The New Gentlemen (1929)

Director: Jacques Feyder

So to finally end this tour of the French Masterworks box (which has taken far longer than it should), the second Feyder film in the set. Feyder’s fortunes had been highly variable through his career to that point; the success of Gribiche was followed by the apparent catastrophe of Carmen and the collapse of another production, then the success of Therese Raquin (lost, alas) which apparently earned him an invite to work at MGM, but before sailing for Hollywood he owed Albatros one more film… which was banned. The film adapts a recently successful stage play about a ballet dancer, Suzanne, and the two men who love her: the conservative MP and aristocrat whose protegé she is, pushing for her to be made the lead dancer at the Paris Opera (despite her not actually being conspicuously talented at dancing) and the electrician at the Paris Opera who also works as the union secretary and ultimately finds himself elected as an MP as well (whereupon complications ensue). After one trade showing in November 1928, the film suddenly had its distribution visa withdrawn, apparently because certain actual MPs objected to the film’s depiction of its fictional government. This must’ve seemed bizarre even in 1928 and looks even more so now; The New Gentlemen is so mild and genial I can’t comprehend anyone taking offence to anything about it. Maybe there was harsher business in the material that got cut before it finally passed in April 1929? I don’t know. Actually, there’s one thing still in the film, the implication that politicians use their power to score jobs for people who aren’t actually any good at them—and it’s notable that Gaillac, the union man, winds up using his own influence as an MP on Suzanne’s behalf at the Opera just like the Count did—which might’ve struck a nerve back then. Truth hurts, after all. I liked this, though it has no business being as long as it is (90 minutes would’ve sufficed); Meerson’s sets are a stand-out feature again, though what really struck me was the eventual climax, which not only avoids the romantic ending you might expect but actually goes for what really constitutes an unhappy ending instead…

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