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Rob Edelman: Ivan Mosjoukine And THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY

In the early decades of the last century, Ivan Mosjoukine was a top star first of the Russian cinema and then of the French cinema. He was a fine actor who exuded a special charisma, and Flicker Alley has recently released to DVD a ten-episode six-plus-hour-long Mosjoukine serial, the English title of which is THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY, that was produced in France between 1921 and 1923.


When one thinks “serial,” one just may conjure up the American-made cliffhangers of a bygone era which were fashioned for kiddie audiences and featured stalwart heroes rescuing sweetly innocent heroines from burning buildings. But THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY is no cliffhanger. It is, instead, a soap opera pure and simple, with a storyline that is strictly adult in nature. Mosjoukine plays a young man who, at the outset, is deliriously happy because he is about to wed the woman he loves. Now surely, the two will live happily ever after, but this of course is not to be as there are oodles of complications and crises involving assorted jealousies, secrets, and lies.


Cinematically-speaking, THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY is no fast-paced 21st-century extravaganza featuring image after image that zip by and that are long-gone before the eye and mind can absorb them. In other words, patience is necessary on the part of the viewer who chooses to have a look at THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY and, perhaps, discover the pleasures of silent cinema. 


For indeed, THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY, like the very best silent films, emphasizes the emotion of the moment. Beyond it plotline and the relationships between the characters, there is much to savor here. One outstanding example is the wedding sequence, which consists of a series of black silhouettes and a white background. The effect is nothing short of magical. And then, throughout THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY, there is the commanding presence of Ivan Mosjoukine, an actor who is well-worth discovering and savoring as he transforms himself from giddy innocent to self-assured husband and father to seemingly doomed victim.


A while back, Flicker Alley also released FRENCH MASTERWORKS: RUSSIAN EMIGRES IN PARIS, 1923-1928, a compilation DVD which includes two eye-opening Mosjoukinetitles. Mosjoukine directed, scripted, and stars in THE BURNING CRUCIBLE, from 1923: a crafty fable that occasionally is overly theatrical but still is entertaining if you take to its sense of humor. It involves a young woman who is spoiled by her rich husband and living a carefree life but still is haunted by a disquieting dream. How is this connected to the exploits of a famed detective, played by Mosjoukine, who takes on disguises and solves crimes?


Mosjoukine also plays the title character in THE LATE MATHIAS PASCAL, released in 1926 and based on a novel by Luigi Pirandello. THE LATE MATHIAS PASCAL features a storyline that certainly resonates today. The title character is a free-thinking young man who longs to be the master of his fate but exists in a world of unbridled avarice. How will he respond when he learns that he’s been reported dead, and now can take on a counterfeit identity and restart his life? THE LATE MATHIAS PASCAL is an engaging blend of realism and illusion that mirrors the often sorry state of humankind-- and the choices one makes while searching for real happiness.



Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.



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