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Kean

Kean(1924)

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  • Kean silenced

    • GJF
    • 7/11/13

    You might be able to get a good doctoral dissertation out of why the French have been so fascinated with the early 19th-century English tragedian Edmond Kean -- he was the subject of plays by both Alexandre Dumas, pere and Jean-Paul Sartre. Or why a group of White Russian refugee filmmakers in Paris in the 1920s decided the Dumas play would be a good vehicle for pleasing the French public. In any case, there are some obvious drawbacks in trying to present a brilliant Shakespearean actor in a silent movie; what you get is a film about a man whose manic arm-waving and pointing somehow mesmerized audiences at the Drury Lane Theatre in the 1830s. The screenplay (credited to leading man Ivan Mosjoukine, director Alexandre Volkoff and Kenelm Foss, who shows up on screen playing a nasty British aristocrat) ridiculously oversimplifies Kean's downfall into an unrequited crush on a married countess who has also caught the eye of the Prince of Wales. At any rate, the movie is handsome and the re-creations of the Drury Lane and of period productions of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Hamlet" have their own intrinsic interest. Volkoff was no hack, as you can see by the frenzied cutting in the big drunken-orgy-in-a-low dive scene and the creative use of double exposure. But aside from a nice supporting performance by Nicolas Koline, another Russian emigre, as Kean's faithful-to-a-fault valet and prompter, Mosjoukine is pretty much the whole show (particularly as his love interest, Nathalie Lissenko -- she was Mosjoukine's wife -- is stolid). He was as good-looking as John Barrymore and an able pantomimist. The performance is over the top -- but this is not a role that calls for restraint.

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