Maurice Tourneur - Director

Nationality: French/American. Born: Maurice Thomas in Paris, 2 February 1876; became U.S. citizen, 1921. Education: Educated at Lycée Condorcet. Military Service: Military service in artillery, late 1890s. Family: Married Fernande Petit (stage name Van Doren), 1904 (separated 1927), son Jacques Tourneur. Career: Illustrator and graphic and interior designer, from 1894; assistant to Auguste Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes; actor, then stage director, from 1900; actor, then director for Eclair films, from 1912; moved to United States, 1914; production head of Paragon studio, 1915; contracted to Jesse Lasky for three Olga Petrova vehicles, 1917; formed own production company, 1918; moved to California, contracted to Paramount, formed Associated Producers Inc. with Thomas Ince and others (failed 1921), 1919; moved to Universal, 1920; quit direction of The Mysterious Island , returned to France, 1926; son Jacques edited films, from 1930. Died: 1961.

Films as Director:


Le Friquet (+ sc); Jean la poudre (+ sc); Le Système du Docteur Goudron et du Professeur Plume ; Figures de cire


Le Dernier Pardon (+ sc); Le Puits mitoyen ; Le Camée ; Sœurette (+ sc); Le Corso rouge ; Mademoiselle 100 millions ; Les Gaites de l'escadron (+ sc); La Dame de Montsoreau (+ sc)


Monsieur Lecocq (+ sc); Rouletabille I: Le Mystère de la chambre jaune (+ sc); Rouletabille II: La Dernière Incarnation de Larson (+ sc); Mother (+ sc); The Man of the Hour (+ sc); The Wishing Ring (+ sc); The Pit


Alias Jimmy Valentine (+ sc); The Cub ; Trilby (+ sc); The Ivory Snuff Box (+ sc); A Butterfly on the Wheel ; Human Driftwood


The Pawn of Fate ; The Hand of Peril (+ sc); The Closed Road (+ sc); The Rail Rider ; The Velvet Paw


A Girl's Folly ; The Whip ; The Undying Flame ; Exile ; The Law of the Land (+ sc); The Pride of the Clan ; The Poor Little Rich Girl ; Barbary Sheep ; The Rise of Jennie Cushing


Rose of the World ; A Doll's House ; The Blue Bird ; Prunella ; Woman ; Sporting Life


The White Heather ; The Life Line ; Victory ; The Broken Butterfly (+ co-sc)


My Lady's Garter ; The County Fair ; Treasure Island ; The White Circle ; Deep Waters ; The Last of the Mohicans


The Bait ; The Foolish Matrons


Lorna Doone


While Paris Sleeps (made in 1920); The Christian ; The Isle of Lost Ships ; The Brass Bottle ; Jealous Husbands


Torment (+ co-sc); The White Moth


Never the Twain Shall Meet ; Sporting Life (+ sc) (remake); Clothes Make the Pirate


Aloma of the South Seas ; Old Loves and New ; The Mysterious Island (co-d, sc)


L'Equipage (+ co-sc)


Das Schiff der verlorene Menschen ( Le Navire des hommes perdus )


Accusée, levez-vous


Maison de danses ; Partir . . . ( Partir! )


Au nom de la loi ; Les Gaites de la escadron (+ co-sc); L'Idoire (+ co-sc)


Les Deux Orphelines (+ co-sc); L'Homme mysterieux ( Obsession )


Le Voleur


Justin de Marseille


Konigsmark ; Samson ; Avec le sourire


Le Patriote ; Katia




Péchés de jeunesse ; Mam'zelle Bonaparte


La Main du diable


Le Val d'enfer ; Cecile est morte


Après l'amour


L'Impasse des deux anges

Other Films:


The Great Redeemer (Brown) (supervisor)

Maurice Tourneur
Maurice Tourneur


By TOURNEUR: articles—

"Stylization in Motion Picture Direction," in Motion Picture (New York), September 1918.

Interview with M.S. Cheatham, in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), February 1920.

Article, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1976, reprinted from Shadowland , May 1920.

On TOURNEUR: articles—

Haskins, H., "Work of Maurice Tourneur," in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), September 1918.

