|Date of Birth||2 February 1876, Paris, France|
|Date of Death||4 August 1961, Paris, France (paralysis after road accident)|
|Birth Name||Maurice Félix Thomas|
Mini Bio (1)
Screenwriter and director Maurice Tourneur was born Maurice Thomas in the Parisian suburb of Belleville on February 2, 1873, the son of a jewelry merchant. He was trained and employed as a graphic designer and a magazine illustrator as a young man. After serving in a French artillery unit in northern Africa, he became an assistant to sculptor Auguste Rodin and later to muralist Amélie Puvis de Chavanne before deciding to change his life along with the changing century and make a new life in the theater.
Tourneur's younger siblings were part of the theatrical establishment--his sister was an actress and his brother a theater manager--so it was not as preposterous a shift in avocation as it might seem. After haunting the theaters of Paris, paying for cheap seats to soak up as much theater as he could, Tourneur became an actor in 1900 with a small troupe on the outskirts of Paris. His salary was 90 francs a month, the equivalent of about $15. Now a professional, he took the stage name "Maurice Tourneur". After learning the stage ropes, he joined the company of the great tragedienne Rejane for a South American tour. He later was a member of stage director Andre Antoine's company.
He married Fernande Petit in 1904, and they had a son, Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977), who would, like his father, become a film director of note. Maurice eventually worked as an actor and set designer for the Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris. In 1911, after having acted in and directed over 400 stage productions, he left the theater for the film industry, following his friend Emile Chautard into the new medium. Starting as an assistant to Chautard, Tourneur had visual arts experience surpassed by few in the nascent "7th Art," the cinema. After working as an assistant director at Societe Francaise des Films et Cinematographes Éclair, he was quickly promoted to director and made films with leading French stars. The subject of his first French silent films was often a gamin or orphan seeking love and shelter.
He had a good command of English from touring in the UK as an actor, and in 1914 the film company Éclair, intent on expanding its US market share, transferred Tourneur to America to manage its studio at Fort Lee, NJ, after a March 17, 1914, fire destroyed the main studio building and the company's negatives. Éclair American Co. went into business in Fort Lee, America's first "Hollywood", in 1911 with a studio designed by Éclair's French architects that incorporated the most modern theories of movie studio design. The studio complex consisted of glass-covered shooting stages with administrative offices, a development laboratory, workshops, scenery storage facilities and dressing rooms. Éclair American signed a distribution deal with the new New Jersey-based Universal Film Manufacturing Co. of Carl Laemmle, whose future production chief, Irving Thalberg, would later clash with Tourneur at MGM. Éclair American mostly produced shorts, but increasingly moved into feature production, keeping in line with the general evolution of the industry, and since Tourneur had experience in directing features, it was only natural that the company hired him.
In 1915 Tourneur moved over to World Film, also headquartered in Ft. Lee. World had been established the year before to import foreign-made features, which dominated American screens until the middle of the 1910s, and to distribute the movies of the newly established feature-film companies associated with producer Lewis J. Selznick, David O. Selznick's father. In a familiar pattern of that time, Selznick created Equitable Pictures and signed Vitagraph star Clara Kimball Young to his company. Selznick then merged with Shubert Pictures--Shubert Theatrical Co.'s movie production company--and Peerless Pictures, the movie production company created by motion picture raw-film-stock magnate Jules Brulatour.
World Pictures, now under Selznick's control, released movies produced by Equitable, Peerless, Shubert Pictures and other independent companies. Movie production was centered at the Peerless Studio in Ft. Lee, built in 1914, and at the Paragon Studio, built in 1916. Gradually World began to dominate the companies whose movies it distributed. Tourneur was the best filmmaker on the lot, whose other employees included Josef von Sternberg (who worked as a film cutter) and Frances Marion, the future Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Tourneur quickly rose to become a major director in the American movie industry, proving to be one of the more innovative pioneers in the development of the narrative film. Adept at using the latest technology to give his pictures a greater visual appeal, he earned critical acclaim and popular success. Tourneur was credited with bringing "stylization" to the American screen through his mastery of set design and lighting. His primary concern, however, was story: "Show the people anything, but show them something," he declared in a May 1920 interview with "Motion Picture Magazine". "This can be either funny or dramatic, but there must be something."
