Pages

15 December 2012

Violettes impériales

Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (Henry Roussel, 1924) was the first of three film versions of the historical adventure about a Spanish flower girl who saves the life of the French empress Eugenie. The silent film featured the popular Spanish diva Raquel Meller.

Raquel Meller, André Roanne
French postcard. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924) with Raquel Meller and André Roanne.

Raquel Meller in Violettes imperiales
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924).

Overthrown By The Anarchist's Bomb
Spanish diva Raquel Meller (1888 - 1962) was already a highly popular singer before debuting as a film actress in 1919. She performed not only in Spain but also in France and the USA. Songs such as La Violetera, El Relicario, and Flor del Mal became standards - thanks to her interpretations. Meller was also a hit on the big screen. She made her film debut in the Spanish film Los arlequines de seda y oro/The Harlequins of Silk and Gold (1919, Ricardo de Baños). In France she starred inseveral films. She is most remembered for Violettes imperiales (1924), a historical romantic drama set during the reign of Napoleon III of France. Meller plays a Spanish flower girl who saves an attack on the life of the French empress Eugenie de Montijo (played by Suzanne Blanchetti), by taking her place in her carriage. When the carriage is overthrown by the anarchist's bomb, the girl survives because of - yes! - the masses of violets in the imperial carriage, the empress' favorite flowers.

Violettes impériales
French postcard by Edition Cinémagazine. PhotoPhoto: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924). Shot on location in Seville, Spain, where the future Empress Eugénie of France (Suzanne Bianchetti) meets the flower girl Violetta (Raquel Meller).

Violettes impériales
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924), starring Raquel Meller as Violetta, the poor flower girl from Seville who becomes the protégée of the Empress Eugénie of France. Sepia version of the black & white card above.

Violettes impériales
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924). Center stands Suzanne Bianchetti as Empress Eugénie, in the back the Chateau de Compiègne, Napoleon III's original residence. The composition recalls Franz-Xaver Winterhalter's famous painting The Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting (1855, Chateau de Compiègne).

Jeune Premier
A summary of the story: At Grenada, in 19th Century Spain, Eugénie de Montijo asks a gypsy girl, Violetta, to read her fortune in her hand. Emboldened by Violetta's prediction that she is to become a queen, Eugénie heads for Paris, accompanied by her mother and their servant Juan de Ayala. The latter uses his seductive charms to persuade a team of seamstresses to make a grand dress for Eugénie, so that she may attend a ball at the Tuileries, hosted by Napoléon III. Naturally, Eugénie wins the heart of the French emperor, but in doing so she makes a dangerous enemy in her rival Madame de Pierrefeu. Once Eugénie has been installed as empress, Madame de Pierrefeu swears that she will have her revenge... Her film partner was jeune premier André Roanne (1896 - 1959). He had a long standing career in French cinema of more than 90 films.
Henri Roussel was not only the director of Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924), But also the producer an the scriptwriter. In 1932, Roussel made a sound version of the film, again with Raquel Meller and Suzanne Bianchetti. In 1952 an operetta version was made of the film. Without La Meller.Violetta was played by Carmen Sevilla, while the empress was played by Simone Valère. However on this remake the male character was enhanced to feature the singing talents of tenor Luis Mariano.

André Roanne
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924). André Roanne.

Violettes impériales
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924). Visible in the back is the Chateau de Compiègne, Napoleon III's residence.

An Abrupt Career End
The Spanish Civil War and the Second World War had put an abrupt end to Raquel Meller's career. She first left for Argentina and later retired in Barcelona. Some years ago, a tinted copy of the silent version of Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets was beautifully restored by the BFI. A clip of the film is visible in Kevin Brownlow's documentary series Cinema Europe, but we are still waiting for the dvd of the film.

Violettes impériales
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924). Violetta (Raquel Meller) and Empress Eugénie (Suzanne Bianchetti).

Violettes impériales
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition. Photo: publicity still for Violettes impériales/Imperial Violets (1924), starring Raquel Meller as Violetta, the poor flower girl from Seville who becomes the protégée of the Empress Eugénie of France.

Sources: Films de France, Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

No comments: