The Sunday Intertitle: Mr Versatile


This 1914 production of Jules Verne’s MICHAEL STROGOFF begins with a little showreel from star Jacob P. Adler demonstrating the wide range of characterisation he won’t be deploying in the film on offer~

Textbook barnstorming. Adler, known as “the Great Eagle,” was one of the great stars of the Yiddish theatre. His technique has nothing to do with cinema, but as this was his only film we’ll never know if he might have adapted more to its demands. His son-in-law, theatre director Harold Clurman (who also made a single film, the terrific DEADLINE AT DAWN) described him as “an extraordinary personality, always larger than life.” His children included Luther and Stella Adler, promoters of a rather different method.

The movie also fascinated me with its simple but surprising intertitles, which often present two sides of a conversation in one go, a device I haven’t encountered in other silents ~


And even more enticingly, the 45 minute movie is a blistering display of silver nitrate decomposition, whereby the images seem to  dance with phantasmal spirochetes and X-ray paramecia, warping pustularistically as if under cosmic ray barrage. Occasionally the screen whites out as if the film has simply ceased to exist, before returning (from whence?) to allow Adler to once more bellow mutely and gesticulate through the shitstorm of photochemical exuberance. Time may conquer all, but Jacob P. Adler doesn’t quit without a fight.




7 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Mr Versatile”

  1. Harold Clurman’s first wife was actress and drama maven Stella Adler. His second was Juleen Compton an independent filmmaker about whom Luc Moullet and I are obsessed. She got Michel Legrand to compose the score for her teriffic The Plastic Dome of Norma Jeanand part of that score is this lovely song “one Day” done here by Kiri Te Kanawa (no less.)

  2. In case, like me, you were wondering:

    (Google books, on “The Wild Man”)

  3. He’s my favourite!

    I wish Compton’s films were attainable. Could Criterion be persuaded?

  4. No idea. Only “the happy few” have ever heard of her.

  5. Yakov Friedland Says:

    Do you know how I can see a copy of “Micael Strogoff”? I am researching the Yiddish actor Jacob Adler for a PHD dissertation, and would love to get ahold of the movie. I live in Israel, but come to New York occasionally.

  6. What an exciting project! I’ll sort you out with a copy and you won’t have to travel.

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