Tourneur opposed the new star system because he felt that a good story could not be told through one character; he also believed that the ideal of the "gleaming personality" of the star promulgated by motion pictures was false, a perversion of life as it actually is lived. Tourneur was more interested in developing a means to convey psychological effects than emphasizing physical action. In this he was opposed to the then-dominant pre-Konstantin Stanislavski acting theories, rooted in the theater, that held that dialogue must be accompanied by an appropriate physical gesture of the hands to underscore the feeling being conveyed by the actor in a scene. Physical action itself, the theory went, conveyed psychological meaning and emotion. It was said that film was born as a form of entertainment for the illiterate masses, and this style constituted a "universal language" that the talkies not only made obsolete, but absurd (one example of this style is the placement of the left-hand on the right forearm, a gesture that can be seen in silent films and was carried on by Harry Carey in his sound films. This was an elocutory gesture that signified fortitude, and would be understood by the silent film audience). Tourneur believed that this telegraphic shorthand needed to be replaced. The new Soviet cinema would show the way towards a greater psychological realism with the development of montage.
Tourneur's film production unit had coalesced by 1915, and included Clarence Brown, the future six-time Oscar-nominated director who served as his assistant director and editor; director of photography John van den Broek and art director Ben Carré. The Tourneur unit produced a series of popular movies that successfully utilized both the new language of film--including close-ups and parallel action--and new technology, such as tracking shots and special effects. While Tourneur's work spanned many genres, a leitmotif in his oeuvre was the romantic skullduggery women were the victim of, or sometimes the perpetrator of, in the pursuit of love and happiness. Today we'd call the women victims of sexual harassment; in the 1910s, underhanded or unscrupulous predatory behavior was generally considered part of the exigencies of love, though Tourneur saw through the obfuscating facade. Reportedly, among directors, only the pictures of D.W. Griffith and Thomas H. Ince were more popular than the films of Maurice Tourneur. In an interview published in the July 3, 1915, issue of "The New York Clipper", Tourneur expressed the opinion that Griffith was supreme among movie directors. He also believed that the motion picture was the most significant development for education since the invention of the printing press. Still, he was obsessed with story--he stated that "nearly everything worthwhile in the pictures is an adaptation of a book, a play, a poem." Tourneur believed that the cinema needed to develop a new kind of author, a writer who would more naturalistically portray human nature and move the movies away from the simplistic Manichean machinations of plot towards a portrayal of human motivations and interactions that more closely caught the true balance of good and bad in human beings. He stated that "nearly everything worth while in the pictures is an adaptation of a book, a play, a poem."
The Tourneur oeuvre consistently displayed first-rate visuals that compensated for some of the dramatic weaknesses of the early narrative film, hampered as it was by dialogue constrained by the limitations of intertitles, and by a certain overwrought telegraphic performance style closer to elocution than what we now appreciate as acting. In many early films the narrative can be unintelligible to a modern audience, due to a lack of intertitles, as this style was expected to, and did, convey information to the contemporary audience, an audience more experienced with pantomime due to the need of performers and filmmakers to reach an audience that spoke a babble of languages. However, the demands of movies for this kind of signaling hampered its development as a mature medium of artistic expression. When Tourneur tried to bring the sophistication of Henrik Ibsen to the screen with A Doll's House (1918), it proved an aesthetic and box-office failure. As one critic noted, the felicities of Ibsen's drama could only be conveyed by language itself and the modulations of the human voice, not by stage business.
In the July 1918 edition of "Photoplay Magazine", Tourneur stated his contrary credo: "There is an odious fallacy that a great many people still believe, in regard to the moving picture. It is almost as widespread as that the cinema is in its infancy [Tourneur dated the invention of the motion picture to Eadweard Muybridge's experiments with multiple-exposure photography in 1878]. By that I mean the belief that we must give the public what it wants. To me, that is absurd. As absurd as if the fashion dictators should attempt to suit women's wishes in costumes. In reality, the opposite is the case, is it not?" Tourneur believed that the filmmaker's taste and preferences were essential to the creation of a motion picture, just as in the legitimate theater, the craft and art the director and actors applied to a written play infused it with life and meaning. The play was not the thing, Tourneur stated; one can always sit at home and read a play. It is the staging of the play that creates meaning, and it is the director's control over the photoplay that makes it an art rather than just a piece of commerce.
