(Albert Capellani, 1909, France, BW)
Émile Zola (novel)
Albert Capellani (adaptation)
22 October 1909 (USA)
Running Time: 36 min.
Short | Drama
Part One: The opening scene shows the interior of the squalid little home, where Gervaise has waited all night for Lantier's return, but when the latter enters the place, he casts the tearful woman aside with a gesture of ill-humor, begging her to leave him in peace. Gervaise takes her bundle of clothes and starts for the public wash house, where, after being assigned to a place, she begins her toil. A young woman named Virginie enters, and taking her place at a tub next to Gervaise, taunts the latter about the loss of her lover, for it is Virginie who has supplanted Gervaise in the affections of Lantier. Soon a little boy arrives at the laundry with a note which he hands to Gervaise, and the latter on opening it reads the following soul-crushing words: "I have had enough of your jealous outbursts, and have decided to leave you. Don't worry about me: I have found consolation. Lantier." The disconsolate woman's rival stands by with a triumphant sneer on her face and under her breath makes slurring remarks, whereupon Gervaise turns on Virginie, giving her a terrible heating. Gervaise has still another shock in store for her, for on leaving the place she is horrified to see her rival Virginie enter a cab with Lantier and drive away.
The next scene takes place a few months later, when we see Coupeau, who has been Gervaise's staunch friend all through her sorrow, meet the latter in the park and propose marriage to her. The happy Gervaise accepts the generous hearted fellow, and on their way home they stop to inform their friends of the coming event. Gervaise, who has a strong aversion to drink, makes Coupeau swear that he will never touch a drop of intoxicating liquor. The couple are married and live happily together for five years, for Coupeau, who is a tinsmith, works steadily and is devoted to his wife and proud of their little home. Virginie, however, has never forgotten the humiliation she endured that eventful day In the laundry, when Gervaise attacked her, and she is ever on the alert to have revenge. One day when Gervaise and her little daughter carry Coupeau his lunch, we see the latter come down from the housetop where he is working, and going with his little family to a secluded spot, he enjoys a hearty repast. Virginie, who has been haunting the neighborhood, climbs upon the scaffolding and loosens some of the boards. As Coupeau climbs the ladder to return to work he stops for a moment to wave good-bye to his dear ones, when suddenly the planks give way under his feet and he is precipitated to the ground below. The other workmen who hurry to the scene tenderly raise the injured man and carry him to his home.
Part Two: During Coupeau's convalescence, Gervaise has a birthday, and in honor of the event the happy couple give a little party to their few good friends. It is at this function that Gervaise sees her husband take his first drink. From that day, Coupeau loses all ambition and self-respect, and refuses to return to work. His poor wife is made to shoulder the responsibilities of the household while he spends his time in the tavern. One day Coupeau happens to meet Lantier in the saloon and in the course of conversation bets the latter than be can drink eight brandies while the clock strikes eight. The wager is placed, but Coupeau loses, for he is only able to finish six before he is helplessly intoxicated. At this juncture Gervaise enters the place and, seeing the condition of her husband, begs him to go home with her, but the drunken man positively refuses to move.
Finally Conpeau is attacked with delirium tremens and after a difficult struggle with his companions, is carried a raving maniac to the hospital, where he remains for two years. On leaving the hospital, Coupeau is warned against the use of strong liquors; the smallest glass, he is told, will cause immediate death; he may, however, partake of a very little red wine. He is accompanied home by a friend, who stops on the way and purchases a bottle of wine. Great indeed is the joy in the little home when Coupeau arrives, and after an effusive greeting, Gervaise takes her basket and hastens off to purchase some food for the poor invalid. While Gervaise is absent the heartless Virginie slips into the room and substitutes a bottle of whiskey for the wine. Soon the sick man feels the need of a drink, so going to the closet he picks up the bottle and raises it to his mouth, but scarcely has it touched his lips when he realizes that he is doomed. Burning with the desire for liquor, the unfortunate man drains the bottle of its contents and is immediately seized with delirium tremens. After much suffering the victim of drink falls prostrate upon the floor, where his lifeless form is found by his unhappy wife upon her return.
At the time of its release, L'Assommoir was hugely successful. Based on Zola's novel, this movie is about the free fall of human beings, deals with degradation, alcoholism and it is, in short, a very pessimistic story. Reading the book first would help a lot understand the plot since the film is a little old-fashioned when it comes to introducing the scenes (very few intertitles explain the action rather than speaking for the characters).
Dialogs wouldn't be introduced till the 10's, by then only a few years away, but despite its flaws at story-telling, the camera shots are quite complex for its day and it was beautifully filmed. If it were a talking picture, it certainly would be a great movie. Director Albert Capellani was one of the greatest at the moment. The movie runs for over 35 minutes making it one of the longest released up to its date (10 to 12 minutes one-reelers were just the norm). Besides, it was the beginning of film d'art, and taking plots from famous novels would dignify the film industry. All this proves that L'assemmoir was a pioneer in many different aspects.
Albert Capellani (23 August 1874 – 26 September 1931) was a French film director and screenwriter of the silent era. He directed films between 1905 and 1922. One of his brother was the actor-sculptor Paul Capellani and another the film director Roger Capellani. Capellani, along with his brother Paul, studied acting under Charles le Bargy at the Conservatoire de Paris. Starting his career as an actor, he worked with the director André Antoine at the Théâtre Libre and the Odéon. He then began directing plays for the Odéon, working alongside the lauded actor and director Firmin Gémier (fr). In 1903, he became the head of the Alhambra music hall in Paris.
He continued to work as an actor and director until he received a job offer from the Pathé Frères studio in 1905. Charles Pathé, who held high hopes for the artistic potential of film as a medium, invited him to join the artistic staff under the direction of Ferdinand Zecca. When Pathé in 1908 launched a "prestige" production unit, the Société des Auteurs et des Gens de Lettres (SCAGL), Capellani became its first artistic director. During his Pathé career, he worked as an adviser and supervisor to various directors, including Michel Carré, Georges Denola, Henri Étiévant, and Georges Monca.
He often drew upon his theatrical background to cast stage actor colleagues for his films, such as Henry Krauss, who appeared as Quasimodo in his The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1911) and as Jean Valjean in his Les Misérables (fr) (1912). Les Misérables also gave the actress Mistinguett her first important screen role.
His films cover many genres, including melodramas, fairy tales, costume dramas with historical and biblical themes, and literary adaptations, especially after taking up directorship of SCAGL in 1908. Characteristics of his style include a keen sense for staging actors in three-dimensional space, dynamic use of location filming, and an attention to subtle, realistic details that highlight the humanity of his characters.
In 1915, he moved to the United States and worked for the film studios Pathé Exchange, Metro Pictures Corporation, the World Film Company, Cosmopolitan Productions, Nazimova Productions, and his own newly created studio, Capellani Productions, Inc. Under his direction, Alla Nazimova rose to prominence as one of the greatest silent film stars in Hollywood. Capellani returned to France in 1923, where he floated several new film projects but was unable to bring any to fruition. He died of diabetes in 1931.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1911)
Marie Tudor (1912)
De Afwezige (1913)
The Face in the Moonlight (1915)
La Bohème (1916)
The Easiest Way (1917)
Eye for Eye (1918)
The House of Mirth (1918)
The Red Lantern (1919)
The Virtuous Model (1919)
The Inside of the Cup (1921)
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