This fairly mundane historical melodrama is a world apart from the great works of cinema that earned
Marcel L'Herbier his reputation as one of the leading figures of the French
avant-garde of the 1920s, silent masterpieces such as
L'Homme du large
Feu Mathias Pascal
Having neither the astonishing artistic innovation or dramatic scale of L'Herbier's earlier films,
Nuits de feu
is a comparatively low-key work which
would be easy to overlook were it not for some fine performances from an
impressive cast. Victor Francen and Gaby Morlay, two of the actors
most strongly associated with the French film melodrama, are on fine form
and bring an emotional realism to the film that makes up for its complacency
in other departments. L'Herbier's half-hearted direction and a fairly lacklustre
script fail to deliver the power and humanity of
the Leo Tolstoy play on which the narrative is based (The Living Corpse
previously adapted for cinema by Fyodor Otsep in 1929), although the film is beautifully
shot in a way that prefigures the work of the French poetic realists (Jean
Grémillon, Marcel Carné, Julien Duvivier), adding a sense of
dark foreboding and irony to the proceedings. In common with
most of L'Herbier's films of the sound era, this one fails to leave much of
a lasting impression.
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