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Marcel Cravenne essentially worked for TV :and yet ,his "Danse De Mort " is one of the best post -war French movies and one of the two great overlooked Von Stroheim's parts of that era ,the other being "La Foire Aux Chimères ".
Both Cravenne's and Pierre Chenal's movies have in common an absolute pessimism ;Von Stroheim portrays fallen aristocrats ,humiliated men,no other actor played the humiliated demeaned man like the director of "Greed" could .And remember "Sunset blvd" :Max Von Mayerling was a fallen director ,exactly what happened to him in real life.The entire French career as an actor of Mr Von Stroheim should be studied :even in a supporting part (say "Pièges" ,Siodmak ,1939) he played a man still dreaming of former glories gone long ago.
In "Danse De Mort " he plays opposite his wife in real life,Denise Vernac ,(they would play again together in "Le Signal Rouge" (1948))
"Danse De Mort " or the portrait of two monsters ,in an enclosed place (the cast and credits over bars shadow over a wall is revealing) : a sinister fortress on an island where the sun never seems to shine . Von Stroheim portrays an officer whose values have long gone a thing of the past ;he commands that prison ,but he is more captive than any of his prisoners ,as free as a padlocked prison door;his love for his wife has turned slowly but inexorably into hatred;at the beginning of the movie,he makes desperate vain attempts to win her back ,notably during the pathetic silver wedding party ;he is no more the dashing officer with good prospects ,but a bitter aging pitiful coward ;every time he tries to show his authority , when he speaks to his subalterns ,he's actually trying to convince himself he is still a man of honor.
Matching him every step of the way (which was not an easy task ,with an actor such as VS) is Denise Vernac as his frustrated selfish hateful spouse :like Madame Bovary (see the first scene ,that of the ball,probably the last romantic moment of a married woman still dreaming ,as she is waltzing with a handsome M.O . (played by the always reliable Jean Servais:the character will return later on to watch the couple tear each other apart).
Although there were no big budgets after the war ,Cravenne made the best of his settings ,with stunning views of his lugubrious island and a stair which looks like a cage .
-VS forces his wife to play the piano and he begins to dance;knowing he has a heart condition ,she speeds us the rhythm :she hopes it will kill him;directing is absolutely stunning and the editing is perfect ;as he collapses on the floor,she keeps on playing .Jean Servais ,who watches the whole scene ,cannot believe his eyes as he discovers that his former romantic dancer has turned into a ruthless shrew.
-The doomed escape of a prisoner,on the lake lightened by fireworks.
-The old lady ,watching behind the bars her daughter leaving this living hell ;it represents all that she will never have.
Like this ? Try these....
"Le Désert Des Tartares " (Valerio Zurlini,1976)
"La Foire Aux Chimères " (Pierre Chenal,1946)
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