The first question that arises with this film is how one should watch it. The problem is that the grandsons of the director have not so much restored as "re-edited" this grandfather's work or at least they have re-edited as well as restoring it. And they have come in for a good deal of criticism, especially in France, for their modifications.
This is a shade unjust in that, until they took a hand, the film had suffered from complete neglect and would perhaps still not be known now if they had not decided to do something about it. There is also an element of nit-picking in the criticisms because the changes made are not really as extravagant as ll that. The film was originally composed as a serial in twelve episodes and in changing this to fourteen episodes (to create a format suitable for television, sneer the critics), all thy have actually done is even up the length of the different episodes. Even the montage of scenes from the film with which it starts (although it looks so modern) was actually in the original although it formed part of what was probably originally a more explicatory "prologue".
The use of sub-titles instead of "cartons" (intertitles) seems to me fairly unobjectionable; I have sometimes wondered why subtitling was not used at the time. So the only really hard thing to swallow is the commentary that has replaced explicatory subtitles. This, I must say, is extremely annoying.
But, but, provided you know the story (and who does not?), the "explicatory" element is quite unnecessary, so that, viewing at home, all you have to do is switch off the sound altogethr and you have a perfectly acceptable film (with the added advantage of getting rid of the rather intrusive modern score).
And (these annoyances out of the way) what a splendid film it is! An enormous improvement on the Fred Niblo version with Douglas Fairbanks (as for that matter is the Max Linder parody of that film, L'Étroit mousquetaire). The period setting, the costumes, the props, the locations are absolutely fabulous - the Niblo film was simply made in the studio - and the fidelity to the original story is near perfect. Luckily it is pre-sound (I not that Diamant-Berger's sound remake of 1932 seems to have interested nobody) so this does not render it over-talkative as most sound versions of classic novels made in the thirties (even good ones like The Prisoner of Zenda) tended to be.
It is very long (5 hours rather than 26 minutes) and inevitably flags occasionally (rather as the novel does) but it is well worth persevering because the much less well known, much darker, and, for connoisseurs, the best part of the novel is magnificently rendered.
So an end to the carping with regard to the younger Diamant-Bergers. Just turn off the sound and be grateful that we have yet another silent masterpiece (one amongst so many) to enjoy.
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