (1926 aka Mother Of Mine) is the barely plausible story of the young title character Antoine Belot (Jean Forest) helping out a wealthy American woman named Madame Maranet (Francois Rosay) who wants to reward him.  When it turns out he is of limited means and living with only his mother Anna (Cécile Guyon), she even takes the boy in with the mother’s permission to help raise him!

As unlikely as this is, including that the Madame is not a molester or exploitationist of the young boy, the cast is good and the film consistently entertaining and pleasant throughout, with the actors and script being so good and even charming that the implausibilities are replaced with a sense of “wouldn’t that be nice” and reminds us how far our societies have fallen into distrust, disrepair and even anger when we look at film this old and realize the idea of living for ourselves and a better tomorrow have been sabotaged by hate, negative media and a lack of leadership and vision.


This film has some of that vision and is not just some formulaic melodrama or dumb comedy, but a film with some heart and soul like the kind we used to expect from our films before the general public allowed characters and ideas to be supplanted in the mainstream with digital effects, gimmicks and cynicism.  Yet another winner in this set, it is worth seeing all the way through.



Finally we have Jacques Feyder’s The New Gentlemen (1928 aka Les nouveaux messieurs) is a love triangle film with more complexity than you would expect, plus more political background and overall richness than anything in this set as an actress named Suzanne Verrier (Gaby Morlay) finds herself having to choose between the wealthy Count of Montoire-Grandpré (Henri Roussell) and working class union man and Leftist Electrician named Jacques Gaillac (Albert Préjean, who later played Inspector Maigret in three feature films) with some moments as relevant as ever and others that are charmingly dated.


Sadly, the film was banned and by the time it got through that gauntlet, sound had arrived and the film never got its due.  Fortunately, it has survived and can get the credit it deserves 85 years on and counting and it does not need sound or even music to work.  It is smart, sometimes a howler and also very much worth your time to see, even with its few aged parts.




The 1.33 X 1 black and white 35mm film image in all five cases come from restored materials that look great for their age, but they also show their age with specks, slight damage and wear in many places, but we still get some fine shots throughout all of them and they have a unique monochromatic look and feel you will not get from black and white films from other countries.  Pascal cannot match the performance of the Blu-ray versions, but still looks good for the format.  I hope the rest get Blu-ray treatment.  All also have lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with new music scores that play nicely, but are not as warm as if they were PCM and lossless DTS or Dolby True HD presentations.   Still, they’ll do just fine and some might not even be interested in the music as much as the images as I was.


Extras include a Bonus Scene on Gribiche that somehow survived and a great 28-page, nicely illustrated booklet on the films entitled From Moscow To Montreuil – The Russian Emigres In Paris: 1920 – 1929, including informative text, poster art, stills and essays on the films and the history of the era and the filmmakers who made these films including the many political factors and world politics at work.



You can order the set directly at this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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