Carmen (1918) Poster


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I'm Not Sure This Version Isn't Better Than the DeMille Version
silentmoviefan1 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In watching this movie, which I first heard of during that 1996 documentary Cinema Europe, I found myself comparing it to the 1915 version starring opera star Geraldine Farrar.

Geraldine, you were talented, but Pola Negri has you beat and beat bad in a heads-up comparison.

First of all, there's looks. Leading ladies during a good bit of the silent movie era weren't very pretty. Geraldine Farrar, for all her talent, was not blessed in the looks department. Pola Negri, was, very much so.

Geraldine Farrar's best moment in the DeMille "Carmen" was when a soldier tries to butt in on her and Wallace Reid while they're sharing an embrace. Geraldine gives him a "NO!" look that gets the message across but good.

Pola had lots of neat moments. One I remember is when Harry Liedtke (Don Jose) expresses the desire to shoot her and she stands there and stretches her arms out. He can't do (at the time).

Besides Pola being so much better-looking than Gerladine Farrar it's not even funny, the story gives you lots of background into Don Jose's background. We get to know him. In the DeMille "Carmen", Wallace Reid is introduced as a guardsman at an entrance to the city.

Then there's the death scene. Farrar's is a neat as a pin, which is probably what Mr. DeMille wanted.

Pola's Carmen? After Don Jose stabs her, she lets out a yell and then writhes around before dying. It was a DEATH SCENE! If you only have time to watch one "Carmen", pick this one. You won't be sorry!
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Lubitsch and Negri's Carmen and the American Carmens
Cineanalyst6 September 2006
As was the case with many other nations, especially after the war, the German movie industry had a disadvantaged struggle against the flood of American films into German cinemas. Ernst Lubitsch, like other prominent filmmakers, was surely acutely aware of this disadvantage. Beginning in 1918, Lubitsch went from being mostly a comedic director to a supposedly more serious filmmaker of pseudo-historical tragedies, with bigger budgets and starring Pola Negri. This new direction, aside "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and the other stylized art pictures, did prove to be successful in paving the way for the exportation of German films.

Additionally, many of them, unlike the more or less distinctly German pictures such as "Caligari", were made intentionally to look more like American and other foreign pictures. This one, "Carmen", came after two American versions--both released in 1915--one by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Geraldine Farrar and the other by Raoul Walsh and starring Theda Bara. Compared to DeMille's film, Lubitsch's "Carmen" appears unpolished, but I don't think that's bad. Because of their glitter, DeMille's scenes often seem staged and stagy. Although Lubitsch's direction isn't recommended, either, aside from some occasional dolly shots and the addition of framing the story as a told story.

Additionally, Farrar was annoying as Carmen. Negri is much better in comparison, but still rather unremarkable, I think. Edna Purviance, in Chaplin's burlesque, is still my favorite Carmen. The Walsh-Bara version doesn't exist anymore, as doesn't many early Fox films that burned in their vaults, so there's very little one can say about it. One thing to mention, however, is that Theda Bara's character was a vamp prototype, and Fox advertised it creatively, which is similar to Negri's persona and Ufa's publicity of her. Both Negri and Lubitsch emigrated to work in Hollywood. Negri wasn't very successful, but it's no wonder that Lubitsch was a better American filmmaker than a German one.

I saw the American version of this film, re-titled "Gypsy Blood", which was kind of the original intention, anyhow.
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Considering the talents involved, a bitter disappointment
J. Steed20 April 1999
Considering the great talents of Ernst Lubitsch and Hanns Kräly this film is a bitter disappointment; were it not for these men and Pola Negri's Carmen, this film would be hardly worth mentioning; it could have been made by any competent, but uninspired director. During the credits Lubitsch is shown behind his desk smoking a cigarette and not a cigar!!; as if the viewer is already warned that this film is not "Lubitsch".

Problems start with the casting of Don José. Pola Negri is sensual, lively and very good (though very Teutonic, but I can accept that), Harry Liedtke on the other hand is stiff as a board; probably his military uniform was too tight to give him room for natural movement and expression. Therefore not one Negri/Liedtke scene works; when ever the viewer expects eroticism and longing, Spike Jones' parody of Bizet's Carmen enters the mind.

The adaptation is too straight-forward, and - more importantly - spiritless. Besides, on several moments the story telling is that clumsy, that it is hard to follow the story, were it not that the subject is widely known. But there may be a reason for this: Herman G. Weinberg (in his book "The Lubitsch Touch") claims that originally the story was told in flashback within a frame story (these parts being coloured-in by hand)and as such more or less following the set-up of Merimée's novel. I could not find confirmation of this and the copy I saw today only had the "Carmen story". Nonetheless the problem still remains that - with the exception of a few scenes like the one in which Carmen throws a flower at Don Jose- the film is pasted together with scenes that do not even try to capture the spirit of the novel: it never really visualizes the nuances of the relationship of Carmen and Don José; was that aspect of the novel too subtle for the German public? Were they only interested in an exotic environment and Carmen just happened to be in it?

