This is one of those films where only a fragment remains. That isn’t exactly uncommon for silent film where it is generally estimated that anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of silent films are now lost, and some of the “survivors” are only known from a few clips.
Although “fragment” isn’t quite the word we want here as the version I saw was 24 minutes long, which is about a third of the original run time, and it is instead an edited condensation of the film.
We have a young scientist who thinks he can harness the raw power of nature, but his scientific colleagues refuse to listen to him; we have the sinister financier who learns of his discoveries; and the girl.
Apparently, the missing parts seem to have been fairly routine melodrama, and the girl appears to have played a much larger part (she barely shows up in this version).
But what’s left is a surprisingly complete film — if one didn’t know it was supposed to be longer, it would have been hard to guess (except, perhaps for the very small part played by the girl). In fact, I suspect that the Reader’s Digest version we have may be a far more satisfying film that the original.
Now, I’ll confess that I found this one a bit “talky,” with far more title cards than most silents had. However this may just be subjective as I couldn’t find a set of subtitles and had to do it the hard way, using Google Translate manually (which is a bit time consuming). But once we get the basic plot setup out of the way, the film turns to destruction which builds throughout the rest of the film as the scientist uses his machine to obliterate parts of Paris.
While this is largely done with lots of stock footage of fires and storms, there is also some moderately impressive modelwork, particularly at the climax, when he destroys the Eiffel Tower.
All of which leads to a surprise twist ending, which is actually a fairly common one for the era.
While this is more of a curiosity than anything else, it is actually quite well made and moderately entertaining, although English titles would have helped a lot!
But if you are into silent film, or the history of SF Cinema, it is more than worth a look.
After all, it is only 24 minutes long.
At least, the part that’s left.
(Film available here.)
(For more information, see this review)