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Dopo aver combattuto volontario nella Prima Guerra Mondiale, René
Clair entrò nel mondo della cultura svolgendo contemporaneamente le professioni di giornalista e
di attore nella compagnia di Feuillade. Coinvolto nell'atmosfera dadasurrealista di palingenesi dell'arte,
Clair trovò nel cinema di trucchi di Meliès l'ispirazione giusta, l'assurdo, che fuse con
l'umorismo antiborghese dell'avanguardia. Propugnando un ritorno alle origini del cinema, in evidente
polemica con coloro che volevano gestire la nuova arte con l'estetica di quelle vecchie, Clair non si
vergognò di citare la farsa e il musichall.
Paris qui Dort/ Paris which Sleeps/ The Crazy Ray (1924) aprì la sua carriera di regista.
La trama (in cui confluiscono stereotipi del film fantascientifico e del serial poliziesco) narra di uno
scienziato pazzo che, mediante un raggio paralizzante di sua invenzione, riesce ad arrestare la vita di
Clair fu abile proprio nel riuscire ad arrestare la vita della metropoli, intercalando figure immobili e montaggio rapido.
A young man, Albert, wakes up in his very spare room. He lives and works on the top floor of the Tour Eiffel as the night watchman.
Looking down, he wonders why nothing seems to be moving in the city.
He walks down the many steps to the ground floor and wanders around Paris.
He sees a man about to jump into the river and runs to save him but the man in
paralyzed. He sees a cop chasing a criminal but they are paralyzed.
Everybody seems to be turned into statues.
He sees an airplane in the sky and rushes to the airport to meet the passengers:
the aviator/ playboy,
a wealthy businessman who came to see his girlfriend Lisette,
an inspector handcuffed to his prisoner, who is an international thief, and Hesta, a tourist.
Albert informs them that everybody is paralyzed in the city.
Every clock in the city says 3:25.
They guess they were immune to what happened at that time because they were all above the city.
The businessman finds his lover Lisette paralyzed.
They enter a restaurant where everybody is paralyzed, and they dine and wine.
At the end the rich businessman pays the waiter (who is paralyzed like everybody else) and the money of course remains in his hand.
On the way out the thief takes it.
They decide to spend the night at the top of the Tour Eiffel.
Afraid of getting paralyzed, they remain in the tower.
They are rich because they can take anybody's money.
Soon they compete for the attention of the only woman.
They get into fights and one even jumps from the tower, surviving by miracle.
Finally, they receive a wireless message giving them an appointment in the city.
At that address a woman asks them for help to escape. She introduces herself
as the assistant to her uncle, a famous scientist, who has discovered a ray
that can stop all motion. She tried to stop him but he locked her in her room.
They break into the scientist's laboratory and convince him to wake up
the world at 3:25, so that nobody will notice what happened.
Everything returns to normal.
The thief runs away from the detective. The playboy leaves with Hesta, but
they soon realize that they don't have money. They need to stop the world
again so they can take other people's money.
Their return to the laboratory and turn the lever to stop the world again.
Then it's easy to steal money, but the scientist is demonstrating his invention
to a fellow scientist, and restarts the world.
The playboy and Hesta are captured in the act of stealing.
The two scientists get into a fight in the laboratory, so that the world starts and stops all the time.
Hesta and her playboy are taken to the police station. They try to convince
the cops that for four days nothing moved. The cops hand them to a doctor
as mad people in need of care. The doctor
already has five patients with the same symptoms: the
detective, the thief, the businessman, the niece and Albert.
They are released as harmless. One day the
niece spots Albert and they elope in the tower.
There are various versions of this mid-length film, from half an hour to more than one hour.
Con questo film Clair si propose come la controfigura cinematografica di Francis Picabia, il progettista del gratuito, l'ingegnere di macchine ironiche, l'artista della non-arte, rivoluzionario permanente della pittura.
La collaborazione fra l'anziano maestro e il giovane discepolo sfociò
Entr'acte (1924), concepito come intermezzo per un balletto su musiche
di Erik Satie, ma
soprattutto a sovvertire il gusto borghese: nel film non ci sono due sequenze collegate (salvo forse alla
fine, quando un prestigiatore fa scomparire tutti i personaggi e poi anche sé stesso), la storia
è senza capo e senza coda, si limita ad accumulare indizi comici di un sogno (una serata di festa
Fra gli interpreti spiccano il musicista Erik Satie (la ballerina barbuta), Picabia (sceneggiatore e
assassino di un Tirolese), Man Ray (uno scacchista) e Marcel Duchamps (l'altro scacchista).
Entr'acte manifesta già due caratteristiche dell'opera di Clair:
l'interesse per il balletto (sincronismo dei movimenti, perfezione dell'assurdo, ritmo come
comicità) e il sentimentalismo bohemiém; quest'ultimo, nettamente contrario ai dettami
dadaisti, consiste nel provare tenerezza per i difetti della società, e nel salvarli (nel momento
stesso in cui si ride di essi) proprio in quanto divertenti. L'ideologia piccoloborghese che presiede a questa
semplicistica accettazione delle contraddizioni sociali fa poi sì che le varie gag restino slegate
l'una con l'altra.
The film opens on a rooftop where two men
(Francis Picabia in a white shirt and Eric Satie wearing a bowler hat, suit and tie, and holding an umbrella) are jumping up and down next to a cannon.
They load the cannon and jump away. We then see urban images twisted diagonally, and a puppet whose head first decays and then inflates. We see that there
are three puppets and a projection of urban spaces is rolling above them.
After some documentarian images of the city at night, we see matches lighting up the hair of a man, a ballerina photographed from the floor (her skirt and underwear looking like a blooming flower),
a paper boat flying over the roofs of the city,
and two men (Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray) playing chess on the roof of a building overlooking the Champs Elysees, each move corresponding
to a movement in the city below.