Geltzer, George, "Maurice Tourneur," in Films in Review (New York), April 1961.

Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1961 (also notes and corrections, Winter 1961).

Beylie, Claude, "Tombeau de Tourneur," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1962.

Koszarski, Richard, "Maurice Tourneur: The First of the Visual Stylists," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1973.

Deslandes, J., "Maurice Tourneur—films parlants 1930/1948," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 June 1977.

Brownlow, Kevin, letter, in American Classic Screen (Shawnee Mission, Kansas), Fall 1979.

Tourneur Section of Griffithiana (Pordenone), 1988.

* * *

Maurice Tourneur is one of the greatest pictorialists of the cinema, deriving his aesthetic from his early associations with Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes. Having worked for André Antoine as an actor and producer, he joined the Eclair Film Company in 1912 and travelled to their American Studios at Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1914. There he directed films based on successful stage plays. In The Wishing Ring it is possible to see the charm and visual beauty he brought to his work. His team consisted of John van der Broek, the cameraman who later tragically drowned during one of Tourneur's productions; Ben Carré, the art director; and Clarence Brown, his editor, who would later achieve fame as Garbo's favorite director.

Tourneur was most literate in his pronouncements on the cinema, individualistic and iconoclastic at times. He saw the cinema in perspective and would not concede it a status equal to the other arts. He stated: "To speak of the future development of the art of the cinema is futile. It cannot be. It costs a great deal of money to produce a motion picture. The only way the financial backer can get his money back, to say nothing of a profit, is to appeal to the great masses. And the thing that satisfies millions cannot be good. As Ibsen once wrote, it is the minority which is always right." In practice, however, Tourneur's own work belied this statement. To everything he did he brought a sense of beauty and great responsibility to his audiences.

Tourneur directed Clara Kimball Young in Trilby , Mary Pickford in Pride of the Clan and Poor Little Rich Girl , the latter a very successful film. He made three films with Olga Petrova. In 1918 five memorable films came from his hand: Elsie Ferguson appeared in his The Doll's House ; two other stage plays, The Bluebird by Maeterlinck and Prunella by Granville Barker, gave Tourneur full scope for his visual style; Woman was a series of episodes that dealt with Adam and Eve, Claudius and Messalina, Heloise and Abelard, a Breton fisherman and a mermaid. and a Civil War story; and Sporting Life was significant for its absence of stars and its depiction of a fog-ridden London, anticipating Griffith's Broken Blossoms of the following year.

In 1919 Tourneur made Joseph Conrad's Victory for Paramount. A year later, he unveiled a delightful Treasure Island with Shirley Mason (as Jim Hawkins) and Lon Chaney, who also starred in While Paris Sleeps. For Associated Producers he made The Last of the Mohicans , which many consider to be his masterpiece, although Clarence Brown took over direction when Tourneur fell ill during production.

Tourneur's remaining Hollywood films included Lorna Doone, The Christian, The Isle of Lost Ships, The Brass Bottle , The White Moth, Never the Twain Shall Meet , and Aloma of the South Seas. During the production of The Mysterious Island for MGM, however, Tourneur grew resentful of a producer's interference. He walked off the set and returned to France. He continued to work in films in Europe, his first being L'Equipage. In 1929 he made Das Schiff der Verlorene in Germany with Marlene Dietrich. This was his last silent film, but he accepted the coming of sound and, before his death in 1961, he had made over 20 sound films. The most important of these were Les Deux Orphelines , the delightful Katia with Danielle Darieux, Volpone with Harry Baur and Louis Jouvet, La Main du diable , made from a story by Gerard de Nerval and featuring Pierre Fresnay, and his last film, L'Impasse des deux anges. Tourneur was a man who had no illusions about working in films. He realized the limitations of Hollywood and the films he was given to direct. However, he brought his considerable talent as a designer to bear on his work, and did not hesitate to experiment. He stylized his sets and was influenced by new movements in the theater, but he also used the effects of nature to heighten his dramas. His awareness of the potentialities of the camera was profound, giving strength to his images.

—Liam O'Leary

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