Tourneur rebelled against the prevalent attitude in the movie industry that the audience would automatically reject more poetic works. He believed that what was then called The Great War had infused the mass audience with a certain spirituality. Tourneur had faith that the audience would accept higher-quality, more intellectual works, and that the mass-market lowest-common-denominator paradigm of the film industry was false. However, he could make exceptions to his opposition to pandering to the audience; in an earlier interview published in the May 18, 1918, edition of "Exhibitors Trade Review", he believed that filmmakers had a patriotic duty to soothe the anxieties of the wartime audience.
"It is part of our duty as purveyors of entertainment to the great majority, to see to it that the public gets wholesome, optimistic and, if possible, amusing entertainment. It is up to the screen to sustain the spirits of the nation. Let us keep away from the morbid and gruesome and throw the tremendous power of the photoplay into the civilized world's war for democracy." But of course, this was parcel to his opinion that the motion picture had a great didactic function, and could be used to educate an audience (a generation later Tourneur would be confronted with the anxieties of quite a different audience, that of Occupied France).
"Directing motion pictures is merely capturing life," Tourneur stated in a piece he wrote on the art of directing for "Variety" (December 27, 1918). A director, as auteur, was born, not made. A movie director could not be trained, as a successful director had been born with the instincts to create a photoplay (a contemporary term Tourneur despised and urged the industry to jettison in favor of something new and more accurate to describe the motion picture). "Directing a picture presupposes the possession of dramatic instinct and artistic perception in the man entrusted with the transfer to the screen of the play of an author," he wrote.
The photoplay had developed into quite a different form from the staged play of the legitimate theater, and thus a different set of narrative tools was required to make a successful movie. The director had to work within the limits of movies, which were short in length, thus limiting his options for both creating and presenting drama. A director had to be an expert in finding, and using, some detail, that in the short period of time allowed him, would elucidate the characters, the conflicts, and themes of his film. Thus, the director had to be a great observer of human nature and character in order to master his medium.
Optimistic about the future, and relishing the opportunity to define the new medium, Tourneur created his own production company in 1918. He felt that American silent film actors were superior to their European counterparts. He believed that "America's Sweetheart," Mary Pickford, the Toronto native whom he directed in two hit films in 1917, was the world's best screen actress. He also touted stage actress Elsie Ferguson, his Nora Helmer, as a brilliant artist; they made four films together in 1917 and 1918. For her part Ferguson, who hated movies and had to be coaxed into them by generous offers from Paramount-Artcraft head Jesse L. Lasky, said that Tourneur was her favorite director, and that she was lucky to have had him direct her first film.
Tourneur became increasingly antagonistic to the star system that was becoming more important to the industry, and he resisted studio efforts to rein in directors (and their profligate spending) by the imposition of the central production system, in which formerly dominant directors had to answer to producers over aesthetic choices as well as budgets. At this point in his career his success at the box office gave him leeway to push the frontiers of his art. In addition to making popular movies, Tourneur became one of the most respected directors in America, but he experienced some trouble when he began to become more aesthetically enthusiastic.
Tourneur's heavily stylized The Blue Bird (1918), which featured unusual sets and costumes, was a precursor of the expressionist German cinema, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) (the Rejane company had put on the first production of "L'oisueau bleu" in 1911, the year its author, Maurice Maeterlinck, won the Nobel Prize and Tourneur left the legitimate stage for the soundstage. In 1924 Tourneur wrote an article about the superiority of film to the theater. "[M]otion pictures have reached greater artistic heights than the stage and will continue on--years in advance of the stage," he wrote). Another heavily stylized film, Prunella (1918), was as critically acclaimed as "The Blue Bird," but both failed at the box office, as the movie industry was not as able to support artistic visions as was the theater. Due to these economic considerations, Tourneur went back to a naturalistic style.
