Napoleon auf St. Helena (1929, L. Pick)

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Ann Harding

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Napoleon auf St. Helena (1929, L. Pick)

PostTue Jan 18, 2011 4:37 am

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(Lupu Pick in a screen test for Gance's Napoléon)

Napoleon auf St. Helena (Napoleon in St Helena, 1929) by Lupu Pick with Werner Krauss, Albert Bassermann and Philippe Hériat

Napoleon (W. Krauss) is sent to the Island of St. Helena with his last supporters. A new governor is appointed, Hudson Lowe (A. Bassermann) and will endeavour to make his life as difficult as possible...

Gance had written six screenplays covering the life of Napoléon from his childhood until his death. He only managed to film the first part. Later, in 1928, he sold the 6th script to Lupu Pick who made this film. Ironically, Lupu Pick had made a screen test for Gance's Napoléon but lost out to Albert Dieudonné. This German picture cannot be compared with Gance's lyrical masterpiece. It's rather solid, stagey and static. That said, the actors' performances manage to convey rather well the atmosphere surrounding Napoleon in Longwood House. On this windswept island lost in the Southern Atlantic, the little court tries to go on with its usual ceremonial. Everybody dresses up for dinner; the ladies put on their best dresses and jewelery while rats are running under the furniture. A heavy and melancholic Werner Krauss plays the fallen emperor who tries desperately to keep up appearances faced with his last enemy: Hudson Lowe. The paranoid governor is played with great skill by Albert Bassermann. Keeping a stiff upper lip at all time, he forbids any correspondance and even bars the doctor from visiting Napoleon as he lay ill in bed. He becomes a prisoner inside Longwood House, an old farmhouse with a musty smell and full of rats. Only a handful of followers remain faithful to him. Among them, General Bertrand played by Philippe Hériat (who was Salicetti, one of Bonaparte's worst enemies in Gance's Napoléon). The two ladies of the house (the wives of the two generals) are still bickering a bit like they would do at court. In the last part, the number of followers dwindles as Napoleon is dying. Krauss managed to be moving as he hugs the bust of his son knowing he will never see him again. Overall all the actors are doing a very good job in their respective parts. Nearly all the film was shot in studios with only a few location shots at St. Helena itself (without the actors). There a certain abuse of 'historical quotes' for the title cards, but it adds to the atmosphere. Overall, it's certainly not a great picture in terms of film making, but as a re-creation of history, it's quite enjoyable. The print I saw was very good: sharp and contrasted.

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