An Italian Straw Hat

Albert Préjean as the bridegroom in An Italian Straw Hat, from

Released on April 6th is the latest DVD release from Flicker Alley, René Clair’s Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie (1927), known in English as An Italian Straw Hat. This was one of the very first silent feature films I ever saw, some time back in the mid-1980s, and I remember it with such fondness, to an extent where I’m actually quite anxious that it lives up to the memories, as I’ve not seen the film since. It’s a comedy of bourgeois manners, set in late 19th century France, and based on a renowned stage play from 1851 by Eugène Labiche and Marc Michel. The plot revolves around the comic embarrassments that occur when a bridegroom’s horse eats the hat of an army officer’s mistress, leading to an intricately choreographed farce as efforts to restore social decorum are continually thwarted.

Flicker Alley have mastered the film in high definition at 19 frames per second (the speed at which it was shown at its French premiere) from the original 35mm negative used for the film’s English release in 1930, with elements cut for that release restored from an original French print. Intertitles are in English, while you get a choice of music scores, from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and pianist Philip Carli.

Extras include Clair’s short film, La Tour (The Eiffel Tower) (1928) and Pathé’s Noce en Goguette (Fun After The Wedding) (1907, directed by Ferdinand Zecca), an an example of the kind of early film that inspired Clair. There is a new essay by Lenny Borger and a vintage one by Iris Barry, notes on the musical score by Rodney Sauer, and a 1916 English translation of Labiche’s play.

The Flicker Alley site includes an image gallery and two extracts from the film, including the opening horse-eating-hat sequence, plus an extract from Clair’s La Tour. Judging from those, I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed.

4 responses

  1. Sounds like another high-quality release from Flicker Alley! I really like it when a silent on DVD comes with multiple scores.

  2. It’s a really welcome trend, having multiple scores. I think it only started coming in a couple of years ago, now it could even become a norm – at least for prestige releases.

  3. Weren’t there two scores on the Sunrise laser disc way back in 1989? I thought that’s what Timothy Brock’s score was recorded for, and of course there was the original Hugo Riesenfeld score. In any case, musicians are certainly happy when multiple scores are included! In the original days, pretty much every theater did their own music for silent films, so even three or four scores would be far fewer than on a silent films’ original release.

  4. Could well be. I’d forgotten about laser discs. I was thinking back to The Battle of the Somme a couple of years ago, when it seemed quite unusual for the DVD release to have two scores and I couldn’t think of earlier examples.

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