Sunday, February 12, 2012

Napoleon Through American Eyes

On this day in 1929, the New York Times ran a review of Abel Gance's Napoleon.

The 1927 French film had just opened at the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse, a smaller New York City art house which showed European films and other exotic fair. (For instance, another European film whose reputation preceded it to these shores, G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks, made its American debut at the Playhouse ten months later.)

Napoleon did not receive a very good review. Mordaunt Hall, the newspaper's well known critic, found the film's abbreviated state made for a less than satisfying cinema experience.

Despite protests from Gance and even the threat of a lawsuit, MGM had suppressed the three-screen finale and cut the film for it's U.S. release from six hours to eighty minutes. As a resultant, Hall and others found the film a jumble and it's ending abrupt.

Prior to its showing in New York City, newspapers there and elsewhere around the country had reported on its production. It was big news in France and expectations were high when the film came to America.

Napoleon played elsewhere around the United States, in cities such as Sandusky, Ohio (where it was paired with a Rex Bell western, Wild West Romance) and Charleston, West Virginia. On November 11, 1928 the Charleston Daily Mail ran a picture of Albert Dieudonne, who played Napoleon, and repeated the buzz that the film was the greatest to have ever come out of France. No mention was made of its problematic history.

On March 24, 25, 31 and April 1, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is presenting Kevin Brownlow's restoration of Abel Gance's epic masterpiece in a as-complete-as-it-will-ever-be five and one-half hour version with its original three screen finale and live musical accompaniment.

It is certainly an event not to missed. More info here.

1 comment:

  1. Mordaunt Hall's review was actually the 2nd one published in the New York Times. Writer James Graham saw Napoleon at a screening in Paris. His review was published on June 5, 1927.