Woman of Paris, A (1923)

“Get that woman out of this house!”

Synopsis:
Believing she has been jilted by her fiance (Carl Miller), a young woman (Edna Purviance) moves to Paris and becomes the mistress of wealthy playboy Pierre Revel (Adolph Menjou). When she runs into her fiance a year later, she must decide whether to leave her life of comfort with Revel for a chance at marital bliss — if she can overcome her reputation as a “kept woman”.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
This silent melodrama is primarily of interest for its status as Charlie Chaplin’s first directorial effort without his presence as the Little Tramp. It was panned by audiences at the time, shelved for fifty years, and finally restored in the 1970s, to critical acclaim. Peary is among the movie’s admirers, noting that it is “the rare silent film to explore the psychological reasons characters act as they do” and the “rare Chaplin film in which the lead female character is treated with sympathy rather than idealized.”

Despite these important breakthroughs, however, the story in A Woman of Paris remains overly melodramatic, and, quite simply, not all that engaging. I couldn’t muster much interest in what happens to the lovers, and found the ending both abrupt and sappy. The best aspect of the film by far is Adolph Menjou, who steals nearly every scene he’s in, and shows genuine screen charisma.

P.S. Click here to read a 1977 interview with director Michael Powell, in which he reminisces about watching A Woman of Paris as an impressionable young 18-year-old: “Nobody had ever really done any realistic films at all before, it was all make-believe, you know, and emotions were make-believe, as well as the people… Suddenly, here was a grown-up film, with people behaving as they do in life, and scenes treated with an enormous sophistication…”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Adolphe Menjou’s sparkling performance as Pierre Revel, a “charming cad” (see DVD Verdict link below); it’s obvious why he went on to become a star after this film–
    Adolph Menjou
  • Some outrageous Parisian party scenes — including one where a “mummified” woman unspools her wrapping onto a fellow partier, and ends up naked (!)

Must See?
Yes. It holds a special place in cinematic history, and should be of interest to film fanatics.

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One Response to “Woman of Paris, A (1923)”

  1. A once-and-done must – as a competent, early indicator of Chaplin’s versatility (which would eventually lead to more mature work, such as ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ and ‘Limelight’).

    In agreement that the story itself is (as Borat would say) not so much. Since most of the characters are frivolous and unchanging, we’re left to follow them in their trivial pursuit without the benefit of any real payoff.

    Oh, sure, Purviance has a fleeting moment in which she might turn into a real human being. But it passes – and she returns to being something of a cousin to Dreiser’s ‘Sister Carrie’, a rather dreary ‘heroine’. As a character, Marie is tiresome almost from the get-go. I don’t actually think she feels jilted by her lover: when she calls him from the station, he does tell her “something terrible has happened” and asks her to hold the line a moment – but she doesn’t; she’s the one who blows HIM off. Nor do I agree with Peary that Chaplin treats her with sympathy (well, not until the very end when she has a dramatically convenient turnaround which, to me, seems a bit forced). In fact, note the wonderful character of Marie’s masseuse: without a single word of dialogue and with very expressive eyes, she seems to act as Chaplin’s ‘mouthpiece’ for his distaste of the self-serving Marie and her capricious girlfriends.

    I do think Peary is right in citing the film as a rare instance in a silent in which the psychological is intriguingly explored.

    His charisma notwithstanding (and in this film it’s considerable), I never really appreciated Menjou’s long, somewhat one-note film career as a cad. At the moment, though, I can recall very much admiring his performance in ‘Paths of Glory’.

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