Gartenberg Media Enterprises (GME) is pleased to announce the release of the epic French serial, THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY (LA MAISON DU MYSTÈRE), now available for institutional sales in North America.
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, also distributed by GME). 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 (1926), distributed as well by GME).
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 ben restored by the Cinémathèque Française in its original ten-episode format. This DVD version, published by Flicker Alley, 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.
This six and a half hour epic film is replete with stylish elegance and narrative imagination. About THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY, authoritative film scholar Kristen Thompson has written:
“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.”
Additional Albatros Studio Productions & Silent Serials of Related Interest from GME
Ivan Mosjoukine, Alexandre Volkoff, Marcel L’Herbier, Jacques Feyder