December 2, 2019  (Web Review)

L'Argent

Flicker Alley, 150 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

French filmmaker Marcel L’Herbier’s final silent film was also his biggest and most ambitious. Adapted from the titular 1891 novel by Émile Zola and updated to the economically volatile 1920s, L’Argent is an indictment of the dangers of unrestrained capitalism, reckless stock market speculation, and greed. Pierre Alcover stars as unscrupulous banker Nicolas Saccard, who uses the daredevil flights of a world-traveling aviator to raise capital for a new venture. Alfred Abel is his cautious, responsible, and honest rival. Brigitte Helm (who starred in Fritz Lang’s landmark epic Metropolis with Abel) costars as a scheming baroness. The complicated plot involves stock market manipulation, illegal financial dealings, blackmail, and publicity stunts, and L’Herbier uses a mix of melodrama and visual spectacle to drive the story and give the theme a human face. Produced at the very end of the silent era, the film represents a culmination of techniques and sophisticated storytelling ideas that L’Herbier developed over the course of his career: the performances are alternately subtle and outsized, the massive art deco sets are fabulous, and the filmmaking is dynamic, with rapid crosscutting and thrilling camerawork. L’Argent turned out to be a prescient film, released months before the 1929 stock market crash, although it was largely forgotten since it arrived during the transition to sound cinema. Flicker Alley presents a new restoration by Lobster Films with the options of two musical scores. Extras include the documentary “The Making of L’Argent” (shot during the film’s production), L’Herbier’s 1921 short “Prometheus Banker,” a restoration featurette, and a booklet. An overlooked minor masterpiece of silent cinema available on home video in the U.S. for the first time, this is recommended. (S. Axmaker)