Thanks to La Faustin for recommending ELDORADO, a truly scrummy self-described melodrama from Marcel L’Herbier. The title refers to a house of dance/pleasure, where the glamorous Eve Francis is star attraction. Francis made several films in the twenties, a few in the thirties, and then retired from the screen for decades until cast by Patrice Chereau in 1975 in THE FLESH OF THE ORCHID, his twisted James Hadley Chase adaptation (kind of a sequel to NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH).
As so often with L’Herbier, decoration wins out over sense, and BECOMES sense. I couldn’t quite figure out why this brothel/tavern employed a clown, for instance. Doesn’t seem the best way to get the customers in the right mood. But there he is, looking very splendid, so how could I object? This makes the second L’Herbier production I’ve featured to include a scary kabuki clown.
Director of last week’s romp, LA GALERIE DE MONSTRES, Jacque Catelain, plays the young hero in this picture, and as La Faustin pointed out, costumes are by Alberto Cavalcanti, a man whose talents seem without limit — a child genius who studied law at 15, he switched to architecture, then interior design — I’d previously been wowed by his elaborate and fanciful sets for L’Herbier’s L’INHUMAINE (English translation THE INHUMAN WOMAN is unfortunately hampered by a clunky rhyme). Becoming a director he made a stupendous city symphony, RIEN QUE LES HEURES ~
~ and several more shorts, before LA CAPITAINE FRACASSE, a striking period feature film with a young Charles Boyer as villain. In England he designed the innovative sound montage for seminal postal documentary THE NIGHT MAIL ~
~and became a leading light at Ealing where he helmed the ventriloquist section of DEAD OF NIGHT, the staggering WENT THE DAY WELL? about an invasion of German fifth columnists in a sleepy English village, before returning to Brazil and helping launch the country’s film industry.
Also, he talked like the big cat in CREATURE COMFORTS ~
In ELDORADO, Cavalcanti’s stylings aren’t always flattering to Francis, but they’re beautiful creations in their own right. Likewise, her kiss-curls border on the grotesque, but help us take us into L’Herbier’s loopy hispanic daydream.
The film combines striking interiors — Catelain helped design the guest-house his character stays in — with impressive location photography (the Alhambra reflected in a pool, shot upside-down so the reflection becomes the building itself). As Catelain, an aspiring painter, stares at the ornate buildings, a foggy distortion warps the columns and arches, showing how he sees them with his painter’s eye. At the end of shots, patterned veils or stenciled cut-outs descend over the image…
As a sign of the film’s weird stylistic unity (despite having two cameramen, multiple designers, location and studio shooting), check out how Catelain’s jumble of tourist postcards echos the constructivist/futurist mash–up of the top intertitle ~