The House of Mystery (1923) – reviewed by George

An adult serial rather than one for children, “The House of Mystery” consists of 10 episodes with a total length of 6 hours. It is also a silent film, and a French film, wherein the dialogue cards have English subtitles printed at the bottom of the screen. Director Alexandre Volkoff began shooting in the summer of 1921, but was interrupted for six months when leading man Ivan Mosjoukine contracted typhoid fever. Shooting was completed in summer 1922, but due to changes within the production company, the film’s release, in ten weekly installments, began on March 23, 1923.
Apparently, at the time, professional critics regarded adult serials as rating 2 stars out of 5, being the harbinger of the collapse of the film industry, and generally challenging their vocabularies for new ways to say, “It stinks!”. Whoops , sorry! That’s how professional critics today write about the week’s biggest opening — the frequently comic book-based blockbuster. Oh well, the French critics of the early 20’s really did despise serials, so read that as you want.
This film, however, had the most hateful critics expressing either respect or admiration. And it really is excellent: well-directed, well-acted, and well-photographed. And while there is naturally some florid over-acting, it is really held to a minimum and used for only really big emotions. Mostly the actors are restrained and very sympathetic. The film has a great deal of humanity and yes, modernity.
Regine de Bettigny (Helene Darly) has three suitors, though one of the men is technically not a suitor, he is just very attentive and lavishes gifts on her. Her parents are rich and noble, and the three men are the owner/manager of a fabric company, his second-in-command, and a banker (the gift lavisher). She chooses the owner/manager Julien Villandrit (Ivan Mosjoukine) over the junior exec Henri Corradin (Charles Vanel) and the banker Marjory (Bartkevich), and they are married.
From that setup comes a story of villainous jealousy, lies, and murder: elements that keep the lovers apart for years. Lucky for Regine they have a daughter Christane (Jane Munier as a child, Simone Genevois as a young girl, and Francine Mussey as a young woman), who keeps her mother company through thick and thin. The other major character is Rudeberg (Nicolas Koline), a scruffy amateur photographer, whose photographs of the murder become more and more important as time goes by. Further, Rudeberg has married a widow with a child, a young boy Rudeberg comes to love as his own, Pascal (Fabien Haziza as a boy, Vladimir Strizhevski as a young man). Pascal and Christiane will fall in love.
The screenplay, by Volkoff and Mosjoukine, is taken from the novel of 1921 by Jules Mary, and includes a lot of action: a train full of escapees being chased by armed police in automobiles, a central character thrown over a cliff, an attempted drowning, and a fugitive hiding in a circus under clown makeup. Really, it is a silent movie I can recommend to everyone. I’m looking forward to watching it again.