Histoire d’un crime (1901)
Director: Ferdinand Zecca
Cast: Jean Liézer, Bretteau, Ferdinand Zecca
Histoire d’un crime is quite a sophisticated film for 1901, containing a number of scenes and relating a narrative long before The Great Train Robbery. It has to be said, however, that it isn’t entirely successful in its attempt to tell a tale. Much of the criminal’s past is told in a dream sequence (effectively an early version of a flashback) in which we see his happy family life wrecked by alcoholism which leads to a life of crime and ultimately sees him a condemned man in a prison cell.
The dream sequence takes place on a (sort of) screen within a screen, a little like a thought bubble in a cartoon strip, but it’s confusingly staged, and the path taken by the criminal isn’t clearly explained by the images. Immediately upon waking from his dream the criminal has sentence passed on him and is taken to the guillotine. This is an unexpectedly shocking moment as we see the guillotine’s blade descend and the criminal’s head fall into the basket. It’s not particularly graphic but it is something you don’t expect to see in such an early film.
Overall, director Ferdinand Zecca is to be commended for what he tried to achieve here, even though his efforts aren’t entirely successful.
(Reviewed 15th June 2009)