Le mystère des roches de Kador (1912)
Director: Léonce Perret
Cast: Suzanne Grandais, Émile Keppens, Léonce Perret
Synopsis: An impoverished gentleman of leisure attempts to murder his wealthy young ward after she rejects him.
For a film made in 1912, a time when film language was still developing, Léonce Perret’s Le mystère des roches de Kador is a fairly sophisticated piece of work. As well as directing, Perret gave himself a key role as the dastardly Comte Fernand de Keranic, an impoverished gentleman of leisure whose bad debts are about to be exposed if he doesn’t quickly pay them off. Fortunately for Fernand, he is the ward of young Suzanne de Lormel (Suzanne Grandais), who has just come into a large sum of money. Fernand’s attempts to woo Suzanne meet with an abrupt rejection that leaves no room for doubt or misunderstanding, and leaves him having to consider more nefarious means of getting his hands on Suzanne’s assets. He discovers that Suzanne is sweet on the dashing Captain Jean d’Erquy (Max Dhartigny), and covertly orchestrates a meeting between the lovers so that he can off them both at the same time.
Le mystère des roches de Kador stands out not only for its decorative use of the titular location, early use of deep-focus photography and the relative sophistication of the storyline, but for the novel – for its time – depiction of film within film. The bungling Fernand fails in his attempt to kill either of the lovers, succeeding only in traumatising Suzanne so badly that she lapses into a somnambulistic trance. The police enlist the aid of Professor Williams (Émile Keppens), an unorthodox, pioneering scientist whose methods include the recreation of crimes on film and then playing the film back to the victim in order to jolt them out of their trauma-induced state. It’s an unusual example of self-reflexism from an art that was yet to learn some of its more sophisticated techniques.
Unfortunately, the performances are strictly out of the ‘exaggerated gesture’ school of acting in which stricken people hold the back of their hands to either their mouth or their forehead, depending, presumably on their level of strickenness. But Perret demonstrates a pleasing awareness for an eye-catching image, and demonstrates an impressive mastery of his craft.
(Reviewed 12th August 2012)