The camera shows more of the ballerina and we see that she has a beard.
We see a close-up of the eyes which dissolves into an egg suspended as a target
and we see a hunter aiming at it.
The hunter shoots, breaks the egg and a bird flies out.
Picabia appears on the roof of a building with another gun, aims at the
bird which is now on the hunter's hat, shoots, and hits the hunter.
We then see a formal funeral, with the hearse pulled by a camel.
The mourners follow it but jumping like athletes (in slow motion).
We then see cars and bicycles in the streets. The hearse and the mourners enter
a circular venue that looks like a circus with a Tour Eiffel in the middle.
The ropes pulled by the camel fail and the hearse rolls down a hill, chased by the mourners.
The hearse and the mourners continue their mad race through countryside roads busy with cars and bicycles (superimposed to a a rollercoaster ride).
The images flash by more and more frantically.
Finally, the hearse loses
the coffin that rolls into a field, and the mourners catch up.
The lid of the coffin opens and
a magician pops out, perfectly alive and smiling.
He points his magic wand at the coffin and makes it disappear.
He then points it at the mourners and make them disappear, one by one.
Finally, he points it at his own chest and makes himself disappear.
The word "FIN" ("the end") appears but a man rips and jumps through it.
Someone kicks him in the face and we see the jump in reverse as the man
reenters the "FIN" word which returns to be intact.
It's a comic Dada experiment with little or no symbolism, just a random
sequence of uneventful events.
Le Voyage Imaginaire/ The Imaginary Voyage (1926)
sfrutta il movente surrealista del sogno per
imbastire una catena di scene ad effetto: un impiegato timido sogna di essere trasformato in un cane, di
essere inseguito dalle figure di cera in un museo, di essere condannato alla ghigliottina e di essere salvato
dall'omino di Charlie Chaplin.
A poor and shy young man, Jean, is going to work.
His coworker Auguste is walking
behind him with a dog and the dog starts chasing the young man.
At the office (a bank) Jean is in love with
Lucie, the typist, but too shy to give her the flowers he brought for her.
The bank's director seizes the flowers and hands them to Lucie, trying to
kiss her. She throws the flowers on the floor, another employee,
Albert, picks them up and the flowers cause a misunderstanding that ends up
in a fight among Jean, Albert and Auguste.
Jean is depressed when he sees Albert talk to Lucie, but in reality she rejected
Jean falls asleep and dreams of frolicking in the woods.
Jean saves an old fortune-teller who has been attacked by two thugs.
She kisses him and she regains her powers of fairy queen that she had lost.
She takes him to a tunnel inside a tree. He slides down and finds himself
in her hideout. She opens an elaborate gate and he enters her magical world.
They crawl on the ceiling like spiders. She takes him to the
hostel for aging fairy queens. He is revolted by the old women but has to kiss
each of them, turning all of them into beauty queens.
The party is joined by characters of fairy tales, like Cinderella and Felix the Cat.
He is promised immortality with them, but he wants Lucie's love, not immortality.
And so the fairy queen arranges for Lucie to fall into the same tunnel
and join them. Jean is ecstatic but the fairy queen has also brought in
Auguste and Albert. They are happy and dance with the beautiful fairy queens.
Lucie reciprocates Jean's love, and everybody seems to be happy.
But the evil witch Sylvaine sows the seeds of discontent.
The fairy queen who acts as Jean's protector decides that
Jean, Lucie, Auguste and Albert must leave because Sylvaine is dangerous.
She gives Jean a ring that will make any wish come true, and then magically transports them to the top of Notre Dame.
Albert tricks Jean into desiring to be like a loyal dog to Lucie and the
magic ring turns Jean into Auguste's dog.
Then Auguste and Albert fight over the ring,
chased by the dog. Lucie doesn't understand what is going on.
Auguste and Albert end up holding the ring together, as if they were handcuffed,
always followed by Lucie and by the dog.
To get rid of the dog, Auguste and Albert enter the wax museum, where dogs
are not allowed.
The two men start fighting again but soon realize that the ring has lost its
magical powers and run out of the museum.
At the same time, the dog sneaks in and sits near Lucie, who now understands that her Jean has been turned into a dog.
She faints and the nightwatchman mistakes her for a wax figure.
At midnight the dog wakes her up and the wax statues start walking like zombies.
They grab Lucie and the dog and hold a trial.
Jean the dog is sentenced to die on the guillotine.
The kid (Jackie Coogan) of Charlie Chaplin's famous movie runs to wake up the wax figure of Charlie Chaplin and Chaplin runs to save the dog.
The kid then wakes up the wax figure of a famous boxer who runs to save Chaplin.
Charlie and Lucie walk out with the dog.
Charlie magically evokes Auguste and Albert and forces them to return the ring
to Lucie, who uses it to end the spell: Jean returns to be Jean. Just then Jean wakes up in the office.
There is indeed a ring on his desk, and he doesn't know that Auguste left it there, and it came from the window shades.
The ring has no magical power but Jean feels more confident. When the colleagues mock him, he knocks them out. He even kisses Lucie and then walks away with her.
Auguste unleashes his dog after Jean but this time Jean orders and the dog sits.
The film overflows with imagination and with references to popular culture,
becoming almost a post-modernist work ante-litteram. There are hints of
"Alice in Wonderland" as well as of horror movies, and Charlie Chaplin's little man appears as one of the characters.
It predates not only postmodernism, but even Todd Browning (the wax museum) and Jean Cocteau (the fairy queens).
The entire second half is a dream sequence, and rescues the first half that is quite trivial comedy.
The ending feels like a tribute to Chaplin.
