Sunday, 19 August 2012
Rex Ingram's Mare Nostrum 1926
Lowry refers to Rex Ingram's Mare Nostrum in his filmscript for Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night in a sequence where the character Dick Divers walks past cinemas on Broadway in New York where this film is showing; "then a confused noisy superimposed shot of electric lights merges into Dick entering a cinema - again a head-on shot of its electric lighted apron front - playing Rex Ingram's Mare Nostrum: immediately on the screen in this cinema a man is seen drowning beneath the sea: the scene of drowning now fills the screen so that we feel ourselves almost drowning in the sea through which now appear on the electric apron fronts of the other theatres which we feel Dick still walking into..((The Cinema of Malcolm Lowry: a scholarly edition of Lowry's "Tender is the Night" Edited by Miguel Mota and Paul Tiessen Pgs. 165-66). Lowry is referring the end of Mare Nostrum.
Mare Nostrum (1926) is a silent film set during World War I. A Spanish merchant sailor becomes involved with a spy. It was the first production made in voluntary exile by Rex Ingram and starred his wife, Alice Terry. It is based on the novel of the same name by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Long thought lost, the film was re-discovered and restored in early Millennium.
As a young boy growing up in a Spanish family with a long and very distinguished maritime tradition, Ulysses Ferragut is regaled with tales of the sea by his retired uncle, the "Triton" (Apollon), and is particularly fascinated by his claim to have once seen the sea goddess Amphitrite. Though his lawyer father, Don Esteban, wants him to follow in his footsteps, Ulysses becomes a sailor.
When he is a grown man (Antonio Moreno), he uses his life savings to purchase the Mare Nostrum, a fast, modern freighter, and prospers. However, he finally gives in to his wife, Dona Cinta, for the sake of their son Esteban, and agrees to sell his ship. With the outbreak of World War I, however, the enormous profits to be made from the sudden demand for shipping ends this plan.
On a stop in Italy, Ulysses visits the ruins of Pompeii, and meets Freya Talberg (Alice Terry) and the learned Doctor Fedelmann. He soon falls in love with Freya (who looks exactly like his uncle's painting of Amphitrite). Though she later informs him that she is an Austrian spy (as is Fedelmann), Spain is neutral and his ardor is undiminished. He agrees to transport Count Kaledine to a secret rendezvous in the Mediterranean. The U-boat U-35 surfaces, takes on fuel from Ulysses' ship, and departs with Kaledine.
Meanwhile, young Esteban leaves home without permission to find his father. After a week waiting for Ulysses at his lodgings, Esteban goes back to Barcelona aboard the Californian, a British passenger ship. However, the boy is killed when the Californian is sunk by the U-35. Ulysses learns of his son's fate from a survivor, and realizes to his grief his role in the tragedy. He vows to avenge his boy.
Upon hearing of the death, Freya sends Ulysses a letter denouncing the barbarity of the act; it is intercepted by Doctor Fedelmann. That, along with Freya's admission she has fallen in love with Ulysses, convinces Fedelmann that her subordinate can no longer be trusted. She sends Freya to Marseilles, intending to betray her to the French. Freya suspects as much, and begs Ulysses to take her to safety aboard his ship. Ulysses is torn, but a vision of his son shaking his head makes him refuse. Freya is later captured, convicted, and shot by a firing squad at dawn.
As he is leaving Freya's apartment, Ulysses encounters Count Kaledine. After a brief struggle, he chases Kaledine through the streets, gathering a mob. Kaledine is caught and taken into custody.