Tourneur scorned what he called "machine-made" commercial pictures, but he had to acknowledge the tyranny of the box-office. He believed that the failure of "Prunella" was the result of its rejection by provincial exhibitors, who did not believe their audiences would go for such "high-brow" fare. Lacking an advertising budget and marketing monies that would enable it to be showcased with a first-rate orchestral accompaniment, the picture failed, cold-bloodedly murdered by the philistine exhibitors. Tourneur believed that Griffith's hit Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919) would have failed, too, if he had not been backed by advertising and marketing muscle. He also believed that Cecil B. DeMille's Male and Female (1919), his adaptation of J.M. Barrie's play "The Admirable Crichton," would have flopped it he hadn't vulgarized it. He also scored Griffith for giving in to the exigencies of the marketplace by pandering to the audience and turning his back on art.
It was around this time that he gave up on his idea that movies should be used to educate the masses. In an interview published in November 1920, Tourneur told Truman B. Handy of "Motion Picture" that the forte of film was amusement: "I do not believe in using the screen as a way of teaching; we have the pulpit and the college. It may be a means of propaganda, but I do not intend to use it as such. Never!" His faith would be sorely tested under the Nazis 20 years later.
"I would rather starve and make good pictures," he wrote in 1920, "if I knew they were going to be shown, but to starve and make pictures which are thrown in the ashcan is above anybody's strength. As long as the public taste will oblige us to make what is very justly called machine-made stories, we can only bow and give them what they want."
Story, again, was essential if one was to subvert the exhibitors' and distributors' expectations of the box office and create something better than the "machine-made" moving picture. Tourneur had an affinity for literary adaptations, and his career collection of adaptations included Joseph Conrad's Victory (1919), Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1920), James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1920) and R.D. Blackmore's Lorna Doone (1922). He would later make a French version of Ben Jonson's play Volpone (1941).
By 1922 he came to the opinion that the future of the American film industry lay in Hollywood, not New York, though not without regret. In a February 1922 "Photoplay" article weighing the merits of California versus New York as a production locale, Tourneur came out in favor of California, since artistry was no longer a part of the moviemaking equation. To be intellectually stimulated and remain artistically fresh, New York would be the preferable production center, Tourneur declared. New York, like London, Paris and Vienna, stimulated the filmmaker toward developing fresh ideas and more ambitious projects. However, "[f]rom the material standpoint of facilities, costs, climate and the like there is no comparison; Los Angeles is vastly superior."
The next year he shot The Christian (1923), an adaptation of Hall Caine's novel, in Hollywood for Samuel Goldwyn, but within a few years he decided not to share his future with that of the West Coast. Though he apparently had no problems with the mercurial Goldwyn (who would bedevil William Wyler a decade later), the American movie industry had evolved into a business of which he disapproved. It was in Hollywood, under such men as Irving Thalberg, Darryl F. Zanuck and Hal B. Wallis, that the central producer and production chief became the dominant force in the film industry from the mid-'20s through the early 1950s. Hollywood became a place where directors were often pulled off one picture in the middle of a shoot to shoot scenes in another picture, shuffled around like the hired hands that they had become in the increasingly centralized industry.
Tourneur denounced the industry's reliance on realism in a February 4, 1923, interview with "The New York Telegraph" in a plea for a more artistic, impressionistic approach to making motion pictures. He felt that film finally had had succeeded in being able to convey psychological effects, and had even surpassed the stage in that respect, as it could use picture and montage to quickly convey a mental state that it would take "countless words" to put over in the theater. Tourneur believed that due to the literalness of the camera lens, which did not have the mediating eye of the visual artist, the movies had been too focused on action. However, film could be made into a plastic art that was manipulated by the director to bring out "the psychology of the drama--the mental action of the characters."
He elaborated: "The screen is a better medium than the dramatic stage for getting over psychological effects. We can drive ideas across. For instance, what better way is there to express corruption than to show a close-up of the check with which a man has bribed . . . The Goldwyn company agreed with me that you can get more to the spectators by showing a banging shutter, by indicating the howling of the wind, or the shrieking of a woman, than by numberless words. Motion pictures, first of all, should be impressionistic."
