Barmaid Marie (Gina Manès, Josephine in Abel Gance’s Napoleon) is in love with waterfront man Jean (Léon Mathot, who became a director in the sound era) with good hair, but her parents have promised her to slimeball Small Paul (Edmond Van Daële, also of Napoleon, and The Mystery of the Yellow Room), a drunk who will destroy the lives of everyone he meets. The would-be couple’s only mode is wistful, staring blankly into the distance – seemingly content in their brief moments together before her foster parents marry her off to Small Paul, who gives her a sick baby and a life of impoverished misery until Jean, back from a year or two in prison for injuring a cop, starts hanging around again. He takes no action as usual, and they enjoy sitting silently near each other again, until Paul finds out, comes home and gets himself shot by bitter crippled neighbor Marie Epstein (the director’s sister and cowriter).
Only Epstein’s third feature – he gets away with some crazy (for 1923) techniques because the bulk of the movie is such straight melodrama. I’d been meaning to catch up with more Epstein after House of Usher a few years ago, and luckily, the Alloy Orchestra was touring with this one. It’s some of their finest work, if not Epstein’s (it’s good enough, but come on, Finis Terrae).
“Is he invisible,” Richard asked as Jean kept creeping unnoticed into small rooms: