Paul Leni
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Paul Leni fu allievo sia di Max Reinhardt sia di Leopold Jessner al tempo dei loro primi film sperimentali. Nel 1916 esordì come regista, dirigendo Wegener e Veidt in alcuni dei primissimi film espressionisti (Das Tagebrech des Dr Hart). Nel 1921 fu nominato direttore del cabaret espressionista di Berlino, diventando così una delle personalità organizzative e animatrici più eminenti del movimento.

Nel 1921 si associò con lo sceneggiatore Mayer, il regista Jessner e l'attore Kortner (il postino storpio geloso della bella domestica). Hintertreppe (1921) Il dramma si consuma con l'uccisione, a colpi d'ascia, del postino, che ha fatto di tutto per separare la serva dal suo fidanzato.

Un'altra équipe d'eccezione diresse con lui Das Wachsfiguren Kabinett (1924), suprema evocazione dei maggiori temi espressionisti, dalla scenografia inquietante e simbolica, all'orrore del mostro, dal montaggio incalzante alla recitazione ossessiva (e compresi stereotipi del genere quali la figura del giovane artista o la presenza opprimente delle scale). Leni, Wiene e Galeen diressero in maniera impeccabile la crudeltà del sultano, di Ivan il Terribile e di Jack lo Sventratore, interpretati rispettivamente da Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt e Werner Krauss, in una specie di festival, quasi nostalgico, dell'espressionismo. Dopo questo film Leni smise di rappresentare un punto di riferimento per l'ambiente dell'avanguardia berlinese e si trasferì a Hollywood. Dal 1927 al 1929 vi diresse quattro film dell'orrore, dando una lezione di angoscia e allucinazione al nascente genere hollywoodiano.

The Cat and the Canary (1927), a minor adaptation of the John Willard play,

Cyrus is an old eccentric millionaire who died while tormented by greedy relatives who were eager to enjoy the inheritance. But he had tricked them by writing a will that forced them to wait for twenty years. For twenty years after his death the mansion was abandoned. Finally, after twenty years, the will is to be read to the prospective heirs. The night before, a mysterious figure opens the safe and tampers with one of the envelopes hidden in the safe. THe only person who lived in the mansion, Mammy Pleasant, seems to be equally eager to find the will. When the attorney arrives and opens the safe, he finds a moth inside, an obvious sign that someone has opened the safe recently. But Mammy reminds the attorney that he is the only person to know the combination of the safe. The first guest arrives: a young handsome Harry. Then another young man, Charlie. Then two ladies, whose chaffeur, afraid of ghosts, drops them off far from the house: Susan and her niece Cecily. Then the frightful Paul. And finally the naive Annabelle, a distant relative. The clock strikes midnight (the clock had stopped working the night the old man died). The attorney reads the will that bequeath everything to Annabelle. Then Mammy hands Annabelle a letter that the old man wanted her to read on that night. The attorney adds that the will contains a condition: that the heir (Annabelle) must be mentally sane. If she is found to be mentally insane, then the name of the heir is into another sealed envelope. As the heirs curse the old man, his portrait comes crashing down the wall where it has been hanging for twenty years. A guard from a nearby asylum walks in warning that a murderous madman has escaped: the madman claims to be a cat and slaughters people like they were canaries (precisely the metaphor that the old man used about his relatives). Now the guests are terrorized. In the meantime the attorney is chatting alone with Annabelle and shows her the other envelope: it is the envelope that has been opened by the mysterious figure. The attorney warns her that this mysterious person is the only person who knows the name into the second envelope. The attorney is about to tell Annabelle that name when a hand grabs him and pulls him into a bookcase. Annabelle is not looking and only knows that the attorney has disappeared, and with him the envelope. The aunt immediately accuses Annabelle of having harmed the attorney, and therefore of being insane. When they finally retire, Annabelle reads the letter: it instructs her to look for a button in the bookcase that would reveal the location of some diamonds. She finds them but doesn't have time to enjoy them because a hand comes out of the wall and steals them. Terrified, she calls for help. Nobody believes her. She looks frantically for a hidden door in the wall and finally finds it. Alas, the corpse of the attorney falls off of it.p The others try to call the police but realize that the wires have been cut. Paul the coward, suddenly turned into a lion by his love for Annabelle, ventures into the wall but is trapped inside when the door suddenly shuts itself. Paul heroically saves Annabelle from the maniac when he attacks her: it turns out it was Charlie, who knew that he was the man named in the second envelope. The police arrest him. Paul and Annabelle kiss. e The Last Warning hanno in uno stile semi-comico del tutto estraneo all'espressionismo.

Leni fu uno dei personaggi più vivaci dello spettacolo tedesco nell'immediato dopoguerra; pur senza inventare nulla, seppe portare sullo schermo tutte le proposte dei nuovi intellettuali. Dimostrò una notevole consapevolezza anche nello sfruttare il genere a Hollywood sotto forma di film del terrore, celebrando così le nozze fra due generi lontani come spirito ma vicini come scopi.

If English is your first language and you could translate this text, please contact me.
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