Nel periodo dadaista (caratterizzato peraltro da trasgressioni al
codice artistico del dadaismo e del surrealismo), Clair propone già diversi temi cruciali (il
populismo, l'amante timido, l'inseguimento, i ladri, il denaro) che spuntano qua e là e che sono
destinati ad ingigantirsi col tempo.
Con Un Chapeau de Paille d'Italie/ The Italian Straw Hat (1928), an
silent adaptation of Eugene Labiche's five-act farce of 1851,
Clair abbandona la sperimentazione, mostrando il suo vero volto; la sceneggiatura è tratta dal
"vaudeville" di ottant'anni prima, basati, come tutte le commedie del genere, sull'umorismo, sul
dinamismo, conquista il suo spazio cinematografico sotto forma di balletto e di inseguimento, mentre il
realismo si stempera in una caricatura sentimentale del popolino.
Il suo tocco, agile e leggero, fonde il
"vaudeville" teatrale e quello cinematografico, Labiche e Max Linder.
The film is set in 1893.
While his bride Helene is getting ready at home, helped by her parents and
the groom, Fadinard, is riding to his new home in the woods
when his horse suddenly runs away and stops to
eat a lady's hat that is hanging on a bush.
The lady and her lover, a lieutenant, emerge from the bushes.
Fadinard laughs at the scene and leaves them but they chase them on another
Meanwhile the guests of the wedding are arriving.
Fadinard's deaf uncle brings a gift in a box.
While Fadinard is entertaining his deaf uncle, the lieutenant and the lady
show up furious that the horse ruined the lady's hat.
Fadinard sees that the woman wears a wedding ring and the lieutenant doesn't
and understands that it is an adulterous affair.
She is married and can't return home without the hat.
(In Labiche's play she is an ex-girlfriend of Fadinard's).
Worse: the wedding guests are arriving and she can't afford to be seen there.
Fadinard hides them in a closet.
The lieutenant demands that Fadinard buys a new hat just like the old one
and threatens to disrupt the wedding.
A servant who opens the door is shocked to see the lady fainting in Fadinard's arm.
He leaves her to the deaf uncle and the servant, who opens the door again, sees
her in the old man's arms.
The servant is even more shocked when he sees the lady in the arms of the lieutenant.
The lieutenant threatens to kill Fadinard in a duel if he doesn't find the hat,
and Fadinard has to find excuses to delay the wedding, who are already
assembling in the wedding hall.
Fadinard runs to the specialized shop but the owner tells him that it's a rare
hat and she just sold the last one.
Fadinard is dragged back to the wedding hall so that the wedding finally begins.
The angry lieutenant who is waiting at the house sends the servant to call for
The officiating man gives a very long lecture that the groom interrupts with
a loud applause so that they can leave the wedding hall, and he can resume
the hunt for the hat.
He runs back to the store and gets the address of the person who bought the last hat of that kind.
He is dragged back to church for the religious ceremony.
The lieutenant again dispatches the servant to warn Fadinard: he started
throwing furniture out of the house, and the neighbors are taking it.
The wedding has now moved to the reception and the guests started eating
and then to the dancehall. While the guests dance to a quadrille, the lieutenant
is inviting the whole neighborhood to demolish Fadinard's house.
The groom finds an excuse and leaves again. He heads to the house of the
lady who bought the hat. Everybody follows him because they think he's going to his new home.
Fadinard finds the husband and begs him to have his wife's hat. To convince him
of the importance of the matter, Fadinard explains what happened in detail,
even describing the hat. The husband realizes that the cheating lady is his own wife, cheating with his own friend the lieutenant.
Fadinard rushes out and explains to the assembled crowd that this is not his house. Everybody follows him out while the cuckold husband obtains the address, determined to catch his adulterous wife and her lover. He has two revolvers in his pockets. Fadinard summons two cops and runs to stop the cuckold while his
wedding party heads for his real home. When they arrive at his home, they
are told by the servant that a woman is in the bedroom. The father of the
bride calls off the wedding, the bride cries, the guests take back their
gifts. Fadinard arrives and tries to explain. The deaf uncle who doesn't
understand what is going on opens his gift and it turns out to be exactly
a hat of that kind. Thinking he has solved his problem, Fadinard grabs the box
and runs to the lieutenant and the adulterous lady, but forgets the hat.
The jealous husband, released by the cops, arrives and searchs every room
for the lovers, who manage to escape. Fadinard runs out to find the uncle
but the entire wedding party has been arrested by the police because they
were too noisy. The lieutenant is a friend of the police chief and manages
to rescue the hat. The adulterous lady can now pretend that it was all
a misunderstanding. The police release the wedding guests, Helene forgives
Adapting a theatrical farce, that relies on dialogues, to silent cinema is
an impossible mission. The result is an overlong movie and not a particularly
funny one, but with a greatly embellished ending.
Just like in Labiche's farce, the tale is amoral: it sides with the
adulterous couple, and the one helping them is a man about to get married,
implying that he finds it normal that married women cheat on their husbands.
Les Deux Timides (1928) continuo` in quella direzione.
Fino al 1934 continuò a evocare una Parigi povera ma festosa, fatta di
viuzze brulicanti di sartine a piedi e di piazze attraversate da ricchi in carrozza, immersa in una "Belle
Epoque" poetica e spensierata e coinvolta in una specie di di gigantesco ballo in maschera (operai con
le maniche rimboccate, vecchietti sordi e petulanti, borghesi rispettabili, gaie fanciulle con la frangetta,
innamorati timidi), al limite del bozzetto e della maniera.
