From Eureka Entertainment‘s every expanding, ever reliable Masters of Cinema range is this release of GW Pabst’s 1927 film The Love of Jeanne Ney. Originally from Austria, Pabst is probably best known for discovering and developing such stars as Louise Brooks and Greta Garbo. This German production is presented with a choice of German or English intertitles, each choice occasioning a different musical score (more on this later).
The film is set in Russia, during the immediate post-revolutionary Civil War. Jeanne (Édith Jéhanne) is the daughter of Andre (Eugen Jenson) a French diplomat stationed there. When the suspicious Khalibiev – referred to as ‘Zinajeff’ onscreen (Fritz Rasp in a wonderfully hammy turn) – visits Eugen with a list of Bolshevik agents, it turns out to be a scheme to draw those agents to Jenson’s door, in order that he be killed. Although not entirely clear, this seems to be related to the idea that the death will lead to the release of information that stolen jewels have made their way to France. Jeanne is advised by her lover, Andreas (Uno Henning) – one of the Bolsheviks in question – to get out of the country, and he arranges, through a friendly member of the communist party, to make this so.
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Once in France, Jeanne stays with her uncle Raymond (Adolph Edgar Licho), a private detective. Khalibiev also turns up in France, and feigns falling in love with Raymond’s blind daughter Gabrielle (Brigitte Helm, best known for her role in the same year’s Metropolis). His plan is to marry her, kill her, and then abscond with another woman he meets in a bar. When he drunkenly admits to the bar lady that this is his scheme, she races to Raymond and Gabrielle to warn them. In the interim we learn Raymond is searching for a stolen diamond that will make him rich – a fact clearly known to his daughter’s suitor, and the reason Khalibiev has engineered both the murder of Jeanne’s father, and the plan to marry Raymond’s daughter. With a subsequent murder – which we won’t spoil here – there is an attempt to frame Jeanne’s boyfriend, as he is not in Paris. This leads to a tense conclusion, as we wait to see whether Jeanne, Andreas or even Gabrielle may find themselves on the hook for a murder they did not commit.
At around 86 minutes for the US version and 106 for the German, this is a substantial film, with a decent plot that never fails to hold the viewer’s interest. The villain is a little broad, but his motives and plans are not always clear, and our lead characters have shades of grey that marks this out as a film that is a little ahead of its time, though there is the minor criticism to be made that Jeanne is something of a passenger in her own film at times.
With both versions of the original negative lost, both the German and American versions are assembled from what was available, with the picture damaged, but entirely watchable, and acceptable enough for the age of the film. Originally scored by Hans May, the German version features a new score from Bernd Thewes, with the American/English Language version provided with its music by Andrew Earle Simpson. The former is the more lavish sounding, with an appropriately Russian-influenced sound backed with a lot of horns and piano. The latter is more playful, noticeably smaller in scale, less expansive and more relying more on piano alone. Both suit the film just fine, but Thewes’ work is superior.
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Understandably, given the film’s age, bonus features are a little scant, with the sole onscreen extra being the c. 25-minute video essay ‘Too Romantic, Too Ghastly’, by David Cairns and Fiona Watson; both familiar to fans of these releases, as they completed the similar work ‘The Face Deceives’ video essay for last year’s home release of The Man Who Laughs. It begins with a focus on the director and his background, as a German director though hailing originally from Austria. It is very efficient on his background, with him being a working director with thought provided to us from Louise Brooks under two minutes in. We move on to his time making films for Goebbels, though refusing to go fully down the propaganda route, with his later works denouncing anti-Semitism – specifically The Trial (1948). and later attempts to redeem himself (with 1955’s The Last Ten Days).
With his work with Louise Brooks rediscovered after the war, his reputation starts to grow again. This is all within the first five minutes of the essay, after which we move on to this film. Cairns and Watson take the time to compare this work to the original Soviet novel in a very balanced way. Evidently, the book had a more gut punch ending, which it is postulated that the film trivialises, with the author Ilya Ehrenburg speaking out against the adaptation. They address technical matters, such as the editing technique of cutting on movement to make the film smoother. Shot making choices are also discussed, with still shots between the action to be interpreted as ‘full stops’.
The most interesting part of the essay is the discussion of the mystery of the lead actress – her date of birth and birth name not known for years, as her career died with the advent of the ‘talkies’, and she dropped off the map, with it not known for years when she had died (1949, in the event). We then move through the rest of the cast, what they achieved and what became of them. Brigitte Helm, Uno Henning, and Fritz Rasp, in particular. It’s well researched, with plenty of testimony from collaborators of the time, all conveyed with enthusiasm by the creators of this documentary. It really is a great mix of stories about people, combined with solid analysis of filmmaking, of style and what ends up on screen in our main feature. Finally, it employs some sparing but very good humour “Not many actors can act with their ears – except Rin Tin Tin” – followed by a cut to a shot of a dog. It closes out on a look at the film’s critical reaction, covering an immense amount of ground in its relatively short running time.
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As is usual with this range, the set is complemented by the usual booklet. Running to a longer-than-usual 28 pages, it is taken up almost entirely by a contribution from a regular to this range. Philip Kemp’s ‘”Europe in Full Disintegration” – Pabst and Jeanne Ney’ looks at the film in the context of the director’s life and career as a whole, and is a fascinating read. In short, it is a miracle that this release exists, as the negatives were lost, and one of the stars made a bona fide classic the same year, with Metropolis garnering far more attention in the years that followed.
The director could easily remain tainted by his association with the Nazi regime, and, finally, Eureka could easily have looked at these factors and declined this opportunity. Once again, even with their lesser releases – of which, in terms of overall set quality, this certainly is – they have demonstrated their commitment to keeping alive historic cinema entries that could easily have been lost to us. This is a decent enough release for a film that, it turns out, is very entertaining.
The Love of Jeanne Ney is out on Blu-ray on 6th December from Eureka Entertainment.