11 June 2019

Georges Melchior

Georges Melchior (1889-1944) was a French film actor, active in French cinema between 1911 and 1937. He was known for his roles in the Fantômas serials by Louis Feuillade (1913-1914), and the Jacques Feyder classic L'Atlantide (1921).

Georges Melchior
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 26.


Georges Melchior was born in 1889 in Paris. He made his first film, L'Envieuse/The envious (Albert Capellani, 1910), at Pathé Frères, but quickly shifted to rival company Gaumont.

After several shorts at Gaumont, he had his breakthrough as the journalist Jérôme Fandor of the newspaper 'La Capitale' in Louis Feuillade's crime serial Fantômas - À l'ombre de la guillotine/Fantômas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine (1913), with René Navarre as the title character and criminal mastermind. Its success inspired the sequels Juve contre Fantomas/Juve versus Fantômas (Louis Feuillade, 1913), La Mort qui tue/Fantômas: The Dead Man Who Killed (Louis Feuillade, 1913), Fantômas contre Fantômas/Fantomas Against Fantomas (Louis Feuillade, 1914), and Le Faux Magistrat/Fantômas: The False Magistrate (Louis Feuillade, 1914), in which Melchior all played.

Parallel to this, Melchior acted in several modern realist dramas, historical films, and comedies at Gaumont, often directed by Feuillade but also by René Le Somptier and Henri Fescourt. During the First World War, Melchior's film career slowed down to a handful of films, including the French propaganda film Mères françaises/Mothers of France (René Hervil, Louis Mercanton, 1917) starring Sarah Bernhardt. After that, he was away from the film sets for several years.

In 1921, Melchior returned with a bang in Jacques Feyder's Orientalist mystery drama L'Atlantide/Lost Atlantis (1921), set and partly filmed in North Africa, and starring Jean Angelo and Stacia Napierkowska. Melchior played lieutenant Saint-Avit, who, pushed by vengeful, fatal desert queen Antinea (Napierkowska) kills his rival in love and army buddy captain Morhange (Angelo), who has rejected Antinea. Helped with Antinea's servant Tanit-Zerga (Marie-Louise Iribe), Saint-Avit flees and is found in the desert by soldiers, but he cannot forget Antinea. So years later, he returns to his desert queen.

The success of L'Atlantide guaranteed Melchior a fruitful career in French silent cinema of the 1920s. His films of the 1920s include e.g. Les Roquevillard/The Roquevillards (Julien Duvivier, 1922) with Maxime Desjardins, and Les Hommes nouveaux/The New Men (Émile-Bernard Donatien, Édouard-Émile Violet, 1922-1923), starring Donatien and Lucienne Legrand.

Georges Melchior
French postcard in the Les Vedettes du Cinéma series by Editions Filma, no. 24.

Georges Melchior
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de Cinéma series by A.N., Paris, no. 73. Photo: G.L. Manuel Frères.

Sarah Bernhardt

Georges Melchior played the male lead opposite Sarah Bernhardt in La Voyante/The Clairvoyant (Leon Abrams, 1924). During the production of the film, Sarah Bernhardt died in 1923. The actress Jeanne Brindeau replaced her as double, which much delayed the release of the film. The story deals with the son of a politician (Melchior), thrown out of the house by his father (Harry Baur), who suspects him of having an affair with his mother-in-law (Mary Marquet). He is rescued by a painter and hosted in a house that is also inhabited by an old medium (Bernhardt). In the end, all ends well and the son marries the medium's daughter (Lily Damita). The film was scripted by Sacha Guitry, had costumes by Paul Poiret, and was partly shot at Bernhardt's own home, but unfortunately, the film is considered lost.

In the early 1920s, Melchior often acted in films by Gaston Roudès such as Le Lac d'argent/The silver lake (1922), Le Petit Moineau de Paris/The Little Sparrow of Paris (1923) and Les Rantzeau/The Rantzaus (1923) with France Dhélia and Maurice Schutz. Melchior and Roudès later also worked together on Le Dédale/The maze (Marcel Dumont, Gaston Roudès, 1926) with Claude France, and La Maison au soleil/House in the Sun (Gaston Roudès, 1928) with Gaston Jacquet. In the later 1920s, Melchior often acted in films by Donatien, including Mon curé chez les riches/My priest among the rich (Donatien, 1925), Au revoir...et merci/Good bye and thank you (Pierre Colombier, Donatien, 1926), and Florine, la fleur du Valois/Florine, the flower of Valois (Donatien, 1926).

Melchior also worked with René Le Somptier, his former director at Gaumont, on the Belgian film La Forêt qui tue/The forest that kills (1926) and the serial Le P'tit Parigot/The Small Parisian One (1926). In La Sirène des Tropiques/Siren of the Tropics (Henri Etievant, Mario Nalpas, 1927), Melchior is a marquis who tries to prevent the marriage between his nephew (Pierre Batcheff) and his goddaughter (Régina Thomas) - as he eyes her himself. He sends his nephew off to the Antilles, where he hopes an evil aid will kill him, but a young local (Josephine Baker) saves him.

Melchior seems to have quite easily made the passage to sound cinema, as he appeared in nine films between 1930 and 1933. His first sound film probably was Les saltimbanques/The Mountebanks (Robert Land, Lucien Jaquelux, 1930), a Franco-German musical comedy with Käthe von Nagy, Nicolas Koline and Max Hansen. By now, Melchior played supporting parts as the older man, such as the rich father of Harry Krimer in Les vagabonds magnifiques/The beautiful vagabonds (Gennaro Dini, 1931), also starring Nadia Sibirskaïa; and the colonel in the comedy Le billet de logement/The accommodation ticket (Charles-Félix Tavano, 1932).

Gradually, his parts became smaller and smaller, though he still was billed on posters such as that for Le grand bluff/The Big Bluff (Maurice Champreux, 1933), starring José Noguero and Florelle. He also had a major part in La Vierge du rocher/The virgin of the rock (Georges Pallu, 1933), about a young boy who starts walking again because of the Virgin of Lourdes. After a gap of years, Melchior had a last supporting part in the period piece La citadelle du silence/The Citadel of Silence (Marcel L'Herbier, 1937), starring Annabella, but his name was not on the film posters anymore.

Georges Melchior died in 1944 at Levallois-Perret, Hauts-de-Seine. He was 54. All in all, he had acted in some 67 films.

French postcard for the Louis Aubert production L'Atlantide (1921) by Jacques Feyder, based on the novel by Pierre Benoit. The card depicts the French captain Morhange (Jean Angelo) received by the mysterious and cruel desert queen Antinéa (Stacia Napierkowska). The sets were by Manuel Orazi.

Sources: dvdtoile.com, Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

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