Prima venne l'idilio popolare di
Sous les Toits de Paris/ Under the Roofs of Paris (1930),
protagonista un cantante di strada, vanamente innamorato di una fanciulla che ha già
dato il suo cuore a un altro, con buffi sotterfugi per evitare il confronto con il sonoro), iniziatore della
commedia musicale populista francese, lirica e leggera.
Poi venne la commedia musicale Le Million (1931),
ancora un adattamento dal vaudeville, storia di un giovane pieno di debiti che vince alla lotteria
ma perde il biglietto, scatenando una caccia allo stesso condotta in gruppo da amici più creditori
che finisca all'Operà.
Poi venne l'operetta satirica À Nous La Libertè/ Freedom for Us (1931), a satirical political apologue
in the form of a mostly silent movie with arias and slapstick-like skits,
permeato di ideologia naive
utopica e scenografia cubista (Chaplinesco nell'assunto anarchico,
influenzerà a sua volta il Chaplin di Modern Times).
Convicts build toy horses. Two of them are plotting to escape. One succeeds,
Louis, whereas the other one, Emile, is captured. Louis, having hit a bike
rider, is mistaken for a champion and wins the bike race. He robs a store to
get some decent clothes and then makes money playing phonographic records at
the corner of the street and then selling phonographs and then eventually
becomes a tycoon of the recording industry. In his factory the workers behave
like robots in the assembly line. In the meantime Emile, a kind soul,
rots in jail and,
desperate for freedom when he hears a woman sing (it is actually one of
Louis' phonographs), decides to hang himself. The window collapses and he
can leave his cell. He just wants to listen to the paradisiac music and stare
at the beautiful girl, but soon the owner turns off the phonograph and Emile,
still unaccustomed to public life, is chased by angry people. He hides in
the line of workers waiting to be hired by Louis' factory and so become one
of his robotic workers. Life in the factory is not too different from prison.
The big exception is Jeanne, the cute secretary who is molested by the foreman
and with whom Emile falls in love.
Because of his absent-mindedness, he repeatedly wreaks havoc on the assembly
line. When he meets Louis, now dressed like the tycoon he is, Emile recognizes
him. Louis is embarrassed and scared that his past would come to the light.
At first Louis threatens to kill Emile, then tries to buy his silence.
Emile is indifferent to the money. Emile wants love. As he tries to run away,
he hurts himself. Finally Louis returns to be his friend Louis, as he
helps him stop the bleeding. They start singing together and walk out of
the executive meeting room hugging each other. Emile becomes part of Louis'
aristocratic elite, wreaking havoc at his boring dinners. Louis' silly wife is
flirting with all the young men of the aristocracy, and Louis is all too happy
about it. Emily asks him to be returned to the factory because he's in love
with the secretary. Louis calls her uncle and asks for her hand. The uncle
is happy to promise his niece's hand to a friend of the owner.
On the eve of the inauguration of a new plant, Louis is blackmailed by a
gang of former convicts who threatens to destroy his career. Louis locks
them in a room and runs to the safe. He is stuffing as much money as he can in
a briefcase when Emile arrives, chased by police officers who are looking for
the escaped convict. Trying to hide away, Emile opens the door of the room
where the gangsters are locked. Louis leaves the briefcase unattended for
a second and one of the gangsters takes it. Emile sees him and runs after
him. So the police is running after Emile, who is running after the briefcase,
while the police are also running after the gangsters who are running after
Louis. The police arrest all the gangsters and Louis refuses to rescue them
even if he knows that they will reveal his true identity of escaped convict.
The briefcase ends up abandoned on the roof.
The following day Louis inaugurates a super-automated factory amid great
fanfare. Realizing that he is about to be arrested, he gifts the factory to
the workers: the machines will work for the humans, not viceversa.
Louis has just finished his speech and is being given a standing ovation
by the workers that a strong wind disrupts the ceremony. The wind opens
the briefcase on the roof and spreads the banknotes all over the area.
The dignitaries at first pretend to be indifferent to the flying banknotes
but then start chasing them chaotically at the same time that the police is
chasing Louis. In the meantime Emile has seen that Jeanne loves another
young man and has accepted the verdict.
The workers celebrate their new paradise, fishing and dancing while the machines
work for them, while Louis and Emile have become vagabonds and continue their
Poi vennero l'idillio di periferia
fra un tassista e una fioraia
di Quatorze Juillet (1933),
e la grottesca
satira della dittatura e del capitalismo di
Le Derniér Millionaire (1934).
Questi film sono apologhi fiabeschi sulla condizione dell'uomo comune nella
società moderno; esaltano la libertà individuale contro qualsiasi forma di tirannia sociale;
Clair crede in un mondo basato sulla gioia e sulla spontaneità; e rifiuta perciò le visioni
pessimistiche della depressione sulla futura società dei robot. La sua non è però
un'ideologia consapevole, è semplicemente una tenera nostalgia per la Parigi "fin de
siécle". La forza di questi film nostalgici e parodistici sta soprattutto nei virtuosismi formali
del regista, maestro del movimento, capace di mettere in moto perfetti meccanismi ad orologeria.
Dal 1934 al 1945 Clair visse all'estero, prima a Londra e poi a Hollywood,
andando incontro a un brillante decadenza nobilitata dalla prodigiosa abilità di trasformare ogni
trama in uno spettacolo leggero e dinamico di gag.
In The Ghost Goes West (1935) il protagonista e` un fantasma
donnaiolo, comprato con tutto il castello Scozzese da un Americano e trapiantato nel Nuovo Mondo.
The film is set in Scotland during the 18th century.
The old MacClaggan rides to the castle of his old arch-rival Glourie to boast that he and his five sons are going to fight the English.
The old Glourie promises that his son Murdoch too will join the war. The MacClaggans laugh because his son Murdoch is a playboy busy flirting with girls in the fields.