Quite some other weak points could be mentioned; a 1000 words would not do. To mention but a few: 1) Don José's fiancée is introduced at the beginning of the film, only to disappear totally as the film progresses. She returns only once in the prison scene (Don José in agony over to escape or not), but in a double exposure trick as old as cinematography and too corny for Lubitsch. 2) We spend long minutes at the coast when every (and I mean every) gang member tries to cross the water; I was waiting to see at least one member fall into the water to give the scene some tension and meaning. 3) Lubitsch was known for his direction of masses; but I could for instance make neither nor tail of the marching in of the soldiers. 4) How could Lubitsch be contented with a bull-fighting scene without a bull? (To get a real Spanish bull into Germany that short after the war was over, indeed might have been a problem) But why was not a better (filmic) solution found? As it is now it is just, well, bull ....

It was a huge success in Germany with audiences and press, but I think we should not be mislead by that. This success says more about the psyche of a defeated country after 4 years of war than about the film. Curiously enough in 1947 Lubitsch said that Carmen was one of his best dramas claiming that he made a drama not influenced by Italian dramas. Did he ever see it again? I wonder.
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Negri Lacks Poise and Sex Appeal
Maliejandra30 May 2017
Carmen is the story of a soldier (Harry Liedtke) who is on track to have a good life. He is engaged to a nice girl, and he just got a promotion, so he will be able to provide for his new wife. However, on duty he stumbles upon a woman of ill repute (Negri) and is so completely enchanted that he leaves the military, abandons his fiancée, and resorts to a life of crime to support himself and his gypsy lover. She quickly tires of him and moves onto the next best thing.

This is the fourth Pola Negri film I've seen, and I do not understand her appeal. She isn't terribly attractive, which is essential for this role so we can understand why the soldier destroys his life for her. Although Negri was a trained dancer, she clumps around devoid of a shred of grace and her "seductive" dancing is laughable. Because the film lacks a charming leading lady, there is very little to rave about. Even though Ernst Lubitsch directs, there is very little sex appeal. The setting is dirty and destitute, and although the film is short it doesn't feel like it.

This is a classic story, so if you want to familiarize yourself to feel more cultured, go ahead and watch but keep your expectations low.
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Tragedy ensues Warning: Spoilers
"Carmen" or "Gypsy Blood" is a German movie from the year 1918, so this one is from the year when World War I ended and it will have its 100th anniversary two years from now. With this age, it is of course black-and-white silent film and the director here is Ernst Lubitsch, who was still in his 20s when he made this film, a long time before his breakthrough in Hollywood. Lubitsch is also known for the silent comedies he made around that time, but this one here has nothing to laugh about. There is some mystery in here, even a touch of horror and lots of drama and tragedy. According to IMDb, this film runs for 70 minutes, but the version I saw ran for 80 minutes, so maybe that one had fewer frames per second I guess. All in all, I still must say I did not really enjoy the watch, but then again I am not the greatest silent film and also did only like some of Lubitsch's work I saw and this one here is not among them. Also I would have preferred more frequent use of intertitles, which is however not just a problem with Lubitsch, but with so many other silent films too. At some point, it is just difficult to understand the action exactly and there were moments here too when this applied. That's why I overall give this film a thumbs-down. Not recommended.
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Seeing an opera made into a silent film is like going on a honeymoon where you aren't allowed to touch the bride!
MartinHafer21 November 2009
It seems funny now, but back in the silent days, musicals and operas were often made into movies. But, without the beautiful music, you wonder what the point must have been. Well, Bizet's opera, "Carmen" was apparently very popular fodder during the silents, as I've seen two versions (plus Chaplin's "Burlesque of Carmen") and according to the excellent review already posted on IMDb, there is yet another version but it does not appear to exist any longer (starred Theda Bara). To me, not having the music is a fatal problem--so no matter how good the story is, too much of the play is missing for it to be all that great. Seeing "Carmen" without music is like going on a honeymoon and being told not to touch!! It loses a lot in the deal.

This German version has the distinction of being directed by a very young and inexperienced Ernst Lubitsch and starring the vampish Pola Negri (who was famous for her supposed adoration of Valentino...after he died). While it's pretty good and has relatively restrained acting and decent sets, the overall effect is just okay. It's not really bad...just what you'd expect from a butchered opera made into a silent film.

So is it worth seeing? Well, it all depends. If you are a total nut-job like me who adores silents, then by all means--though the ending seems all but missing. If you are a novice to silents, there are many, many, many silents out there that are simply more entertaining and interesting. Worth a look, but hardly a must-see.

By the way, I saw the version that was shortened slightly and renamed "Gypsy Blood". It came in at 64 minutes and I have no idea if the original and slightly longer version exists. Perhaps this shortening of the film could explain why it seemed to end so abruptly.
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