Ulysses then employs the Mare Nostrum in the service of the Allies, arming her with a deck gun, replacing his crew with French military sailors, and transporting munitions to Salonica. Only longtime family friend and sea cook Caragol refuses to leave him. On the voyage, they are intercepted by the U-35. With the Mare Nostrum torpedoed and doomed, Ulysses mans the abandoned deck gun and sinks the U-35. As Ulysses descends into the ocean depths, Amphitrite rises to embrace him. Wikipedia
The German submarine and the Wilhelmstrasse spy system during the World War are the theme of Rex Ingram's picturization of Blasco Ibanez's "Mare Nostrum," which was presented last night before an audience that appeared to be left slightly dazed by the weird delivery of the film. It is an effort that in the second half has its full quota of thrills, but in the end it reminds one of the Von Tirpitz edict—"Spurlos Versenkt!" The heroine and the hero have met their deaths and so have the villains; the comedian alone is left to drift back to his Spanish port aboard a flimsy raft.
Mr. Ingram goes about the unfolding of this narrative with a dislike of haste. He seems to tell you that you must gaze upon his story as he tells it or not at all, and therefore it is not until just before the first half has come to a close that interest in the picture is really awakened; that happens to be through a scene in which a stout German Frau Doktor of the German Secret Service, her faithful and beautiful aid, Freya Talberg, and a Spanish skipper, drink a toast to the Emperor Josef. A photograph of the late ruler of the dual Empire is before the trio, it having been covered until that instant by a picture of Victor Emmanuel. Ulysses Ferragrut, the Spanish skipper, tosses down his toast with a sneer and evidently follows it with a silent one to his "King and Country." He is in a predicament, for although he is a married man he has become desperately smitten with Freya's fair beauty and he sorely needs a good-paying cargo for his vessel, the Mare Nostrum. He takes a monocled submarine officer out to where a German U boat replenishes its oil tanks.
The first sequence dealing with the sinking of a British vessel by a submarine is graphically filmed. The Mediterranean is a tame stretch of blue to a wireless operator. He had just said "Hello" to his colleague aboard the Californian. Then one perceives the submersible sneaking after its prey, and subsequently the Californian receives her death blow in an explosion of spray and fire. Aboard the other vessel all is tranquil; then the wireless operator gets the S. O. S., but gradually the sinking ship is covered by water. The commander of the submarine pushes his cap back over his shorn head and checks off the British steamship as having been sunk.
Later, Ferragut, who comes from a family of the sea, learns that his son who was seeking him in Italy was among those who perished aboard the English vessel. He is vengeful, yet in love. In fact he has to run away from the blue eyes of the German woman spy, who herself is betrayed by her own countrymen.
There is an emphatically exciting scene where one of the German submarine officers is chased through the narrow streets of a town. The crowd is close upon his heels, but he manages to avoid them until he is discovered by Ferragut, who had first shouted "spy!"
Mr. Ingram spares no feelings to bring out Ibanez's points. Freya is arrested as a spy and taken from Marseilles to the St. Lazare prison, in Paris. In the course of usual motion picture events Freya would have been saved at the last minute. One awaits it in this film. She is taken to Vincennes in the early morning, and the soldiers line up. The buglers sound "Taps" after making a flourish with their brass instruments. Freya had made a petition to be shot in furs, feathers and expensive clothes; it was granted. She had walked proudly to the white stake against which she rests. Her hands had been tied with rope. An officer winces before the order is given to fire. When that order comes the rifles blaze and nothing more is seen of Freya until a weird idea or nebulous figures under the sea is portrayed at the end of the picture.
Alice Terry is fair, but unconvincing in the rôle of the German spy. She is too phlegmatic for the part. Antonio Moreno figures as the susceptible Ferragut. Mr. Moreno has plenty of character in his countenance, but he does seem to be a ready victim to a pair of blue eyes. His path is filled with weird coincidences over which he, of course, has no control. Fernand Mailly fills the character of the German spy who knows something about firing a torpedo from a submersible, and Andre von Engelman officiates as the U-boat commander. These two men are decidedly impressive.
Aside from the effective photography in Spain, Italy and France and the dramatic sequences concerned with the submarine's deadly work and the shooting of a woman spy, this production does not do justice to the talent of the man who made "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" and "Scaramouche." His last production, "The Arab," was lovely but a slow story that did not boast of much in the way of drama. NY Times