Posted by Solomon on 1/15/2019, 5:43 am
Andrew Spicer has this as noir. Its literary source is the detective fiction of Gaston Leroux, this picture being a sequel to "The Mystery of the Yellow Room".
The antagonist is a man who is a formidable opponent to the young detective, even if not in the class of Moriarty or Mabuse.
The picture's director, Marcel L'Herbier, had definite artistic ideas embodied in the film, which include natural sound, fluidity of presentation, and silent or near-silent sequences. The fluidity is evidenced by the large number of shots in the film, way above that typical of the time and place. L'Herbier wanted to avoid the static quality of contemporary Hollywood films making the transition to sound. He succeeded. The protagonist is highly athletic, bounding and jumping around. I wonder if some of the style goes back to Eisenstein.
The story and screenplay are far from linear. Characters appear suddenly without explanation, and we must be content to figure out what's what and who's who. Action occurs without explanation. However, the version I watched runs 89m, not the 109m that IMDb says. Still, you'll be able to follow most of what's going on.
Most of the action takes place in a chateau that sits on a high rocky outcropping overlooking water. "La plupart des scènes du film sont tournées sur l'île de Port-Cros. La scène à l'intérieur de l'internat est tournée au Lycée Janson-de-Sailly à Paris. La première scène est tournée au Château de Villemolin comme Le Mystère de la chambre jaune." After searching, I still am unable to identify what chateau was actually used in exterior scenes. I think the film makes it seem as if it sits on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, but it actually may not.
The film's Art Deco style is magnificent. The interiors are stunning. This was a period when a movie like the 1935 "The Raven" was produced. It's impressive, but Le parfum is much grander, including 4 threatening Oriental servants who work as a team and wear shirts with swastika-like symbols.
Is this pre-noir? I do not know, but I think not, except that it's devoted solely to being a crime story. I think a noir fan will probably not find what he's looking for in this film. It's a question I leave to experts. It's one of those stories where eventually everyone is in the room, a very large room, and the hero, with some challenges of action, unravels the mystery and nails the criminal. Getting there is the fun.
I was impressed more by the beauty of the film.
Re: Le parfum de la dame en noir (1931)
Posted by Don Malcolm on 1/15/2019, 9:47 am, in reply to "Le parfum de la dame en noir (1931)"
L'Herbier is the king of French art-deco style, which he perfected in his silent films. But he also was ahead of the curve in terms of editing, moving forward with a rhythmic approach that contrasted well with his approach to set design.
These are clearly "precursors" that focus on "locked room" approaches to crime/mystery stories. Noir would break away from this stylized approach but it would appropriate the murky "quel surprise" plot techniques in a less histrionic manner, leading to a quality we still have trouble characterizing definitively: "fatalism," which is just not part of the "art deco crime story." Those servants are sinister, but, as you say, "getting there" is "fun." And that's not noir.
L'Herbier is much closer to it in LE BONHEUR a few years later, with a strange ironic twist (actress falls in love with the man who tried to kill her). And that's the other thing that ushers in noir: the addition of sound allows tone of voice and dialogue to add a layer of meaning that contradicts and/or comments upon the action we see and the actor's expression. Irony is the engine for individuals to express their alienation and then act upon it.