Thursday, July 19, 2012

Madame Recamier - 1928 Movie Review


Madame Recamier (1928)


Published: July 15, 1928

TAKING into account both its intrinsic quality and its origin, "Madame Récamier" is the most interesting French film recently produced. For one thing, its incidents and its interpretation of the character of the famous beauty of the First Empire are drawn from the biography written by M. Edouard Herriot, the present Minister of Education, a fact which gives it almost an official parentage.
The subject itself is conspicuously suitable for dramatic treatment. Madame Récamier lived through the most moving period of French history. Married at the age of 15, during the Terror, she knew most of the brilliant and tragic figures which passed across the stage of history during the Directoire and the Empire. In one aspect, therefore, the film is a remarkable gallery of portraits. We see Napoleon, Josephine, all the Bonapartes, Fouche, the great Generals from Junot to Bernadotte, Madame de Staël, David the painter, Talma the actor, and we even get a glimpse of the young Victor Hugo. Madame Récamier's own life story is full of dramatic incidents, and tragic lights fall at every stage on this coquette whose beauty brought half the men she knew to her feet.
With Napoleon.
Madame Récamier first is shown as an old woman, still surrounded by admirers and attractive enough to receive an offer of marriage from Chateaubriand. To this little scene we owe an impersonation of Chateaubriand by M. Le Bargy, of the Comédie Française. It is while Madame Récamier is considering the proposal that we are taken through the history of her life. A marriage which was no marriage and for good reasons never could be one; supreme beauty; an incorrigible desire to please—here were perfect qualifications for the career of a coquette. We are shown scenes of flirtation with various distinguished persons, including Lucien Bonaparte, whose love-making approached violence. Even Napoleon himself pursued her with attentions.
The most dramatic part of the film is that which displays her conflict with Napoleon. She successfully appeals for the great man's favor for her father. Through a series of scenes at court receptions, at the Théâtre Français, in Napoleon's study, she is shown rejecting his advances. Twice she was pressed to become one of the Empress's ladies. In revenge for her refusal Napoleon declined to save her husband from ruin. Then came comparative poverty. In the refuge of Madame de Staël's house occurred the one idyl in the coquette's career, the love of Prince "Augustus of Prussia, "the one man who had made her heart beat." But an appeal from her husband brought her back to Paris. She remained Madame Récamier to the end, and the last picture shows her, pathetically aged, writing to Chateaubriand her refusal to change that name. The film is produced under the auspices of Franco-Films, and Mme. Marie Bell takes the leading part.
A Melodrama.
"Une Java," produced by the Omnium Français du Film, has a good though slight story and plenty of movement. It begins with a picture of a sordid dancing room in a suburb of Paris, the recort of low criminals. Mony Arté, a dancer in a revue, stranded in the neighborhood on a stormy night owing to an automobile break-down, takes shelter there, along with her manager and a clown belonging to her company. In the midst of the bustling activity of the unsavory place one sees the approach of danger; a thief has his eyes on Mony Arté's pearls. She is saved from the menace of attack by the watchfulness and prompt action of a handsome young fellow who happens to be in the room. This unexpected protector persuades the great artist to dance with him. Even in such surroundings her art triumphs. Envy and hostility turn to admiration and everybody applauds. Then occurs a police raid, and it is quickly apparent that the handsome dancing partner of the evening, who looks more like a victim of misfortune than a villain, nevertheless has reason for fearing an encounter with the representatives of the law. Mony Arté in her turn becomes a protectress. She passes him off as a member of her company.
This romantic episode leaves a deep impression on Mony Arté's mind, and for her next revue she composes a scene inspired by it. On the first night this number scores a great success. Full of thoughts of the original hero, the girl discovers that he is in the hall among the audience. She sends for him. In her dressing room he tells his pathetic story. Months before, as a result of an entanglement with a woman, he had lost his situation and fallen into misery. One night he interfered in a street fight to defend a detective who was being badly handled by two rascals. A shot was fired. The detective was seriously wounded. The two criminals made off and Charvel, innocent, was arrested, tried and sent to prison as the man who fired the shot. Since his release he had lived deliberately in the haunts of vice in the hope that he might meet the real criminal and make the truth known. Mony Arté is deeply affected by this story and invites the young man to go to her house after the theatre in order to discuss his plans for the future.
The Villain Captured.
The climax of the film is reached by a number of coincidences. First, the detective, Grainger, who has also attended the performance, follows Charvel to the artist's home. Secondly, a group of thieves choose the same night to attempt a burglary at the house. The end may be guessed. The thieves are caught. One of them turns out to be the man who had committed the crime for which Charvel had been punished. Grainger undertakes to have Charvel's innocence recognized by law, so all ends well. Mony Arté and Charvel, whose acquaintance has obviously become the beginning of love, do not confess their affection, but the hero takes his leave with the feeling that as soon as his wrongs have been righted and his reputation restored he will come back to claim her. The two principal actors are Henriette Delannoy and Jean Angelo.
Karl Dane, Lionel Barrymore and Tully Marshall are supporting William Haines in "Alias Jimmy Valentine."

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