Albert Préjean as the bridegroom in An Italian Straw Hat, from http://www.flickeralley.com
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.