Moulin Rouge ★★★★½

There have been at least four major movies called Moulin Rouge made over the years, this silent one from 1928 (actually made in Britain) is certainly the least well known, but to my mind it's also by far and away the best.

In fact of the three masterly, late, silent backstage movies made by director E. A. Dupont his Moulin Rouge is probably the least well known, which is a shame because it's every bit as good as Piccadilly or Variety. However Moulin Rouge lacks a major star name, there is no Emil Jannings or Anna May Wong. Rather it stars the rather less well remembered Olga Tschechowa. The cast is perfectly competent though and DuPont's camera work is absolutely superb. The first half hour of the film set around the stage of the Moulin Rouge is a series of entirely visual vignettes told without the use of any intertitles. The main plot thrust when it gets going does use intertitles, but uses them sparingly.

The first part of the film is certainly the best after it moves away from the Moulin Rouge itself it turns into a perfectly good silent melodrama, but is never quite so exceptional again. These theatre scenes were actually shot in a real theatre, but not in Paris's Moulin Rouge, but rather the Casino de Paris and make use of the sets and cast of the 1927 revue Paris-New York. This gives the film a highly authentic look, although perhaps it means Dupont can't quite make so much use of the unchained camera used in his earlier film Variety.

The film is now available on Blu-ray from Network DVD in the UK and is an excellent restoration. The film has been restored to close to its original running time as released in 1928 but the accompanying music is taken from the later synchronised sound release from 1929. As the 1929 version was considerably shorter the soundtrack has been skillfully edited and looped to make it fit the longer version, this has been well and tastefully done and although the music occasionally seems a little inappropriate it's hardly noticeable, still I would have preferred a modern orchestral score (Carl Davis where are you when I need you...) Despite having now been available on Blu-ray for quite a few months the film still seems to be remarkably little watched, if it had been part of the Masters of Cinema series or a BFI release (as it well deserves to be) I hardly think mine would be only the second review so far on letterboxd. Don't let the films relative obscurity put you off this is a really great late silent, one of the very best made by a British company and any fans of silent cinema will find it highly enjoyable although I'm not so sure that those looking for Nicole Kidman will necessarily get quite so much out of it, but you never know.

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