by Allan Fish
(Germany 1927 105m) DVD1
Aka. Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney
23 karat in the parrot
p Erich Pommer d Georg W.Pabst w Ladislas Vajda, Rudolf Leonhardt, Ilya Ehrenberg ph Fritz Arno Wagner, Robert Walter Lach ed Georg W.Pabst, Marc Sorkin m Timothy Brock art Victor Trivas, Otto Hunte
Edith Jehanne (Jeanne Ney), Uno Henning (Andreas Labov), Fritz Rasp (Khalibiev), Brigitte Helm (Gabrielle), Adolf E.Licho (Raymond Ney), Sig Arno (Gaston), Vladimir Sokoloff (Zacharkiewicz), Eugen Jensen (Andre Ney), Hans Jaray (Poitras), Hertha von Walther (Margot),
Somehow The Love of Jeanne Ney seems to have slipped by the serious Pabst scholars, as if hovering low in the sky to evade radar detection. He’d had his big success with Joyless Street, with Asta Nielsen and Greta Garbo, who was then shipped off to Hollywood. A year or so away and one icon coming the other way, Louise Brooks, would make her and Pabst art-house immortals in two films just before the close of the silent era. The Love of Jeanne Ney, made between the Garbo film and the later Brooks, just gets brushed aside, and the more I come to look at it, the more I wonder why.
It’s set in the familiar world of Russia on the verge of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the eponymous Jeanne Ney is distraught when the man she loves winds up killing her father, Andre. She escapes to Paris to evade the Bolsheviks, but her lover, Labov, with the help of a comrade, sets off after her to make her his own. Also following them is the rascally, nay seriously evil, blackmailer/murderer Khalibiev. On arrival in Paris, Jeanne is shocked to see that her uncle Raymond cares only for his monetary conquests and not a jot for his blind daughter Gabrielle. Khalibiev meanwhile hatches a plan to marry himself to Gabrielle, then kill her and gain her father’s inheritance for himself.
Nice chap, non? The Russian Revolution provided the backdrop to numerous romantic and dramatic films, from John Barrymore’s Tempest to Jacques Feyder’s Korda effort Knight Without Armour, and from Josef Von Sternberg’s The Last Command to David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago. There’s something distinctly cosmopolitan about the make-up of Jeanne Ney, with it’s French star playing a Russian in a German film who winds up in Paris, not to mention the perversity of Brigitte Helm playing someone who not only isn’t a Teutonic femme fatale, but is if anything the nicest, most innocent character in the piece. One cast member does conform to norm, however, and that’s Fritz Rasp, German expressionism’s premiere heel for hire, the sort of douchebag for whom the very term justifiable homicide was invented – even his name suggests a creep. Not in any of his films, from Lang’s Spione to Pabst’s later Diary of a Lost Girl, has he been better or chewed more upholstery, than here.
The rest of the cast are more than up to matching him, though. Jehanne, already discussed in the same year’s The Chess Player, should have done more than she did, and now lies forgotten, and Sokoloff and Arno are their usual reliable selves. There’s a fine Germanic take on the American capitalist stereotype from Licho as Jeanne’s grasping uncle, and then we come back to Helm. Certainly her vampish performances in the likes of L’Argent and L’Atlantide, or as the demonic robot Maria in Metropolis, are what we remember her for most, but I don’t think she was ever better, and certainly never more touching, than as the wide-eyed blind girl, used as pawn by family and strangers alike in their nefarious chess games. A moment, too, to think on the stunning photography from the great Fritz Wagner, including some wonderfully dizzying uses of a mobile camera that prefigure the modern handheld device. And finally, controlling it all, and it’s a convoluted beast when you analyse it carefully, there’s Pabst. True, his characters may interest him less than the opportunity it gives him for visual flourishes, and the plot is rather melodramatic when push comes to shove, but he gets away with it in a film which, though it’s no Pandora’s Box, is still shamefully neglected by critics even eighty years on.