THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY (LA MAISON DU MYSTÈRE): A Serial in Ten Episodes
Serial films, or ciné romans were well-established in France before World War I, where they are most closely identified with writer-director Louis Feuillade (JUDEX). These melodramas for adult audiences were unlike American serials that were targeted primarily at youngsters. At Albatros, Russian émigré producer Joseph Ermolieff produced three serials in 1921, all adapted from roman-feuilletons by the phenomenally successful Jules Mary, a specialist in the genre, who penned many a famous melodrama around the theme of the miscarriage of justice - a theme that must have had special appeal for the unjustly displaced technicians and artists of Ermolieff's Moscow and Yalta studios (see also the Albatros productions FRENCH MASTERWORKS: RUSSIAN ÉMIGRÉS IN PARIS (1923-1929) and THE LATE MATHIAS PASCAL). THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY was begun in the summer of 1921 and not completed until 1923 by Alexandre Volkoff (together with fellow studio director Viatcheslav Tourjansky who provides some important and uncredited second-unit work).
The first two serials have not left a trace in the annals of film archives. Fortunately, THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY has survived and been restored by the Cinematheque Française in its original ten-episode format. This DVD version contains optional English subtitles by Lenny Borger and a brand-new score by composer Neil Brand.
The involved plot of THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY centers around Julien Villandrit (Ivan Mosjoukine) and his star-crossed courtship to Régine de Bettigny (Hélène Darly), that inspires bitterness and jealousy in Henri Corradin (Charles Vanel), Julien's long-time associate and secret rival in love. For Mosjoukine, who contracted typhoid fever during the course of production, it remains one of the ultimate consecrations to his multifarious talents as actor, writer, and even make-up artist. But the film also opened doors for Vanel (LES MISÉRABLES, THE WAGES OF FEAR, and DIABOLIQUE), who gives the "Curses! Foiled again!" school of melodramatic villainy a new lease on life.
BEST DVD (THE PETER VON BAGH AWARD, 2015)
"Peter von Bagh brought this film to Bologna during his early years as artistic director of Il Cinema Ritrovato, and it remains a shining example of analogic restoration."
This six and a half hour epic film is replete with stylish elegance and narrative imagination.
“Like so many of the major French films of the 1920s, especially the Impressionist ones, LA MAISON DU MYSTÈRE combines a sentimental, old-fashioned story with unconventional stylistic devices: unusual pictorial motifs, beautiful cinematography and design, and imaginative staging. It is probably this visual interest that led to the film’s original acceptance by reviewers and to its enthusiastic reception by modern historians and silent-film buffs.
One visual motif that begins early on is silhouettes. The opening involves Mosjoukine’s character, Julien, still a bumptious, naive young man, courting Régine, the daughter of a wealthy couple who live near his chateau (the “maison” of the title). Despite his shyness, they manage to become engaged and walk joyfully through the woods together.
The entire wedding scene is then compressed into a series of shots done against bright white backgrounds render the actors and settings in near-black silhouettes. The result looks like a live-action version of a Lotte Reiniger cut-out animated film.”
– Kristin Thompson
Format: DVD-NTSC / Region 0
THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY (LA MAISON DU MYSTÈRE)
Director: Alexandre Volkoff
Producer: Joseph Ermolieff, Alexandre Kamenka & Nöe Bloch
Screenplay: Alexander Volkoff & Ivan Mosjoukine, from the novel by Jules Mary (1921)
Photography: Joseph-Louis Mundwiller, Nikolai Toporkoff & Fédote Bourgasoff
Art Director: Alexander Lochakoff & Edouard Gosh
Technical Director: Michel Feldman
Production Company: Films-Ermolieff & Films Albatros Production
Featuring: Ivan Mosjoukine, Charles Vanel, Hélène Darly, Nicolas Kolin, Bartkévitch, Claude Bénédict, Nina Rayevskaya, Jane Munier, Simone Genevois, Francine Mussey, Fabien Haziza, Vladimir Strijevski, Gilbert Dacheux
• 383 minutes
• Slideshow of rare production stills and behind-the-scenes photos.
Total Running Time: 06:23:00 (3 Discs)
Language: French intertitles, English subtitles
Musical Score: Neil Brand
Booklet Text: Lenny Borger & David Robinson
Published By: Flicker Alley
Institutional Price: $400 (plus shipping)
To order call: 212.280.8654 or click here for information on ordering by fax, e-mail or post.