Scen.: René Clair. F.: Armand Thirard. M.: Louisette Hautecoeur, Henri Taverna. Scgf.: Léon Barsacq. Mus.: Georges Van Parys. Int.: Maurice Chevalier (Émile Clément), Marcelle Derrien (Madeleine), François Périe (Jacques), Dany Robin (Lucette), Raymond Cordy (lo sfregiato), Christiane Sertilange (Marinette), Robert Pizani (signor Duperrier). Prod.: Pathé Cinéma, RKO Radio Pictures. DCP. D.: 99’. Bn.
… perhaps his masterpiece
In the spring of 1945, Société Nouvelle Pathé-Cinéma signed a deal to produce four pictures for RKO. René Clair was an obvious choice to direct these pictures. The Last Billionaire was his last French movie before World War II. Le Silence est d’or was to be his first after the war ended.
It is a romantic paean to silent cinema, shot at Pathé’s Francœur and Joinville-le-Pont studios. Shooting was initially scheduled to start in September 15th, 1945, but did not in fact begin till one year later, nor end until February 1947, a delay due to a studio renovation program. Indeed, power cuts often interrupted the shoot.
Before Renoir’s French Cancan (1954) and also productions such as An American in Paris (1951) or Casino de Paris (1957), Le Silence est d’or conjures the image of an ideal Paris, as designed by Léon Barsacq, with the reassuring shadows of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge (both movie landmarks for the American market in the immediate post-war years). In 1945, René Clair had initially signed a contract with RKO, but then this Pathé project came off. The subject of the picture, as he put it in a letter, had been decided: “The heroic age of French cinema, the first studios, the chase-film La Course à la perruque”. Clair himself was in some sense a product of this period and the picture casts a melancholy if heady eye on it.
Another symbol of Franco-American relations and of the earliest days of cinema is Maurice Chevalier, here playing a director nearing the end of his career. This is the picture’s main protagonist, a pioneer from the golden age, characterized as charming and protective of his crews, as well as of the young woman, Madeleine, who turns to him for help. This morphs into a triangular love-story, laden with tropes from French movies of the 1930s, such as an age-difference between lovers, a soupçon of incest and final abnegation. Indeed, this scheme in which a young woman, faced with the attentions of an older man, opts for a more youthful lover, has formed a part of French figurative art since the Sixteenth-century.
A version with English-language commentary by Maurice Chevalier and an additional prologue was released in the US as Man About Town, but never achieved the success the picture had met with in France. It was probably for this reason that the association between Pathé and RKO had come to an end.
Stéphanie Salmon and Lenny Borger