Later that year, in the July 1st edition of the same newspaper, Tourneur declared that the great motion pictures would be produced by the next generation, now that the pioneers had developed a new mode of expression. He stated his belief that the director, and not the producer, should be fully responsible for a motion picture production. "To relieve him of any of these responsibilities and to compel him to confine his efforts to adapting himself to the ideas of a half-dozen 'experts' will strike at the very foundation of successful pictures." He predicted that the meddling of producers would doom motion pictures' popularity with the mass audience as it would result in inferior movies that the movie-goers would reject.
It was just the type of interference that Tourneur warned about in 1923 that led to his quitting the American film industry. The last film he directed in the US was The Mysterious Island (1929), which he abandoned soon after the commencement of principal photography. Tourneur would not work under MGM's assigned production supervisor, so he quit the picture and repatriated himself to his native France in 1926, to make movies there and in Germany.
Tourneur was not welcomed back to France, since he was viewed as a draft dodger by many in a country in which 11% of the population had been killed or wounded in The Great War (Charles Chaplin had been similarly criticized by British hawks). During a visit to his homeland in 1921, some French journalists demanded that Tourneur not be allowed to return to the US. Jean-Louis Crozet of the periodical "Comoedia" denounced Tourneur for having spent 1914-18 in America, and thus avoiding military service in World War I, which claimed the lives of approximately 1.4 million French soldiers. Crozet accused the director of cowardice for having emigrated to America to "[save] his life, while so many of his compatriots lost theirs."
Tourneur made his second movie in Germany after leaving the US, The Ship of Lost Men (1929) ("Ship of Lost Men"), which starred Marlene Dietrich in one of her first important roles. His son Jacques--who would go on to become an important director in the US in the 1940s--served as Tourneur's assistant and editor on the film. Jacques would continue to assist his father on his shoots until the mid-'30s.
Divorced from his first wife in 1923, Maurice married actress Louise Lagrange (1898-1979), whom he met while shooting L'homme mystérieux (1933). During the Nazi occupation of France (1940-44) times were tough for French filmmakers who wouldn't collaborate with the Germans, and things were no different for Tourneur, the man who vowed in 1920 that he would never make propaganda films. Even the "sitzkrieg", or Phony War, period of September 1, 1939, to May 9, 1940, disrupted the cinema as actors and craftsmen were called up for military service. Tourneur's shooting of "Volpone" was interrupted, and did not resume production until March 23, 1940, less than two months before the Nazi invasion of May 10th. On June 22nd the brief Battle of France came to an end when World War I hero Marshal Philippe Pétain asked the Germans for an armistice. Part of the peace accord mandated the partition of France, with the northern part to remain under German domination and the capital of the new government, headed by Petain, to be in Vichy. Vichy France, as the collaborationist government was known, also was to obey Germany in matters of cultural and racial policy.
On November 2, 1940, new regulations for the French movie industry were issued. All movie professionals were required to carry an identity card, except for Jews, who were not allowed one. At the end of the year 'Jean Renoir' (I)' emigrated to the US and was given a contract by 20th Century-Fox. The great actor Jean Gabin also made it to America and a contract with Universal, appearing in his first American film, Moontide (1942), opposite Ida Lupino in 1942.
French movie theaters were required to show Nazi propaganda movies, in accordance with Germany's policies towards all occupied countries. In 1940 Nazi filmmaker Veit Harlan turned Lion Feuchtwanger's novel "Jew Suss" into a vicious anti-Semitic German-language film, the notorious Jud Süß (1940), the climax of which justifies pogroms against the Jewish people. When the film was released in Paris on February 14, 1941, the reaction of the French audience was very positive. On June 30 of that year the great French filmmaker Abel Gance was arraigned before the head of the French movie industry for the "crime" of being Jewish, and was required to prove his Aryan origins. He fled to Spain, not returning from exile until late 1945.
