The Late Mathias Pascal (1926)

Director: Marcel L’Herbier

I have a tendency to talk about what I call the narrative economy of older films, their ability to do a lot of stuff in a (usually) relatively short time span. This is not an example of that tendency, sprawling as it does over nearly three hours to tell a story that could probably have been told in about half that time (Rosenbaum, in this old review of the film—which he apparently likes more now than he did back in the mid-70s, is crueller, describing the source novel as a 300 page “anecdote” that could’ve been told in ten). Another thing it isn’t, whatever IMDB might say, is a horror film; one kind of hallucination and a séance do not add up to horror! I can only assume whoever entered it into the database saw it was called The Living Dead Man in America and decided it must have zombies or something. Um… no. Our “living dead man” is of an entirely different order. Mathias is a young man living an unenviable life; screwed out of an inheritance, married to a woman whose ghastly mother lives with them and turns her against her husband, stuck with a crap library job that mainly involves trying to kill rats. Family tragedy strikes, Mathias goes to Monte Carlo to get away from it all and miraculously wins a shitload of money. Learning that his death has been wrongly reported in his home town, he realises he’s got a golden chance to start afresh. But is “death” everything he thinks it’s cracked up to be? As I said, it take an awfully long time to tell a not terribly complicated story, and it might be telling that a remake a decade later only ran 90-odd minutes instead of 170. Mind you, I rarely felt it dragging as such, curiously—L’Herbier’s pace is stately but doesn’t feel protracted somehow—and Mosjoukine’s central performance is a solid, compelling anchor for these tragicomic shenanigans, particularly in the second half (which I thought was actually more interesting than the first). This was, in fact, Ivan’s last film for Albatros before heading off to another Russian emigre studio at Billancourt where Abel Gance was working on a little film called Napoleon (though he wound up making the latter without Moz). I enjoyed this more than I initially thought I was going to. Still not convinced it really needed to be 170 minutes long, though.

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One thought on “The Late Mathias Pascal (1926)

  1. Silents, Please! August 9, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    I really like both the book and the film, and as you say, it is that odd case where the film could easily have been (a lot) shorter, but doesn’t really feel like it overstays its welcome. It has a gentle energy that I find really appealing.

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