A title such as this makes my tedious task of recording and editing movies off TV worthwhile, for where else would I have gotten the opportunity to check out and own a copy of this very fine but clearly overlooked rendition of the classic Pushkin story? The production values are truly lavish here, and the film generally elicits comparison down to its haunting quality with Robert Enrico's contemporaneous adaptations of Ambrose Bierce's and Henry James' eerie tales. While I still prefer Thorold Dickinson's 1949 British version, this one obviously improves on the recently-viewed 1916 effort; that said, I do not recall the former well enough to make sensible comparisons narrative-wise! I do know, however (and since I have not read the original source, I cannot tell either which is truer to it!), that the Countess emerges as the protagonist this time around, rather than the luckless officer attempting to extract the secret of winning at cards from her (in fact, she divulges the three-card combination to two others persons before he even enters proceedings and, later, one other tries to make him talk)! With this in mind, the central character is played by the only familiar face among the cast i.e. a gracefully aged Dita Parlo from Jean Vigo's L'ATALANTE (1934) and Jean Renoir's LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937) in her last film. As I said, the end result is supremely stylish (mostly filmed in sprawling chateaux and with the figure, who turns up from time to time to remind the Countess of their unholy pact, simply but effectively shot from high angles to suggest his supernatural aura) and, underscored by the music of Franz Schubert, extremely evocative. The ending, in which a spectral card game (comprising all the major players) dissolves to the same location being 'invaded' by modern-day amenities, is a nice touch.
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