One of the great silent movies: a superlative adaptation of Zola's novel about warfare in the world of international finance when one tycoon sets out to ruin another. Full of delicate metaphorical touches, the film has an intricate narrative fluidity that never betrays its origins in a densely plotted novel. What chiefly amazes, though, is the extreme sophistication of L'Herbier's visual approach: vast architectural sets dwarf the humans scurrying in frenzied quest of fame and fortune; scenes in echoing corridors leading to the bank anticipate Antonioni as people come and go between massive pillars, aware of each other and of conflicting interests, but never quite connecting; strange, gliding movements of the camera, constantly zeroing in to isolate the private motivations of a character, or withdrawing to reorientate the context, to make new connections, to suggest wider implications. Deliberate mystification is one of L'Herbier's tools. One scene, an unmistakable premonition of Last Year in Marienbad, has the camera travelling sinuously through halls and corridors before discovering a benign old gentleman - the eminence grise, we realise, behind a Stock Exchange collapse - feeding his lapdog. Not for nothing did Resnais acknowledge his debt to L'Herbier.
Cast and crew