Beginning in November 2019, I embarked on the Old Hollywood Best Picture Challenge, where I will endeavor to watch all 270 films that were nominated and/or won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards between the years 1927-1969. For a list of all films and reviews, please see my original post.
- Film & Year: The Patriot (1928)
- Standing: Best Picture Nominee for 1928/29 season
- Type: Silent, Drama, Biopic
- Other AA Nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Lewis Stone), Best Director (Ernst Lubitsch), Best Art Direction (Hans Dreier)
- Other AA Wins: Best Writing Achievement (Hanns Kraly)
- Director: Ernst Lubitsch
- Studio/Producer: Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation / Ernst Lubitsch
- Cast: Emil Jannings, Florence Vidor, Lewis Stone, Neil Hamilton,
- Production Notes: Cinematography by Bert Glennon, Film Adaptation by Hanns Kraly from Alfred Neumann’s play of the same name, Art Direction by Hans Dreier
- Viewing Order: 8/270
Summary & Viewing Experience:
This “review” will be a little different from the rest since I was not actually able to watch the film in its entirety. Aside from clips, The Patriot (1928) is a lost film and therefore unavailable for viewing.
The Patriot is a dramatized biopic of Paul I, Emperor of Russia between 1796-1801. Emil Jannings plays the eccentric emperor whose sanity was questioned and gained a host of enemies during his rule. With so many false friends about, who is a wild eyed emperor supposed to trust? Among his circle are Count Pahlen (Lewis Stone), the friend who must decide if his loyalty is to his friend and emperor or to his country (hence the film’s title), Pahlen’s mistress, the seductive Countess Ostermann (Florence Vidor), and the emperor’s son Crown Prince Alexander (Neil Hamilton).
Since this is historical fact, I am not spoiling things by saying that the emperor is eventually murdered by conspirators, but who took part in the plot? Which friends should he have trusted and which should he have been wary of?
In real life, Pahlen, whose role as first Governor General of Courland Guberniya was on tenuous ground, hid his role in the murder plot from Paul I, playing his friend while conspiring against him in the background. He was present during the murder, though there is some debate if the original plan was to force Paul I to abdicate instead of a full-blown assassination. Paul I’s son and heir, Crown Prince Alexander, had been reported as acting uncomfortable and nervous the night of the assassination and is assumed to have knowledge of the murder plot or at the very least the forced abdication. Though Pahlen may have thought that being rid of Paul I would benefit his own future, he was wrong. Paul I’s wife Empress Maria used her influence over the new ruler, her son Alexander, to see to it that Pahlen did not rise in the ranks.
Of the clips I’ve seen (the trailer is easily found on Youtube), the film is highly theatrical with noir style lighting, lots of big gestures and bugged out eyes on display by all of the key players. The acting is not toned down in the least (in one of the only scenes featuring Vidor, she is shown throwing her hands up in the air to express shock). Though Emil Jannings was singled out above the rest in almost every review for his range and outstanding performance, it was Lewis Stone in the role of Pahlen who was nominated for a Best Actor award (he did not win). As the “mad king” Paul I, Jannings reminds one physically of an Ebenezer Scrooge type with long, dirty hair and stern expression.
The period costumes were beautiful, the sets elaborate and shot in a way that they appeared larger than life, from above, making the people below look small and scurrying.
Behind the Scenes:
The story was taken from the stage play of the same name by Alfred Neumann and adapted for the screen by Hanns Kraly. It would be remade in France in 1938 with the same name (Le patriote).
The Patriot was the only silent film nominated for the 1928/29 season and would be the last silent film to be nominated again until The Artist in 2012. Though it was silent, it seemed to dip a toe into sound as the trailer brags of sound effects such as “Jannings’ agonized roar” and “the wild Cossack riders’ death-dealing musketry.” The film received outstanding reviews from critics, as one must assume it would, considering it was the only silent to be nominated in the new craze of sound.
Emil Jannings, who excelled in silent drama (being the first Best Actor Academy Award recipient the year prior for his roles in The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command), found his American film career at a fairly abrupt end after sound took over and his thick German accent became a burden. He continued his career in German films with moderate success, though his participation in Nazi propaganda films torpedoed any chance of reviving his American film career.
Why was it nominated for Best Picture?
From the reviews I’ve read, a combination of acting, set design, and dramatic story seemed to propel it to fame.
Would this be my pick for 1928/29 Best Picture?
After seeing the clips, I have to admit I was intrigued and disappointed that the entire film was unavailable to watch. It certainly looked interesting. However, from the bits I’ve seen, I can’t say that this would necessarily be my first choice for Best Picture. If you’re the only silent competing in a sea of sound, you’d have to be pretty special, but I didn’t get the impression that this was on the same elevated level of a Wings or a Seventh Heaven, though the critics did proclaim it “powerful” and “magnificent.”