The old Glourie dispatches Murdoch with the mission to beat up the
MacClaggans and only later fight the English.
The old man dies right after his son rides away.
When he reaches the military camp, Murdoch is attacked by the MacClaggans.
He runs like a coward, hides behind a barrel of gunpowder and is blown to
Murdoch wakes up in the clouds. He hears his father from Paradise cursing him for his cowardice: he will remain in the family's castle until he makes a
MacClaggan admit that "one Glourie can thrash fifty MacClaggans".
And so Murdoch begins his career as the ghost of the castle, scaring people
Two centuries later, the castle is for sale: the heir of the
Glourie family, Donald, doesn't have money to pay the many creditors.
One day the pretty Peggy, a tourist from the USA, stops at the castle, mesmerized by it despite its decrepit conditions.
She is interested in buying it: her father is rich.
Donald invites her and her parents to a dinner at the castle and convinces the
disgruntled creditors to fund the dinner because it's also in their interest
that someone buys the castle. It's not an easy sell because of the ghost.
The creditors even play servants during the dinner.
The real servant sets the clock one hour ahead so that at midnight no ghost
appears, and the Americans leave without seeing it, but Peggy turns the car back
and decides to sleep in the castle.
At midnight (the real midnight) the ghost begins his nightly walk.
When she meets him, she thinks he's silly Donald playing ghost and trying to scare her.
Peggy's father is ready to pay a lot more than Donald asks for, so he readily
accepts Donald's price. He then informs Donald that the plan is to ship the
castle to the USA and sell it. Donald initially refuses but then they offer
him to travel with the castle and Peggy to the USA,
and he consents for the love of Peggy.
The castle is dismantled and loaded on a ship. Peggy's father tells a rich
friend, Bigelow, about the castle, and the fact that it is supposed to have
a ghost is a plus; but the friend of course doesn't believe him.
The ghost is indeed on the ship headed for America.
The ship throws a costume dance party during which Peggy, who is in love with Donald, overhears Murdoch
flirting with another woman and thinks it's Donald.
At midnight the ghost appears. Peggy thinks again that it's just Donald wearing a silly costume. However, the ghost disappears when someone takes a picture of him.
Dozens of people see the ghost, but not Peggy's father, and Peggy doesn't see
him disappear, so they both don't believe the story.
However, Peggy's father later sees Donald and Murdoch together, and Murdoch
disappears. Peggy's parents decides to cancel the sale.
Bigelow offers a fortune to buy the castle because he wants to use the ghost
to advertise his products. He buys the castle from Donald for a sum
many times more than what Peggy's father was willing to pay.
When Peggy's father hears of it, he buys it back for an even bigger sum,
now planning to use the ghost to advertise his own products.
The media go crazy about the story and even politicians on both sides of the
Atlantic discuss the matter.
A parade is organized in the streets of New York to welcome the ghost.
A delirious public lines up the streets and throws confettis.
However, Murdoch's father has made Murdoch invisible until the right time shall come, and so the famous ghost fails to show up, disappointing both the press
and the public.
The castle is rebuilt in sunny Florida.
For the inauguration Peggy's father needs the ghost to show up and organizes
that Donald will play the ghost.
Bigelow is invited too and tells the journalists that he thinks the ghost is a hoax.
Peggy has prepared her best dress and is disappointed to hear from her father that Donald won't be attending.
Donald is preparing to make his appearance as the ghost when Peggy sees him
and Peggy confesses her love.
At midnight Donald is supposed to show up at the party as the ghost but instead, tired of the charade, shows up as himself.
Bigelow stands up and declares that the ghost doesn't exist, but makes the mistake of revealing that he is the descendant of the MacClaggans.
Murdoch does appear, terrifying all the guests except Peggy's father, who is delighted. Murdoch chases Bigelow through the castle
and makes him apologize. He forces him to utter the sentence that removes the
curse (that one Glourie can thrash fifty MacClaggans).
Murdoch's father in Paradise is finally proud of his son, and Murdoch
can ascend to the heavens.
Peggy and Donald kiss.
idillio di I Married a Witch (1942) vanta trucchi alla Meliès e morale alla Chaplin.
Centuries earlier, the witch Jennifer and her father were burned at the stakes
after being accused by a young man. Before dying the witch cursed the young
man so that he and all his male descendants would be unlucky in marriage.
An oak tree was planted on the place so that the roots would hold the evil
Sure enough the descendants of that man went through one divorce after the other.
The current member of the family, Wally, is a politician, a candidate for governor,
who is engaged to a gorgeous blonde. They are bickering just as her father
is introducing them to the press.
Just then a lightning strikes the oak tree and releases the two evil spirits.
They wander in a landscape that has much changed and eventually end up in
the restaurant where Wallace and Nora are celebrating their engagement and
his political campaign. She immediately decides to wreak havoc.
On the way home the future governor sees a fire in a hotel. The owner tells
him that all guests are accounted for, but he hears a voice. Wallace runs
through the flames and rescues a silly blonde who doesn't seem to realize
how close she was to dying. The press hails him as a hero, but the blonde
keeps behaving as if she knows him, which arouses the fiance's jealousy.
On the eve of the wedding the blonde appears in Wally's apartment. He sends
her out furious, suspecting a trick by his political rivals, but she finds a
way to come back and enter... his bed. By morning he has been charmed by her
primitive manners and innocent smiles. He has to get married in a few hours,
though, and refuses to change course. She is upset that she cannot make him
fall in love with her and asks her father for advice. He tells her to prepare
a love potion. When he comes back, she tries to give him the love potion but
ends up drinking it herself. Therefore instead of him falling in love with her
it is she who falls in love with him. She is incapable of stopping the marriage
because of her ancient curse on his family (to always marry the wrong woman).
