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22 June 2016

Mes p'tits (1923)

Italian strongman Ausonia and the French actors Gina Relly and Edouard Mathé were the stars of the French silent film Mes p'tits/Le calvaire d’un saltimbanque (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1923), produced by the Marseille based Lauréa Films company. The film evolves in the circus milieu, as many other European silent films.

Ausonia in Mes p'tits
French postcard by Cinématographes Méric. Photo: publicity still for Mes p'tits (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1923) with Ausonia (Mario Guaita).

Gina Relly
Gina Relly. French postcard by Cinématographes Méric. Photo: Gilbert René, Paris.

Mario Ausonia
Mario Guaita aka Ausonia. French postcard by Cinématographes Méric.

Marseille


Athletic muscleman Mario Guaita aka Ausonia (1881-1956) was an Italian actor, director, producer and scriptwriter in the silent era. He had his international breakthrough with Spartaco (Enrico Vidali, 1913) and became a major actor in the Italian forzuto (strong man) genre.

In the early 1920s Ausonia moved to Marseille. In the French harbour city, he made a few films including Mes p'tits (1923) and he ran a cinema. Mes p'tits evolves in the circus and fairground milieu and was scripted by Ausonia's wife Renée Deliot aka de Liot.

Gina Relly (1891-1985) was a mesmerising actress of the French silent cinema. She starred opposite Léon Mathot in the beautiful French film serial L'empereur des pauvres/The Emperor of the poor (René Leprince, 1921).

Édouard Mathé (1886-1934) was an extremely popular French actor, in particular in the silent crime serials by Louis Feuillade. He was the protagonist of the crime serial Les Vampires (1915-1916) and also appeared in Feuillade's serials Judex (1916-1917), La nouvelle mission de Judex (1917-1918), Tih Minh (1918-1919), Vendémiaire (1918-1919) and Barrabas (1919).

Ausonia, Relly and Mathé also starred together in the film La course à l’amour/Love on the run (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1924), again made in Marseille by Lauréa Films.

Mes p'tits
French postcard by Cinématographes Méric. Photo: publicity still for Mes p'tits (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1923) with Gina Relly.

Mes p'tits
French postcard by Cinématographes Méric. Photo: publicity still for Mes p'tits (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1923) with Gina Relly and Edouard Mathé.

An anonymous letter


In Mes p'tits the circus artist Ausonia (Ausonia - Mario Guaita) lives with his two children in the circus Rancy. (The film was shot at the existing circus Rancy). Ausonia is a widower after his young wife fell from a trapeze. Only his children prevent him from committing suicide. All of the circus crew like Ausonia because of his strength and goodness. Wanda the amazon (Jane Rollette) is even in love with him and shows this indirectly by her affection to his children, but Ausonia is too deep in mourning to notice.

When the circus manager dies, his wife absolves the circus and all artists are on the street. In a nearby village Ausonia discovers a fairground booth of wrestlers and becomes the centre of attention, alas not only of the audience but also of the manager (Huguette Sandry), the widow of a wrestler. Ausonia instead is enamoured by her daughter Paulette (Gina Relly), whom the widow has promised to a jealous man, her cousin Frederick (Edouard Mathé).

What the others don’t know is that Paulette is secretly married to a young man from a rich British family. She confesses her secret to Ausonia and tells him also she is pregnant. Ausonia promises to help her, but because of the jealousy of Frederick and the widow, he is fired and once more on the streets.

Ausonia has odd jobs as carrier in the food halls, but when his little girl gets sick they head for the sea. Here he sees the booth of Paulette’s mother again but cannot reach Paulette. He finds an anonymous letter, though, asking to send the letter a.s.a.p. to someone else. He arrives at a villa where two men quarrel and one draws a gun. While the culprit flees, Ausonia helps the victim who seems to be dying and Ausonia is arrested for murder.

His children are brought to the countryside, to his mother, who dies when she reads about her son’s arrest. The children are on the street, on their own. Meanwhile Paulette, who had thrown the letter, is locked up by Frederick, who discovered her secret marriage and who afterwards shot her English husband.

Ausonia manages to escape from prison, returns to his natal village to discover, to his despair, that the house is empty, his mother dead and his children on the streets. He meets a small acrobatic guy (Riri Fortoul) and they form a duo. They travel the small fairgrounds, while he keeps looking for his children. His fate turns when he meets Wanda again, who has become a big music hall star, enlists Ausonia for the music-hall and hires detectives to help him.

When in a dance hall defending Wanda, Ausonia gets in a fight, and disgusted he leaves the city. By chance he manages to trace and find his children in the countryside, who are starving of hunger. He also discovers a villa where Frederick keeps Paulette locked up and the husband who survived the gunshot and now tries to free Paulette. After a fierce fight, Ausonia conquers Frederick and has him arrested, gives Paulette back to her husband and marries Wanda, thus giving the children a new mother.

Mes p'tits
French postcard by Cinématographes Méric. Photo: publicity still for Mes p'tits (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1923) with Gina Relly.

Mes p'tits
French postcard by Cinématographes Méric. Photo: publicity still for Mes p'tits (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1923) with Ausonia (Mario Guaita).

Mes p'tits
French postcard by Cinématographes Méric. Photo: publicty still for Mes p'tits (Paul Barlatier, Charles Keppens, 1923). The girl at the right is Jane Rollette, who plays Wanda the amazon, in love with the leading character played by Mario Guaita / Ausonia.

Sources: Ciné Ressources (French), IMDb and the film copy.

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