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There had always been a steady trickle of French film-makers into the US. Generally they had come initially as representatives of a French parent company to run its US subsidiary but then decided to try and make a career in the US. So Gaston Méliès had come as his famous brother's representative in 1902 but ended up as a Hollywood pioneer in his own right making mainly westerns. It was he who first employed the Fords (Francis was already in chaps even if John was, cinematically speaking,ms still in nappies). Alice Guy and her husband Herbert Blaché were both Gaumont employees who settled in the US in 1906. Her Solax company has a respectable if not especially distinguished place in US film history.
The war hit the French industry very hard and in the years immediately following 1914 the trickle became something of a steady stream. Louis J. Gasnier arrived in 1913 on behalf of Pathé where he was responsible for the pioneering Perils of Pauline. Maurice Tourneur arrived in 1914 as the representative of Éclair as did and Émile Chautard and his assistant Georges Archainbaud and cinematographer Lucien Andriot. Chautard took on another assistant, an American of Austrian Jewish stock called Joe Sternberg.
Lewis Selznick's World Film, based in Fort Lee, New Jersey, became a sort of showcase for the French directors who increasingly formed a distinct group that more or less took over the company for the next four or five years. Albert Capellani joined from Pathé in 1915. Perret, a relative late-comer, arrived in 1917. The French star Max Linder (who had already made films for Essanay in 1916) returned in 1921 to form his own production company (there is a short publicity film of this date, Combat de boxe, usuually misidentified and misdated, fetauring Tourneur and Linder).
By this time the French invasion was pretty much over. The US was itself feeling the effects of economic depr4ession. Selznick retook control of World Film. Gaston Méliès, after a curious episode in the South Pacific, died in Corsica in 1915. Alice Guy retired. Linder committed suicide. Gasnier stayed on to become infamous as the director of Reefer Madness. Chautard stayed on as a minor Hollywood character actor. Archainbaud became a very run-of-the-mill minor director. Capellani (a sick man), Tourneur and Perret all returned to France. Andriot had a moderately successful career in the US until his retirement in the fifties.
The French group at World Film were characterised by a notion of the "art film" that they had brought with them from home but unfortunately this was the notion of the "art film" current between 1905 and 1914 which put the emphasis on literary productions not the very different and rather more cinematic concept that would galvanise the next generation in France (Gance, L'Herbier, Dulac, Epstein, the young Duvivier, Clair and Feyder). So their US productions are often adaptations of literary classics (The Blue Bird, The Last of the Mohicans, Lorna Doone, Victory or, as here, where the inspiration is Collins' The Woman in White).
Stylistically, following the lead of Tourneur, they took the line of least resistance and adopted the US model. Critics are so fond of proclaiming the supposed advance represented by this model that they often overlook the fact that its success was due rather less to its having revolutionised "the language of cinema" - it did no such thing - and rather more to the fact that, with its simple patterns of cross-cutting to ensure continuity and back-lighting to ensure a shallow field of vision, it was extremely easy - in practice a formula for mass-producing mediocre films without having to leave the studio.
And that by and large is what the French presence in the US produced (certainly when one compares it the much more innovative work that would be produced in France itself) and set the pattern too for the next mini-invasion in the forties when Duvivier, Renoir, Clair and others would adopt the same conservative strategy with the same mediocre results. In the Great War generation only Tourneur was really able to transcend the limitations of working in the US in his best films (The Blue Bird, say, or The Wishing Ring); in the Second World War generation only Duvivier found a relatively successful formula - the portmanteau film - for his US career.
So this is an entirely worthy but rather dull piece of work by Perret, technically very efficient with some excellent effects and at times a depth of shot sadly lacking in most US films but it still lacks the style and imagination that characterised his best early French films.
Little care has been taken with the writing. With a generally bad experience of the US reception of "difficult" European films (due in fact to cultural difference rather than stupidity), Europeans tended to believe that US audiences had to have everything carefully spelt out in words of one syllable and that all films had to conclude with a big punch-up and a happy end. So, here, one knows far too much about what is going on at every stage and as a result there is no real tension, mystery or suspense.
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