Her father finally appears in human form. Jennifer the witch in love
begs her father to help her win Wally's heart. But he is
more interested in avenging hiw own death. They both appear at the wedding,
in a room behind the chapel, and he puts a pistol in the Wally's hand and
makes the pistol shoot so that he (Jennifer's father) dies. His revenge is that
Wally (the descendant of the man who made them burn at the stakes)
will fry on the electric chair. However, she is in love with the poor sucker,
so she grabs the gun and shoots. Now she's the one who would fry on the chair.
Her father has no choice but to come back to life. He is trapped in the body
of a drunkard and can't remember the magic formula to turn them all into frogs.
Jennifer finally disrupts the wedding by pretending to die of love and then
coming back to life just in time for the bride to see her in compromising
attitude with the groom. The father of the bride swears revenge against the
politician, but is arrested and thrown in jail, still drunk and unable to remember his magic formulas. Wally is soon ruined and abandoned by everyone.
Nonetheless he marries Jennifer and they live happily together. Jennifer tries
to confess that she is a witch but he doesn't believe her... until he wins
a landslide at the elections, as she had promised, an impossible feat given
his new reputation as a scoundrel.
Jennifer's father finally manages to recover his powers and appears to his
daughter, canceling her witchy powers and condemning her to return to the oak roots. She falls into a slumber at midnight and Wally is devastated.
She (under the human form) is dying in his living room. But she is also outside with her father under the spirit form, pretending to be evil again.
She fools her father and manages to trap him into a bottle.
Wally and Jennifer live happily together, raising two children. Jennifer is
worried about her daughter, who likes to play with a broom... and Jennifer's
dad sings amused in his bottle.
It Happened Tomorrow (1944) is a surreal fable with farcical overtones
and a powerful moral.
The reporters of a newspaper are drinking and singing. It's the party of
young ambitious Larry, who is being promoted to reporter after working
only on obituaries. The next day's edition will carry his first story.
An old librarian who is in charge of archiving the newspaper year after
year lectures them on the fact that the news exist regardless of when
one reads them. Larry wishes he could read "tomorrow's newspaper"
with his first article.
The reporters then head for a theater in which a magician stages his act in
which a beautiful girl pretends to read his mind while hypnotized.
Larry interrupts the show and asks the "hypnoptized" girl if she will
have lunch with him. He then waits for the end of the show and meets her
backstage as she is leaving. Larry is determined to get a date with the
On the way home, in the middle of the night, Larry meets the old librarian,
who hands him the newspaper. Larry starts reading it and realizes that
it is the evening news... for that day.
The newspaper says that it snowed in the morning,
and sure enough it starts snowing outside. There's an ad for a waiter, and
sure enough a waiter gets fired in front of him.
He reads in the newspaper that there was a robbery at the opera. He then decides
to take Sylvia to the opera and tells her what is going to happen. Sure enough
the opera house gets robbed and Larry rushes to the newspaper to run the
story that he just read in the newspaper.
The newspaper's editor is impressed but the police arrest Larry: only
an accomplice of the bandits could have known ahead of time that a robbery
was going to happen. Sylvia tries to protect him by claiming that she
sees the future and the police inspector arrest her too.
The inspector takes Sylvia to the theater to perform her act of magic.
A man in the audience challenges her to predict something that will happen
that very night, and she, desperate, pretends to see that a woman will
commit suicide by jumping from a bridge into a river.
While he is detained at the police station, Larry sees the old librarian
again. He offers Larry "tomorrow's newspaper". Larry is initially scared
at the idea of reading the next day's news, but the old man still reads
him a couple of news. One says that the police will arrest the bandits at
a bank, and Larry tells the inspector in exchange for his freedom.
The other one says that a woman will jump from a bridge and Larry himself
will try to save her. Larry does not wait to hear for the end of the
article. When Larry hears from the magician of Sylvia's prediction, he
relates it to the news and runs to the bridge. Sure enough she has just
jumped, and he jumps himself to save her.
He finds her hiding behind a boat: she had no intention to die, she
just pretended because she needed to prove to the audience and to the police
that she can indeed predict the future. They walk back ashore together
and he takes her home. The neighbors think he's a burglar and call the police,
but then they realize that he must be just a lover.
Alerted by the nosy neighbors, the magician, who is also her uncle, gets
furious and chases Larry out of the window, but is mistakenly
detained by the police as the burglar.
The following day he decides to marry Sylvia. After the previous evening's
scandal, her uncle is ready to kill him if he doesn't marry her... so they
quickly agree. Now Larry needs money to support a family. He sees the old
librarian again, and begs him for "tomorrow's newspaper" so that he can
bet on the horse races and win the money he needs. He then realizes that
the front page has the news... of his own death: he will be assassinated
in a hotel. He decides to go ahead with the marriage. Then he heads for
the horse races and wins a lot of money. The fact that he wins one bet
after the other, of course, proves that tomorrow's newspaper is accurate,
which also includes his own death. Sylvia and her uncle are ecstatic.
Alas, on the way home they are robbed of the money, and then arrested by
the police for speeding as they are chasing the thief.
Sylvia is still happy that she's married to Larry, even without money.
Larry is desperately trying to stay away from the hotel where he is going
to die. At the newspaper he learns that the old librarian died three days
earlier: Larry saw a ghost. The editor sends him to cover a story at the
other end of town, and Larry is surprised it is not the hotel. Then the editor,
hearing that Larry thinks something is going to happen at the hotel,
and trusting Larry's intuition,
cancels the assignment and instead sends him to the hotel.
