One of the remarkable things about the long-overdue Renaissance in interest in the films of the silent era is that, as the trickle of films rediscovered, restored or re-released becomes a veritable flood, one is faced with something of an embarrassment of riches. So it is with the wonderful Swedish cinema of the period. While critical attention is at last lavished on Victor Sjöström and Mauritz tiller, and as viewers and critics alike rediscover with a certain surprise the films of George af Klercker....there are still those who are still getting a little forgotten, among them a certain John W. Brunius.
This was Brunius' first film and is already a very assured piece of work. It is a light comedy but very charmingly told, acted and filmed in a quite strongly naturalistic style. Not perhaps as fine as his later films (I recommend both Synnöve Solbakken 1919 and Gyurkovicsarna 1920) but a very enjoyable film to watch all the same.
It is based on a 1905 Danish novel originally called not called Mästerkatten i stövlar (Le Chat botté or Puss in Boots) but rather Markisen de Carabas/Le Marquis de Carabas who is the cat's master in the Perrault story. It was however under its present title that it enjoyed popularity in Sweden, also being dramatised for the stage 1915-16 with Gosta Ekman in the title role which he also plays in the film.
Jörgen Steenfeld (called George Longsford in the slightly shortened French version which survives and which seemingly transposes the action to England) has inherited his uncle's estates only to find that everything is mortgaged to the hilt and he is in effect penniless. His uncle has however left a letter suggesting that his nephew should use the appearance of wealth to create the reality as in the Perrault tale and telling him to find a suitable "Puss in Boots" to help him with the confidence-trick.
By coincidence Jörgen/George has a former college chum called Karl Konstantin Kattrup (Charles Catworth in the French version) who just so happens to be a resourceful and fellow, now down on his luck, who has always been nicknamed "Puss in Boots". George employs Charles as his estate-manager on the understanding that he will exercise his ingenuity on George's behalf in the manner suggested by his late uncle.
The obvious solution is to marry for money and a suitable heiress in the form of Rose, daughter of the local squire Markdanner (Viscount de Tudor in the French version, played by the director himself) whose mother is strongly in favour of the alliance. The snag is that George is not in love with Rose but besotted with the penniless orphan Pips (Jenny Moore in the French version) while Rose is not in love with George but has fallen for Charles, encountered at the very beginning of the film when he emerges unconventionally but romantically from a haystack where he has been spending the night.
There is a kind of fairy godfather in the form of George's uncle's old friend (and principal creditor) Emil von Schinkel (Robert Repton in the French version) and a villain in the form of the money-lender Kristen Bögedal (Van der Griff in the French version). So, one way or the other, the Puss has his work cut out to render everybody happy (except of course the odious usurer).
It is silly and sophisticated at the same time in the classic manner of European comedy of manners, a form that even the English sometimes have difficulty in appreciating and which their trans-Atlantic cousins can rarely comprehend at all. It is rather in the same line as the German films of Lubitsch, Stiller's sparkling 1920 Erotikon and Murnau's 1924 Die Finanzen des Grossherzogs, a fantasy/satirical comedy that gets a consistently bad press from anglo-saxon critics that it does not at all deserve.
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