In September 1941 German censorship was enforced over French movies, and on the last day of the year, the Propaganda Division issued six new statutes, one of which banned Jews from the movie industry. The power to "green-light" French movies was reserved for the German High Command, and a new studio was created, Continental Productions, which was a subsidiary of Germany's state-owned UFA, headed by the German Alfred Greven and financed by French capital. The company, a.k.a. Continental Films, became the most important French movie production company during the Occupation.
By January 1942 film receipts were up by 68% over the previous year. A month later Jews and foreigners were forbidden from working in the film industry under a pseudonym, and on October 15th all American and English films were banned in France. French cartoons began to become popular early that year, possibly a sign of escapism, or of the indigenous industry's desire not to make propaganda for the enemy, and of the audience's desire not to be exposed to it. In 1943, fearing an Allied invasion from England, the Germans banned the filming of movies on the French coast. On January 15, 1944, reacting to the release of Vautrin the Thief (1943), the newspaper "Le Pilori" denounced beloved French character actor Michel Simon as a Jew, and wrote, "The cinema has condemned us to seeing the base, disgusting, revolting face that Michel Simon gives to 'Vautrin'." However, the mood in France, as the Allied invasion grew more imminent, began to change.
The Committee for the Liberation of the Cinema was an active element of the Maquis, which was the name given to the Resistance, publishing an underground newspaper, "L'Ecran francais". The Committee organized resistance within the film industry controlled by the Nazis and their collaborators, and coordinated insurrections and the "liberation" of many filmmaking facilities during the time of the Allied invasion of France, which began on June 6th. On July 18, 1944, "L'Ecran francais" published an article "Toward a Cinema with Clean Hands", declaring that collaborators with the Germans would not be tolerated in the liberated French film industry (in 1946 actor Robert Le Vigan was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor, and all his belongings were confiscated, for openly collaborating with the Germans and broadcasting anti-Semitic propaganda on the radio. The French made a distinction between those who had to cooperate with the Germans due to economic considerations and those who intellectually cooperated with the Nazis and propagated their ideology).
Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944, three days after film curator and cinema buff Henri Langlois held the first showing of Gone with the Wind (1939) in Paris at his Cinematheque française. The movie theaters of Paris had not yet been opened, but that didn't stop Langlois; at that point, his regular exhibition of movies had been suspended for a year. Marcel Carné's classic Children of Paradise (1945), shot during the Occupation, had its gala premiere on March 9, 1945. It originally had been scheduled to be shot at the Victorine studios in Nice in mid-August 1943, but the production was interrupted when the company was ordered back to Paris after the Allied invasion of Sicily. On April 14, 1945, all the theaters and entertainment venues in Paris were shut for the day to pay respect to the late US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died two days earlier.
During the Occupation the Germans had encouraged French filmmakers to maintain their high production standards in order to create more effective propaganda and to create superior product to soothe the anxieties of French movie-goers. However, those who were less cooperative had to get along with less. While Tourneur continued to direct under the Occupation, he was forced to use the ends of reels of raw film stock to shoot his pictures.
Maurice Tourneur is a character in Bertrand Tavernier's 2002 film about the French film industry under Vichy, Safe Conduct (2002) ("Safe Conduct"), the title of which refers both to the after-curfew pass filmmakers were issued due to the odd shooting hours of the film industry and also to the movie business' laissez-faire atmosphere during the occupation, which included hiding and utilizing Jewish film professionals who, of course, could not be credited. The film's story deals with French screenwriter Jean Aurenche, a rogue who did not want to work for the Nazis, and Jean-Devaivre, an assistant director involved with the Resistance. Tavernier was inspired to make his three-hour epic by the experiences of his father René Tavernier, an editor and screenwriter confronted with the same dilemma as Jean Aurenche, characterized by his son as, "[W]hat can you write in a period of such censorship under a regime you despise?"
Tavernier believes that Americans can understand the dilemma if they equate French filmmakers during the Nazi occupation with American filmmakers under McCarthyism. Of the question, "'[H]ow can you work for a German company without compromising yourself?' It's very simple. I say to the American critic, just replace the German element with Senator McCarthy [Red-baiting Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy] and everything will be clear!"