Just when Larry decides to go in the other direction with Sylvia and her
uncle, they spot the thief and start chasing him through the streets and
the roofs of the town until they enter... the hotel (they fall into its
chimney from the roof). The thief pulls out a gun, the police surrounds
the thief. The thief is killed but Larry, terrified to be in the wrong place
at the wrong time, faints. The police search the dead thief and find Larry's
wallet on him. Therefore they deduce that the dead man is Larry. They
call the newspaper and tell the editor that Larry has been killed.
The newspaper publishes the news that Larry was killed in the hotel, the
article that Larry read.
Larry is safe, and can go on with his married life even though his money
has not been found and they are poor.
Then came the thriller And Then There Were None (1945), an elegant and suspenseful adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel of 1939, with a happy ending
in his romantic style that is not in the original novel.
Eight people (six men and two women) are traveling on a motorboat towards a small island. When they arrive, they are welcomed by two servants, Thomas and Ethel, who have just been hired and have never seen the owners, who are not there.
The eight have been invited by the hosts, husband and wife.
The eight guests don't know each other:
Vera, who introduces herself as the hosts' new secretary;
an older woman called Emily;
a senile general;
a jovial Russian prince;
an amiable Irish judge;
the young and handsome Philip;
and the grumpy William.
They gather for dinner and notice
a sculpture of ten Indians. This reminds Vera of the song about the Ten Little Indians, who disappeared one after the other.
Thomas follows instructions he has received and puts a record on the gramophone.
The record contains the host's voice, bluntly accusing each of them of a murder:
the general of assassinating his wife's lover,
Emily of being responsible for the death of her nephew,
the doctor of having caused the death of a patient when drunk,
the Russian prince of killing two people,
Vera of murdering her sister's fiance',
the judge of being responsible for the hanging of an innocent man,
Philip of being responsible for the death of 21 tribesmen in South Africa,
William of causing the death of a man through perjury,
and the servants of having caused the death of their former employer.
The judge has never met the host and asks who has: nobody has.
They all received an invitation though. The grumpy William reveals to be a
detective, invited to pose as a guest.
The doctor realizes that the host's name is fake: it's simply a pun on the word "unknown."
They are stuck in the island for the weekend, as the boat won't come back until monday.
The Russian prince promptly confesses that he killed two people in a car accident, but doesn't seem too sorry about it: minutes later he dies, poisoned.
The butler Thomas notices that one of the ten figurines is broken.
The following morning Thomas finds his wife killed by an
overdose of sleeping pills.
The judge notices that one more figurine is gone.
The detective suspects that their host is hiding in the island. Philip secretly carries a gun, just in case.
The detective sees it from a keyhole, and the doctor is spying the detective
from another keyhole, and the judge watches unseen the doctor, each one comically following the other.
They all reach the conclusion that they must find the host.
Emily seems to be quietly knitting but then pulls out a binocular and spies
The general, who is haunted by memories of his wife, is found stabbed in the back.
Another Indian figurine is missing.
The judge suspects that the host is one of them.
They are afraid of each other and try to never be alone with someone else.
The butler feels that he has become the main suspect and, offended, decides to
sleep outside the house, armed with an axe.
They find him dead the following morning, killed with the axe.
And there are only six figurines left.
Emily becomes the new suspect because she went for an early walk.
Except that she's found dead too, killed with an injection of poison.
Philip's revolver disappears.
The detective accidentally causes an electrical problem and the house loses electricity.
The five have dinner around the five figurines and discuss their crimes.
They all admit that the record was right. William in particular admits that
he sent an innocent to prison and the man died in prison.
In the dark Vera is scared by something and screams. During the commotion
someone shoots the judge with Philip's revolver. And only four figurines are
The doctor suspects Vera. Philip believes in her innocence.
In the middle of the night he knocks at her door and offers his revolved to
prove that he's not trying to kill her.
Vera tells Philip that she never killed anyone: it was her sister
who killed her own fiance' and she (Vera) took the blame to save her sister.
He tells Vera that he is not Philip but then they are interrupted by a noise.
The doctor has disappeared and there are only three figurines left.
They hear someone whistling.
The following morning someone throws bricks on the detective who is outside
looking for the doctor.
Philip and Vera now are positive that the killer is the doctor, but
Philip, looking into the detective's binoculars, sees the doctor drowned on the beach.
That leaves only the two of them: Philip and Vera.
Vera suspects Philip and points the revolver at him.
Philip now reveals that he is not Philip, but a friend of Philip, and that
Philip committed suicide.
Philip suddenly has an idea and asks Vera to shoot him, but first moves the revolver so that the bullet will miss him, and then he falls to the ground, as if dead.
Whoever the killer is he had probably planned for this ending: the remaining two "Indians" suspecting each other, and one shooting the other.
She returns to the house and finds the judge, very much alive, who has prepared
a noose for her to hang herself.
The judge explains to Vera that he convinced the doctor to certify his death
so that they could unmask the real killer only to kill him a little later.
He also tells her that he is terminally ill and has decided to kill himself:
he swallows poison in front of her.
He leaves Vera with a simple choice: kill
herself or be sentenced to death for the murder of nine people (being the only one left alive).
Philip, who has overheard everything, now reveals himself just before the judge dies, so that the judge can see that his plan failed.
Philip and Vera hug, admitting that they trusted each other because they fell in love.
Just then they spot a man walking towards the house: someone is still alive.
But it's just the owner of the motorboat, coming to pick up the eight
passengers for the ride back.
In mezzo a tanto elegante divertimento si ritrovano qua e là tracce di
inseguimento o di vaudeville, peraltro annacquato da un ambiente artificiale, che non è quello
naturale di Parigi; la trovata che scatena l'intrigo è sempre clairiana, un po' artificiale e un po'
mattacchione. E Clair nella bonaccia del totale disimpegno.
