- (1880-1935)Actor, director, film pioneer, and screenwriter. Born in Poitou-Charentes, Léonce Perret aspired to become an actor from a young age. He began his career on the stage in the popular theater, but as the cinema emerged Perret became more interested in that medium. He was hired on at Gaumont in 1909, as an actor, director, and screenwriter, and he went on to become one of the most prolific directors at the studio. Over the course of his career, Perret directed nearly three hundred films, acted in nearly one hundred, and wrote the screenplays for more than thirty. He was one of the early innovators of the cinema, and he worked in a wide range of genres, from burlesque to drama, to tableaux films, to war films, to romantic comedy.From 1909 until 1916 Perret acted and directed. He is known for his penchant for alluring actresses, and he either launched or established the careers of several, including Yvette Andreyor, Renée Carl, Fabienne Fabrèges, Jeanne Marie-Laurent, Suzanne Le Bret, and Suzanne Grandais. Andreyor appears in such films as Dans la vie (1911), La Paix du vieil ermite (1911), L'Amour qui tue (1911), and Les Blouses blanches (1912). Carl appears in such films as La Fille de Jephté (1910), Le Gardien de la Camargue (1910), Dans la vie (1911), and Le Fils de la Sunamite (1911). Fabrèges appears in such films as Le Portrait de Mireille (1910), Mimosa (1910), Le Rendez-vous (1910), Le Lys brisé (1911), Tu t'en iras jeunesse (1911), Les Blouses blanches (1912), as well as a number of propagandistic, nationalist war films made during World War I, including L'Angélus de la victoire (1916) and Marraines de France (1916). Le Bret had roles in Léonce et les écrevisses (1913), Léonce à la campagne (1913), Les Fiancés de l'air (1913), and L'Ange de la maison (1913). Grandais appears in such films as Le Moïse du moulin (1911), Le Chrysanthème rouge (1912), Les Blouses blanches (1912), Graziella la gitane (1912), La Lumière et l'amour (1912), L'Apollon de roches noires (1913), and L'Esclave de Phidias (1917). Marie-Laurent appears in Le Cheveau blanc (1910), La Fille de Jephté (1910), Petite mère (1910), and Noël de grand-mère (1910). Perret's wife, Valentine Petit, also appears in a number of his films from the period, including Monsieur Prud'homme s'émancipe (1910), La Petite Béarnaise (1911), Titine et Totor (1911), L'Express matrimonial (1912), Un coq en pâte (1912), and Sur les rails (1912).Perret promoted actors as well as actresses. Among his preferred were Paul Manson, who appears in such films as L'Heure du rêve (1915), L 'Xnoir (1916), La Fiancée du diable (1916), and Les Poilus de la revanche (1916). Another favorite was Émile Keppens, who appeared in Sur les rails (1912), Les Mystères des roches de Kador (1912), Au fond du gouffre (1913), and Les Épingles (1913). Louis Leubas also appeared frequently in films such as Main de fer contre la bande aux gants blancs (1912), La Force de l'argent (1913), L'Enfant de Paris (1913), and La Voix de la patrie (1914). Of course, Perret appeared in many of the films he directed, including Le Rendez-vous (1910), Jour d'échéance (1910), Monsieur Prud'homme s'émancipe (1910), Dans la vie (1911), La Paix du vieil hermite (1911), Les Béquilles (1911), and the films in the Léonce series, which ran from 1912 until 1916.In addition to acting in his own films, Perret appeared in several films directed by Louis Feuillade, with whom he sometimes collaborated as director. Feuillade films in which Perret appears include Judith et Holopherne (1909), Esther (1910), Le Festin de Baltazar (1910), and André Chenier (1912). Perret also frequently cast actors most often associated with Feuillade, including René Navarre, René Cresté, and Edmond Bréon.After 1916, Perret no longer acted and focused entirely on directing and screenwriting. That year he made several pronationalist war films, including L'Angélus de la victoire (1916) and Marraines de France (1916), as well as a number of other films, including the mystery films L'X noir (1916) and Le Mystère de l'ombre (1916), the romantic comedies Les Bobines d'or (1916) and Le Printemps du coeur (1916), the comedies Les Armes de la femme (1916) and Le Roi de la montagne (1916), and the dramas L'Empreinte du passé (1916) and Le Retour du passé (1916). The snapshot of films made in just one year gives some idea of the diversity of the types Perret made during his career.In 1917, Perret left Gaumont and went to Hollywood, where he remained and worked for a number of years. His diverse filmmaking interests did not change, and he filmed in a number of different genres as he had done in France. Among the films he made while in the United States were the crime films The Silent Master (1917) and The Empire of Diamonds (1920), the dramas The Mad Lover (1917) and The Money Maniac (1921), the comedies The Accidental Honeymoon (1918) and The Million Dollar Dollies (1918), the mystery The Thirteenth Chair (1919), the adaptation Koenigsmark (1923), which was his most successful Hollywood film, and the classic historical drama Madame Sans-Gêne (1924), which was a cross-cultural coproduction. He also made a war film while in Hollywood, Lest We Forget (1918), and it had the same air of propaganda as his previous war films. Perret produced several of his American films, adding producer to his resume.Perret returned to France in 1925 and resumed making films there. His later films include the late silent films La Femme nue (1926), Le Printemps de l'amour (1927), Morgane la sirène (1928), and La Danseuse d'orchidée (1928). He also made several sound films, including Quand nous étions deux (1930), Après l'amour (1931), Enlevez-moi (1932), Il était une fois (1933), and Les Deux couverts (1935), written by Sacha Guitry. Les Deux couverts was Perret's final film, as he died the year it was released. Several of these later films starred another female star, Gaby Morlay. Like many early silent directors, Perret was ignored until fairly recently, when interest in his work and his role in the evolution of cinema has emerged. He was one of the most prolific directors of the silent period, and some of his early sound films are also quite interesting. Although he is not known specifically for innovating a particular genre, the mere range of his films is sufficient to establish his centrality to the evolution of early cinema. Many of his films still exist and in recent years a number of them have been restored, which suggests that interest in his diverse body of work will likely continue.
Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins. 2007.
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Perret, Léonce — (1880 1935) Actor, director, film pioneer, and screenwriter. Born in Poitou Charentes, Léonce Perret aspired to become an actor from a young age. He began his career on the stage in the popular theater, but as the cinema emerged Perret became… … Guide to cinema
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