The great paradox of the French film industry under the Occupation, which thrived despite the wartime shortages and terror directed by the Nazis towards the French population, is that French filmmakers working for the German-financed and -controlled Continental, the most powerful studio in France, maintained a good deal of independence. Unlike newspapers and book publishing and radio broadcasting, which were tightly controlled, the Germans allowed French filmmakers more latitude in order to create entertaining movies to distract the French populace. Thus, many French filmmakers were able to incorporate allegories and parables alluding to the Occupation. According to Tavernier, of the approximately 30 feature films made at Continental between 1940 and 1944, most have a kind of integrity that belies their ostensible ends as Nazi and Pétainist propaganda. "That's the first act of resistance," he claims.
Aurenche and René Tavernier hated Vichy and the indigenous intellectual collaborators with the regime, and Aurenche allegedly used coding in his Continental screenplays to defy the Nazis (director Martin Scorsese, citing the American directors of the 1940s and 1950s, calls this process "smuggling," introducing themes on the sly beneath the ken of studio owners and censors). Bernard Tavernier believes it was the directors, and not the screenwriters, who should be blamed for the sins of the Vichy cinema and the postwar, pre-Nouvelle vague bourgeois cinema, although that statement seems to indicate some kind of counter-Oedipal complex. His argument about McCarthyism smacks of a relevance that many Americans might find dismaying, as the French screenwriters of Vichy he lionizes were defying a foreign power, whereas many of the American screenwriters initially persecuted by McCarthyism were secret members of the Communist Party, accused of putting in coded messages for a foreign power with which the United States was locked in a Cold War.
Actually, the real nexus of the two groups' experiences can be summed up by the dilemma that Robert Sklar, in his book "Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of the American Movies," posits as a struggle "over issues that had agitated American culture ever since movies first appeared: Whom makes the product? Who runs the show? Who decides what the show should say?" It was a battle Tourneur joined in America, and then quit in 1926 when the machine-made movie philistines won the war.
Maurice Tourneur and other cine-artists in America, wanting a more artistic, expressionistic type of film that would offer something beyond the simple lowest-common-denominator cultural dualities of good and evil that the money-men insisted was all that the box office could bear, had to resort to "smuggling" in their own themes, their own bits of telling detail that would illuminate the psychological motivations of characters and audience alike. Vichy France and McCarthyite America were no different in kind (if not degree) in that the money-men, the producers, had always constrained the creative people, who resulted to subterfuges to make the films they wanted, whether in Paris or Hollywood. Even Sergei M. Eisenstein, the great Soviet filmmaker, survived the terrors of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union only to have his soul crushed again and again by a tyranny that makes the regimes of the classic Hollywood mogul much lamented by the creative talent laughable in comparison.
In Vichy France a filmmaker could be tortured or shot for not hewing to the Nazi line; while it is true that many an uncooperative leftist wound up in jail for defying the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee, the damage for those who did not defy but did not cooperate was mostly limited to the loss of high-paying jobs and the psychological torment of being abandoned by friends and losing one's career. However, the challenge to both Vichy screenwriter and Hollywood screenwriter in what Lillian Hellman called the "Scoundrel Time" was the same: If one could not compromise, if one could not tailor one's beliefs to fit the fashion of the times, one could not work. So, in this sense, there is a similarity as suggested by Tavernier, but like many paradoxes of Anglo-French relations, Tavernier's argument doesn't completely add up; it does, however, help elucidate the tough spot and paradoxical milieu that movie-makers like Maurice Tourneur found themselves in. The Devaivre character, in Tavernier's film, has to take over directing a movie from Tourneur when the director goes into shock upon hearing that his wife has been taken prisoner by the Germans.
In 1942 Maurice Tourneur directed his first French horror film, a genre in which his son Jacques thrived in the US during the war. Carnival of Sinners (1943) (released as "Carnival of Sinners" in the US and "The Devil's Hand" in the UK) is an adaptation of Gérard de Nerval's 1832 short story "La main enchantée" ("The Enchanted Hand"). The film is about a failed artist's pact with the Devil, a Faustian dilemma that would have resonated with audiences in Occupied France. The artist, Roland, buys the severed though-still-alive left hand of a man, a grisly talisman owned by the Devil himself, from the restaurateur Mélisse, who informs Roland that in the future, he can only sell off the charm at a loss.