Tornato in Francia dopo la fine della guerra, Clair vi diresse gli ultimi dieci
film. Questo periodo è segnato da un amaro rimpianto per la Parigi dei primi anni del secolo;
ripiegandosi sui propri ricordi, il regista ritorna al suo tema preferito, la libertà; ma il suo
messaggio, che già negli anni trenta compariva confuso e farraginoso, declina verso il patetico
struggimento per qualcosa che si è amato e non c'è più, col risultato di sembrare
un clown troppo vecchio che piange e vorrebbe ancora far ridere.
Le Silence Est d'Or/ Silence is Golden/ Man About Town (1947)
rievoca i pionieri del cinema muto
(Meliès, Feuillade) a cui Clair doveva tutto.
At the beginning of the 20th century a girl enters a movie theater to watch
a (silent) movie. A middle-aged gentleman (Maurice Chevalier)
notices her and offers her
an umbrella at the exit, since it is raining. The man is Emile, the owner
of the movie theater, a film-maker and a womanizer.
One of his young employees, Jacques, is in love with aspiring actresse
Lucette, who seems more attracted to Emile.
Emile lectures the naive and romantic Jacques about how to seduce girls.
Jacques has to go away to serve his country in the army.
One evening a naive beautiful girl approaches him:
Madeleine is the daughter of a friend of Emile and doesn't have any place to
stay. She too is an aspiring actress. He is reluctant but then accepts to
take her into his house and even lectures her about the dangers of seductors.
Emile protects her like a father. Madeleine thinks she is ugly and cries on
his shoulder. They are slowly falling in love with each other.
Jacques comes home from military service and is immediately hired back by Emile.
Emile encourages him to be more
aggressive with girls. He meets Madeleine in the street, without knowing who
she is, and follows her, still dressed in his military uniform.
It works and they fall in love. She tells him that she only had one suitor,
an older man. Jacques feels that he is saving her from
a marriage with no happiness. They spend the evening at a dance club, where
Jacques makes fun of a girl dancing with an older man.
Jacques tells Madeleine that he is about to leave for Africa hoping that
she would have sex with him, but the pure and shy Madeleine does not.
The following day a smiling Jacques tells a smiling Emile that he has been
successful with a girl, and Emile congratulates him.
When Emile directs the scene on stage, Jacques and Madeleine are surprising
to find out that the other is a co-protagonist in the same film.
They don't publicize that they know each other. Later Jacques is informed
by coworkers that Madeleine is the girl of the boss.
Jacques, devastated, meets Madeleine and tells her he had lied to her
not knowing that her lover was his best friend. She slaps him in the face
and leaves crying.
Back at home Madeleine learns from Emile that her father is coming back.
Her father wants her to live in her village, not in the big city, but she
is determined to stay. Emile is already worried about Madeleine's future
when Jacques decides to confess his love for her.
Emile is initially angry with Jacques and Madeleine, but he soon makes peace
with Jacques. Now it looks silly that Emile wanted to marry such a young girl.
Madeleine's father surprises him with the news that he's about to marry a
young girl... and again asks Emile to take care of Madeleine.
The president of the country and an Arab sheik visit the studios while
Emile is filming the last scene of a new movie with
Jacques and Madeleine as tragic lovers who are killed by a jealous sheik.
The sheik demands a happy ending, instead, and Emile happily agrees and
changes the ending, letting Jacques and Madeleine kiss, also a way to tell
them that he blesses their love.
At the premiere of the film Emile takes advantage of the happy ending to
seduce a girl who likes it.
La Beautè du Diable/ Beauty of the Devil (1950)
rispolvera il mito di Faust per rappresentare
un'umanità che ha venduto l'anima alla scienza.
Faust è un anziano professore che stringe il famigerato patto col diavolo
per ringiovanire e per conquistare una principessa; ma che si ribella, quando Mefistofele gli prospetta una
dittatura atomica, e riacquista la sua libertà.
Dopo aver sfiorato Molière e Goethe, Clair con
Les Belles de Nuit/ Beauties of the Night (1952)
si concentrò sulla figura dell'innamorato, un giovane musicista (Philippe) che vive
in sogno avventure erotiche con donne bellissime, e rivisita il vaudeville con il successivo
Les Grandes Manoeuvres/ Summer Manoeuvres (1955),
un bozzetto provinciale della Belle Epoque, in cui un tenentino (Philippe)
scommette con i commilitoni che riuscirà a conquistare una sartina, ma finisce con
l'innamorarsene seriamente e deve soffrire parecchio prima di vincere la sua indignazione quando viene a
sapere della scommessa.
Porte de Lilas (1957), dramma di periferia causato da un bandito che, per
sfuggire alla polizia, tenta di sedurre una fanciulla innocente e viene ucciso dal legittimo fidanzato, ha
una strana aria da film "noir".
Tout l'Or du Monde/ All the Gold in the World (1961)
Con garbo gentile e gentilezza d'altri tempi Clair scese di gradino in gradino,
fino a Les Fêtes Galantes/ The Lace Wars (1965), una favola antimilitarista su sfondo agreste (attorno a una
fortezza settecentesca) che celebra l'idillio fra un soldato e una (falsa) contadina, esposti più alle
bizze del caso che ai pericoli della guerra.
Il congedo ironico, lieve e malinconico di Clair si configurò quindi con
un riepilogo, in chiave minore dei temi a lui più cari: l'innamorato timido (quasi sempre
Géràrd Philippe), l'inseguimento, la Belle Epoque.
Libertario e pacifista a modo suo, cioè non militante, Clair era un
borghese e desiderava soprattutto una società tranquilla in cui poter liberamente e allegramente
esprimere le sue idee.
Clair impersonò, più che il restauro del surrealismo, la
restaurazione dopo il surrealismo, e a lungo andare la reazione del cinema scolastico alle