One of the finest and funniest silent comedies, a satire on middle-class mores. A married woman’s hat is eaten by a horse. Returning home without her hat is too great a scandal: a replica must be found. The horse’s owner is to be wed that day and is pressed to find the replacement by … the lady’s lover. “Clair is the master of straight narrative development with unobstrusive technical skill, ingeniously interpreting narrative by means of characters and action that afford witty commentaries on pomp, convention and officialdom” (www.silentsaregolden.com). (Cert U)
Dir: René Clair 86 mins Fra/Ger 1928
Andrew Youdell returns to provide piano accompaniment for our annual silent. The screening will begin at 7.00 p.m. and take place at St Nicolas Church, Market Place, Abingdon.
SPECIAL EVENT at Saint Nicolas Church, Abingdon
An Italian Straw Hat
(Un Chapeau de Paille d’Italie)
France 1928 84 minutes Cert. U
with piano accompaniment by Andrew Youdell
The American title, The Horse Ate the Hat, pithily summarises, but also exaggerates, the first part of the plot. The hat belongs to a lady trysting with her lieutenant lover and she is thus more than slightly compromised. The horse is Fadinard’s and Lt. Tavernier orders him to find an identical chapeau, on pain of severely unpleasant consequences. This adds to the tasks that Fadinard faces on what is in fact his wedding day … .
The play on which the film is based was first performed in 1851, but Clair sets his film in 1895 – the year of the birth of cinema. He uses a mainly static camera, which in 1928 was rather old-fashioned. Would you have noticed if we hadn’t told you?
“The Italian Straw Hat is a true farce, each scene adding some new complication to the plot. The characters are trapped in a rolling snowball of miscommunication and misapplied logic. There is a reason these films often end with the mob giving chase. In this case, the bride’s family descends on Fadinard’s apartment while he tries to get the woman and her lover out before his in-laws or the cuckolded husband see them. And, of course, the police are going to show up.” (Jamie S. Rich, dvdtalk.com).
“The tale unfolds in an endless series of comic misunderstandings, ‘so expertly timed and so elegantly directed that farce becomes ballet’ ” (Pauline Kael, quoted at www.barbican.org.uk.
René Clair, 1898 – 1981, is best known internationally for his silent films, in particular tonight’s presentation; and for his 1930’s sound films, though he worked on into the 1960s. In France, especially in the post-war period, his reputation took a battering from the New Wave film-makers and critics. Truffaut, for example, wrote: “Clair makes films for old ladies who go to the cinema twice a year”, though others, for example Bazin, acknowledged his supreme ability to narrate visually.
Andrew Youdell has played piano for us once a year since November 1985, when he accompanied The Four Horsemen of the the Apocalypse starring Rudolph Valentino. He has been a regular at the National Film Theatre for even longer, but he accompanied his first film, Fritz Lang’s Siegfried, at the Leeds Training College Film Society in 1963 aged fifteen, when none of the older piano students volunteered. He firmly believes that the music should support the film – and not distract from it.
Cast and crew credits for An Italian Straw Hat:
Fadinard – Albert Préjean
Lieutenant Tavernier – Geymond Vital
Anaïs de Beauperthuis (the compromised wife) – Olga Tschechowa
Vésinet (the deaf uncle) – Paul Ollivier
Félix (the valet) – Alex Allin
Beauperthuis – Jim Gérald
Hélène (the bride) – Marise Maia
Customer at milliner’s – Valentine Tessier
Bobin, the cousin with one glove – Louis Pré, fils
Cousin with a crooked tie – Alexis Bondireff
His wife – Alice Tissot
Nonancourt (the bride’s father) – Yvonneck
Director – René Clair
Screenplay – René Clair based on a play by Eugène Labiche and Marc Michel
Cinematography – Maurice Desfassiaux and Nikolas Roudakoff
Producer – Alexandre Kamenka
We would like acknowledge the warm hospitality of Saint Nicolas Church in allowing us to present tonight’s film. In particular many thanks to Jim Barker and Geoff Currey.
“Absolutely wonderful – thank you!”
“Perfect music for the film thank you for a lovely treat!”
“Great piano accompaniment”
“What a jewel of a film!”
“Just fantastic – so French. I did not expect to laugh so much.”
“Hard to follow in places but the piano accompaniment was excellent.”
“Being a product of its time, the film was hard to appreciate. Not even Youdell’s piano music or the French subtitles could justify the uneven pace, the horribly dated comedy stereotypes or the borderline-stupid premise. Even so, some of the gags were pretty good!”
“Great music, as always, but the story was rather too drawn out.”
“Very good piano accompaniment, as usual but film a bit too long.”
“I always enjoy the occasion, the live music and the change of venue but the film was poor. It improved towards the end but the first hour was so bad it killed any interest for me.”
“A tad laboured”
“Too long – French subtitles a distraction. Music too loud?”
“Too silly for words – talkies couldn’t come soon enough. I thought the French subtitles were a nice touch but they got in the way.”