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The worst nightmares are those which spoil an otherwise perfect dream, and in this silent melodrama the transition between bliss and terror is swift but subtle, coming after a long, leisurely, and remarkably naturalistic opening sequence showing a wedding celebration in a small French mining community. The honeymoon is abruptly shattered when an accident in the mine leaves the groom hideously disfigured, condemning him to a shadowy nocturnal life behind a grotesque half-mask while his young bride, shocked and repelled, seeks comfort in the arms of another man. The difference in mood is, appropriately, like night and day, with the sinister, oppressive second act completely overshadowing the light and open air of the early scenes.
Seen at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California (in the spring of 1987), with Gaston Modot's 1929 featurette 'Cruel Tale / Torture By Hope', an Inquisition fable with a self-explanatory title. Modot's film resembles an accomplished amateur effort and is therefore less impressive next to Vanel's professional feature; both benefit from the visual emphasis imposed by the silent camera.
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