03 August 2013

Edith Jéhanne

French actress Edith Jéhanne (1902-?) is known for two classic silent films, Le Joueur d'échecs/The Chess player (Raymond Bernard, 1927) and Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney/The Love of Jeanne Ney (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1927). After that, she would make only three more films. What finished her promising film career?

Édith Jéhanne in Le joueur d'échecs
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 421. Photo: publicity still for Le joueur d'échecs/The Chess Player (1927).

Tormented by the Political Upheavals
There's not much information on Edith Jéhanne at the net. IMDb mentions as her birth date 1902 and that she was a sister of Sylvia Grey, who also appeared in a few silent films. When or where Jéhanne died is not known, nor whether she was related to director Raymond Bernard with whom she made most of her films. She debuted in his sentimental comedy Triplepatte/Toddles (Raymond Bernard, 1922) based on a play by Bernard's father, Tristan Bernard. Next she performed in the adventure serial Rouletabille chez les bohemiens/Rouletabille Among the Bohemians (Henri Fescourt, 1923), opposite Gabriel de Gravone, Romuald Joubé and Joë Hamman. The following year she had a small part in Bernard's historical drama Le miracle des loups/Miracle of the Wolves (Raymond Bernard, 1924), an epic film about he struggle between Louis XI and Charles le Téméraire. 1927 was her peak year. Jéhanne got the lead in two major films. First in the Ufa production Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney/The Love Of Jeanne Ney (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1927), based on a story by Ilya Ehrenburg. Jéhanne plays Jeanne Ney, a woman tormented by the political upheavals of the period following the First World War. When the Red Army occupies Crimea, Jeanne's father, a French journalist, is killed. Jeanne's lover, the Bolshevik Andreas (Uno Henning), sends Jeanne to her family in Paris but he is preceded by the counterrevolutionary Khalibiev (Fritz Rasp), who murders Jeanne's uncle. Andreas is accused of the murder and Khalibiev proposes to marry Jeanne's blind cousin (Brigitte Helm). Director Pabst mixed here successfully a straight forward American film style with echoes of the Soviet montage style and German expressionism.

Edith Jehanne
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4300/1, 1929-1930. Photo: D.L.S. / Rosenfeld-Film G.m.b.H.

Edith Jehanne
Dutch postcard for the Al Film Co., Batavia-Centrum (former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia), no. T. 93. Photo: R. Tomarig, Nice. Publicity still for Tarakanova (Raymond Bernard, 1930). This picture was also used for posters and magazine covers.

Grand Spectacle
Then, Edith Jehanne and Pierre Blanchar played the leads in Le joueur d'échecs/The Chess Player (Raymond Bernard, 1927), about 19th century Poland striving for independence. Polish freedom fighter Boleslas loves Sophie, while they are both active in the independence movement. She becomes attracted to Oblonoff, a young officer in charge of the Russian forces in Poland. When Boleslas is wounded during an insurrection at Vilmo, Sophie stays at his side. He is hidden in a chess-player mannequin that ends up at the court of the Russian Czarina Catherine II. He plays against her... The film was grand spectacle, using 35 decors including an enormous set for the Winter Palace. Hal Erickson describes at AllMovie the highlight of the film: "The film's dramatic highlight was one of the most astonishing sequences in all of French cinema: On the verge of madness because her beloved Polish army is being mercilessly slaughtered by the Russians, the heroine sits down at her piano and begins playing maniacally - whereupon she hallucinates that the Poles have won the battle and are marching homeward in triumph." However, after these major works, Edith Jéhanne only made three more films. In two she had the female lead: the psychological drama Le perroquet vert/The Green Parrot (Jean Milva, 1928) with Max Maxudian, and the late silent production Tarakanova (Raymond Bernard, 1930) with Olaf Fjord and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. In this film, she played an impostor who claims to be the heir to the Russian throne. When the Czarina (Paule Andral) sends her best aid to capture the girl, he falls in love with her. It was Bernard's last silent film, shot in 1929, but held back to add a soundtrack in 1930. Bernard considered it his best film, but no copy of the film ever showed up so we can't judge for ourselves. After that, Jéhanne only had a minor part in the early sound film Quand nous étions deux/When We Were Two (Léonce Perret, 1929), starring Alice Roberts and André Roanne. And then her promising film career stopped. Was the advent of sound film the reason? IMDb gives another explanation: "Raymond Bernard remembered Edith Jehanne died soon after the coming of the Talkies." But when, where, how?

The highlight scene from Le joueur d'échecs (1927). Source: Skazibus (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Filmportal.de and IMDb.

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