Under the threat of eternal damnation, Roland seals his Faust-pact, with the proviso from the Devil that Roland can return the charm--at a price. The catch is, the longer he keeps the charm, the higher the price is, as it doubles each day. Tourneur cast a frail and harmless-looking actor as his Mephistopheles, a man who looks like a small-town bailiff and effectively doubles as a Vichy civil servant. Despite the unprepossessing look of the Devil, Tourneur created a sense of fear by emphasizing the consequences of the Faust-pact rather than the Devil's power. Tourneur had become a master of psychological filmmaking.
Roland becomes a great success, but at the cost of his individual identity as the charm makes him a different person. In a meeting with previous "owners" of the hand, Roland discovers that he is the last in a succession of men who took advantage of the charm, which links him to a history that ostensibly is not his own, but in fact is. The hand binds him to the first owner, a monk who refused to use his artistic talents for the glory of god, and it is under the monk's name, Maximus Léo, that Roland creates the art that ensures his fame and fortune, with the caveat that the expression of the hand is not his own.
He is done in by the vanity and greed of his mistress, when she purloins money from his safe to buy herself a luxury, money that he intended to use to payoff the Devil. He no longer will be able to buy his way out of the Faust-pact, and save his soul. At the end of the story, he is the one who now owns the hand and must pay the debt for all the previous owners who attempted to profit from it. Although he resents his fate, he must bear the responsibility for his collaboration with the Devil, and for the collaborations of the others who came before him. (Vichy government propaganda held that the French people brought on the Occupation themselves to make them accept it as their just desserts.)
Despite the travails of Occupied France and the German-dominated industry, Tourneur managed to create a classic psychological horror film. If Martin Scorsese and Tavernier's theme of smuggling is correct, then "La Main du diable" and other horror films made during the Occupation used the genre to smuggle unacceptable themes past the censors. French films made during the Occupation never directly refer to the military and political situation, but they do convey the anxiety and paranoia, indeed, the horror and fear of losing one's soul via collaboration, felt by the Occupied French.
In the July 3, 1915. "New York Clipper" interview, it was reported that "M. Tourneur's ambition is to produce strong and appealing detective stories. He believes they interest the greatest number of people." Tourneur's movie-making career continued until 1949, when he lost a leg in a car accident. His interests were painting in oils and watercolors and reading. After his forced retirement from the cinema due to his disability, he occupied himself by translating English-language detective novels into French.
Maurice Tourneur died on August 4, 1961, in Paris, and was interred in the City of Lights' Père Lachaise Cemetery. As a filmmaker, posterity has praised Tourneur for the subtlety and lingering moods of his movies, particularly those in the mystery and fantasy genres. He was one of the few American directors to create a new aesthetic, which exerted a strong influence on Josef von Sternberg. His use of rectangular compositions in Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915) inspired Fritz Lang's Die Spinnen, 1. Teil - Der Goldene See (1919), and may also have influenced the Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu.
Hollywood director Clarence Brown, who graduated from the University of Tennessee at age 19 with a double degree in engineering, credited Tourneur with making him a filmmaker. Within a few months of being hired, he was editing Tourneur's films, and by 1917 he was shooting parts of Tourneur's films (uncredited) himself. He learned from his mentor the power of lighting and composition, although he developed a more sympathetic approach to directing actors than his teacher. Brown told cinema historian Kevin Brownlow, "Tourneur was my God. I owe him every thing I've got in the world. For me, he was the greatest man who ever lived. If it hadn't been for him, I'd still be fixing automobiles." Brownlow reported that Brown had tears in his eyes when he made this confession.
The United States Library of Congress' National Film Registry, established to help preserve American films deemed "culturally significant," has two Tourneur films on its list, The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) and The Last of the Mohicans (1920).
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)
|Louise Lagrange||(1933 - 4 August 1961) (his death)|
|Fernande Petit||(1904 - 1923) (divorced) (1 child)|