The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927)
Director: G. W. Pabst
Cast: Édith Jéhanne, Uno Henning, Fritz Rasp
Synopsis: A woman must flee her Russian homeland after the murder of her uncle.
Possibly one of the most accomplished European directors never to work in Hollywood, G. W. Pabst is chiefly remembered for Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl (both 1929), the two movies he made with US ex-pat Louise Brooks, and the war movie Westfront 1918 (1930). While The Love of Jeanne Ney never seems to be as highly regarded as these other movies it is technically their equal, but fatally lacks a consistency of plot and, despite some colourful characters, never seems to involve the audience in their plight.
Édith Jéhanne plays the title character, the daughter of a diplomat, Andre Ney (Eugen Jansen) in Russia at a time of political upheaval. Andre has decided it’s time to return to Paris, but as he prepares to do so he purchases a list of subversives from the slimy Khalibiev (Fritz Rasp). If ever a man was to be judged by his appearance, Khalibiev would be he. Rasp, who memorably played the chemist who molested Brooks’ character in Diary of a Lost Girl, has a wonderful time as the perfidious Khalibiev, smirking and sneering, and looking down on all around him with an insouciant superiority. It’s an over-the-top performance that’s totally at odds with every other in the film, but it’s strangely enjoyable nevertheless.
When the Bolshevik Andreas Lebov (Uno Henning) and his comrade learn that their names are on the list they pay a visit to Ney to retrieve it and Lebov ends up shooting the old man. The murder is witnessed by Jeanne, who just happens to be Andreas’s lover, but she later seems unaccountably unperturbed by his part in her father’s death when, on her return to Paris she resumes their affair. Now, some women will break up with a man for failing to return a phone call or doing the DIY, so it’s safe to say that Jeanne has to be one of the most forgiving women in the history of women, but there we go — sometimes love is truly blind.
And so is Gabrielle (Brigitte Helm), the daughter of Raymond (Adolf E. Licho), Jeanne’s grasping private detective Uncle, with whom Jeanne stays on returning to Paris. Although she can’t see, Brigitte is quick to realise that Khalibiev, who turns up shortly after Jeanne, having stolen one of Raymond’s business cards from her father, is a rotten egg, so — guess what? She consents to marry him! I mean, what is it with these Ney women? At this point, the story takes a left turn with the introduction of a wealthy Duke who has lost a valuable diamond and employs Ney to find it. The Duke’s jeweller is suspected of stealing it, but of course no one thinks to look in his parrot apart from one of Ney’s associates — Sig Arno, owner of one of cinema’s more memorable noses — who really deserves promotion following that piece of detective work. However, before Ney can return it to the Duke, someone murders him, steals the diamond, and leaves an incriminating photo of Andreas at the scene.
Despite this relentlessly melodramatic plot, The Love of Jeanne Ney stubbornly refuses to engage its audience, largely because the inconsistent behaviour of key players erases much of the story’s credibility. However, Pabst’s brilliance as a director is in evidence in virtually every scene. Lighting, composition, camera angles, it’s all so close to perfection that we call almost forgive such technical genius being spent on a story that barely raises above the level of a potboiler. The source novel by Ilja Ehrenberg apparently contained much more political content — which is virtually non-existent in the movie after the first twenty minutes — and The Love of Jeanne Ney might have benefited from focusing more on this aspect of the story than the lurid elements on which it chooses to dwell.
(Reviewed 29th August 2013)