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La roue (1923)

Sisif, a railwayman, and his son Elie fall in love with the beautiful Norma (who Sisif rescued from a train crash when a baby and raised as his daughter), with tragic results. Originally ... See full summary »


Abel Gance


Abel Gance

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Credited cast:
Séverin-Mars ... Sisif
Ivy Close Ivy Close ... Norma
Gabriel de Gravone ... Elie
Pierre Magnier Pierre Magnier ... Jacques de Hersan
Max Maxudian Max Maxudian ... Le minéralogiste Kalatikascopoulos
Georges Térof Georges Térof ... Machefer
Gil Clary Gil Clary ... Dalilah (as Mme. Gil-Clary)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Géo Dugast Géo Dugast ... Le cheminot Jacobin


Sisif, a railwayman, and his son Elie fall in love with the beautiful Norma (who Sisif rescued from a train crash when a baby and raised as his daughter), with tragic results. Originally running nine hours, this epic tragedy is notable for the way it foreshadows Gance's later 'Napoleon' in its use of innovative cinematic devices, particularly rapid cutting. Written by Michael Brooke <michael@everyman.demon.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis









Release Date:

17 February 1923 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

The Wheel See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Films Abel Gance See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Abel Gance came up with the idea for this film the day his wife, Marguerite Danis, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Gance completed editing on the 32-reel film on 9 April 1924, hours after Danis died. See more »


When Sisif is running in front of the locomotive, the first shot has the locomotive numbered 475. In subsequent shots, the number on the loco is 2013. See more »


Sisif: There are no flowers amid the rails for us, son. You realize that, don't you? And if by some miracle one should blossom some day, we can be forgiven for reaching out for it.
See more »

Alternate Versions

Originally released to the public with a running time of just over 5 hours. Later edited down to 2 1/2 hours. . See more »

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User Reviews

Absolutely Magnificent
31 January 2017 | by drednmSee all my reviews

This stunning 1923 silent film was restored by David Shepard and others in a print that runs nearly 4 hours and 30 minutes. The original film, directed by Abel Gance, was about twice that length, never released in the US except in a severely cut down print of about 2 hours.

The story, a "tragedy of modern times," is seemingly a simple one. Aman named Sisif (Séverin-Mars) rescues a baby girl in a train wreck and raises her as his own along with his son. She's known as a "rose of the rails" since the family lives in a squalid house by the railroad where Sisif is an engineer. As the years pass the girl, named Norma, grows to adulthood. Things get uneasy when Sisif realizes that he is in love with Norma (Ivy Close), and things turn to tragedy when his son Elie (Gabriel de Gravone) also loves her ... but believes she is his sister. Sisif plots to marry her off to a wealthy man to escape the impending disaster.

After Norma is unhappily married off, Sisif is injured in an accident and banished to a small mountain railway near Mont Blanc. He lives there with his son on the edge of a glacier but even in their isolation they cannot escape tragedy ... of their love of Norma.

The film is high art, operatic, Greek tragedy, and must be approached as such. The visuals are stunning. The composition and sets includes the smallest of details, and Gance uses close-ups, iris shots, fades, and rapid editing (borrowed from D.W. Griffith's masterpieces) to make this one of the most beautiful films ever made. The current version also includes tinting to enhance the emotional pitch of the film.

The performance of Séverin-Mars won't be to every taste, but his old-school acting style is similar to that of Emil Jannings. Without dialog, all he has are his body language and face. Shots are held to emphasize the emotional plight of the aging man. And you can see every thought he has in his face.

The other great performance is by Ivy Close, a British actress who also worked in European silent films. She resembles Norma Shearer and as with Séverin-Mars, her face shows every moment of joy and sadness. There's a stunning scene toward the end when she's asked to go to a village dance. She runs to powder her face and sees a gray hair, a line on her forehead. She's growing old. La Roue, the wheel of life, is turning, and Norma is growing old.

This superb restoration is accompanied by a beautiful and haunting score by Robert Israel, itself a symphonic work of great power. Séverin-Mars died soon after filming was completed in 1921. Gance did not complete and release the film until 1923. Ivy Close made a few more silent films in the late 1920s and retired from the screen.

This may be a film you only watch once in your lifetime, but you will never forget it.

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