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Rat, The (1925)


Main image of Rat, The (1925)
35mm, black and white (tinted), silent, 7323 feet
DirectorGraham Cutts
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerMichael Balcon
From the play byDavid L'Estrange
StudioIslington Piccadilly Studios

Cast: Ivor Novello (The Rat); Mae Marsh (Odile); Isabel Jeans (Zelie De Chaumet); Marie Ault (Mere Colline)

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Charismatic Parisian thief Pierre Boucheron, known to all as 'the Rat', finds himself pursued by a wealthy socialite. But does his future lie with her, or with the less glamorous but very loyal Odile?

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Ivor Novello and Constance Collier's play (under their shared nom-de-plume, David L'Estrange) inspired a successful trio of films starring Novello, as Pierre Boucheron, 'the Rat,' a jewel thief and chief of a Parisian underworld centred on the White Coffin Club. In this world he rules with a flamboyant, if melancholic, charm that has the club girls fighting over him and the men in awe of him.

When he meets his match in demimondaine Zelie de Chaumet, the sparks fly as each tries to gain the upper hand over the other. She is beautiful and powerful and used to obedience. But so is he. She represents success - albeit a corrupt one - and he is torn between these superficial victories and something more noble. This is represented by Odile, an innocent with whom he lives, though more as a brother than a lover. The only time we see an outdoor, naturalistic scene is through Odile's eyes, and it is the only time we see the Rat smile without a sneer. It is his inner conflict, once Odile has taken a murder rap for him, that is at the core of the narrative.

Pierre must choose between a life of relative luxury in the heart of fashionable Parisian society and poverty with his conscience and sense of natural justice intact. The tension between these two competing desires literally drives him mad. This element of the film sits oddly with the adventure genre as it developed in the 1920s. Much has been said of Novello's performances and their relationship to war neuroses; his character's descent into hysteria in The Rat would certainly hint at a man with a 'past', as so many of the WWI generation were, and that sense of mystery is fitting also for a film that has appropriated many of the trappings of the Louis Feuillade crime serial (Fantomas, France, 1913; Les Vampires, France 1915. The Club in particular, with its morbid coffin-shaped interior windows (white coffins are those made for dead children), apache dances and fumes of absinthe, conjures up a world where it is acceptable for a hero to be a thief, a womaniser and a murderer. One can see why the character and setting would have appealed to the British audience - so much more sensational than the drawings rooms of the West End.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
1. Rat in a hole (4:00)
2. The Rat meets his match (5:52)
3. Some good in him? (5:48)
Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)
Cutts, Graham (1885-1958)
Novello, Ivor (1893-1951)