I love silent film and really like serials too, so when a silent
serial (of which there are very few that still exist in their
complete state) is released, I get really excited. So it's natural
that I'd have be eager to screen The House of Mystery, a
10-part, six and a half hour serial released in 1923 from France's
Albatros Productions that has just made its way to DVD thanks to
Blackhawk Films and Flicker Alley. As high as my expectations were,
they were surpassed by this excellent series that is filled with
drama, action, and some impressive filmmaking.
Regine (Helene Darly) is the adult daughter of factory owners and
lives on their elegant estate. She is in love with her boyfriend,
Julien (the wonderful Ivan Mosjoukine), and is excited when he
proposes marriage and instantly accepts. The magnificently evil
Corradin (a man so mean he throws a puppy (who is unharmed) in one
chapter and played by Charels Vanel), Regine's childhood friend and
the manager of her family's factory, is heartbroken when he hears
the news. He has been enamored with the attractive young lady for
years, but has never told her so. As soon as she's married however,
he starts sowing the seeds of doubt into Julien's head making him
question how loyal his wife actually is. With this simple act things
go from bad to worse for poor Julien and soon he has much more dire
things to worry about than if his wife is unfaithful, like staying
alive and a step ahead of the law.
This serial is not like the sound serials that had their heyday in
the 30's and 40's, and is also quite different from the other silent
series that have made their way to home video. Just about all of the
serials that come to mind when someone mentions the term prioritize
action over plot in a big way. The first chapter sets up the story,
the middle chapters have the hero battling the villain again and
again with each victory being met with a similar defeat or plot
twist, and then everything is wrapped up in the final installment. The
House of Mystery doesn't follow that formula. Instead of
telling a short story and padding it out to ten chapters, it tells a
long story and splits it up into ten parts. In a lot of ways it
feels more like a TV miniseries from the 70's than a serial from the
The story doesn't take place over the span of days or weeks, but
rather decades. It's the saga of a family and the troubles that they
encounter. This larger time scale gives the serial a grander feel.
It's not interested in rushing from fight to chase to explosion;
rather it takes the time to let the plot unfold.
That's not to say this serial doesn't have any action... it does.
There are some great chases and inventive stunts, which are some of
the highlights of the show. There is a prison break followed by an
epic chase, an impressive bridge over a chasm that is built with
rope and humans, a fire, and much more. It just doesn't throw in a
fist fight in every installment. It is a lot a fun.
The action and heartfelt drama make this a very good serial, but
what makes it fantastic is the impressive cinematography. The
director, Alexandre Volkoff, wasn't afraid to try new things and the
results are amazing and artistic. He plays with different ways to
fill the frame, composing a long shot and having people walk up to
the camera rather than cutting for a close-up. There is also a
beautiful scene where a murder is show on the lens of a camera
pointed at the event. The most impressive sequence for my money is
the wedding in the first chapter. The entire event, from the guests
arriving to the ceremony itself, dinner afterwards and a lavish
party with a band, is shown in silhouette. The technique worked
wonderfully and Volkoff used it to show the quick passage of time as
well as the reactions of some of the guests. It's a very brave and
Flicker Alley has released this 10-chapter serial in a region-free
3-DVD set... The discs are housed in a single-width triple case that
also contains a nice booklet about the film.
This silent serial comes with a piano soundtrack composed and
performed by Neil Brand and it is wonderful. The dramatic music he
wrote is somber but not overly so, but the soundtrack really shines
during the action scenes. During the train chase in episode five,
for example, the music makes the events unfolding on screen even
more exciting and dynamic.
The intertitles are in the original French, and there are optional
English subtitles available.
The pillarboxed image looks fantastic. The serial was restored from
the original camera negatives and scanned at 2K. The result is very
impressive. The picture is clean and clear with a very good amount
of detail. Contrast is excellent and the amount of print damage is
very minimal. In addition there are many tinted scenes too.
The only complaint that I have is that there are no opening titles
and series recap at the beginning of each chapter, only at the
beginning of each disc. I would have preferred to have both of these
(or at least the recap) included with each installment.
Included on the third disc is a nice collection of stills and
production shots from the film.
Packaged with the disc themselves is a 12 page booklet that gives
some interesting information on the production, the stars, and the
If you created a Venn Diagram of movie serials and art films, the
overlap would be incredibly small with the only title in the
intersection being The House of Mystery. It is an exciting
film that is also dramatic, creative, and very well made. This
absolutely fantastic release earns our highest recommendation: DVD
Talk Collector's Series.