This legendary seven-hour silent French serial, one of the earliest and most original gangster films, combines realism and fantasy. Written and directed by Louis Feuillade, Les Vampires
concerns an intrepid reporter's pursuit of a strange gang of jewel thieves terrorizing Paris. The gang ambitiously seeks political, psychological, and sexual domination of the city's social elite, with the seductive Irma Vep (an anagram of "vampire") as its brazen leader. While slow going at first, the 10-part serial becomes more and more fascinating with each episode, thanks in large part to the alluring Musidora as Irma Vep. Because of her many guises and frightful charms, she truly becomes a vampire of sorts. Feuillade achieves a subversive, nightmarish atmosphere amid the everyday goings-on of the city. Filmed on the streets and back alleys of World War I Paris, the 1915 picture was a huge commercial success, though temporarily banned by Paris's chief of police for glamorizing crime. --Bill Desowitz
A legendary seven-hour silent crime serial in ten episodes. "Les Vampires" follows the exploits of a brazen and resourceful band of arch-criminals who rob the rich, transfix the elite of France, and almost elude the obsessive pursuit of crusading journalist Phillipe Guerande and his sidekick Mazamette. A series of Grand Vampires with names such as Satanas and Venomous share the irresistible Irma Vep (an anagram of "vampire") as strategist and mistress. Sometimes seductively garbed in a black body stocking and a black hood, sometimes disguised as a boy or hidden in plain view as a maid, stenographer or bourgeois spinster, feared and desired by both her cohorts and stalkers, Irma is perhaps the first liberated screen woman. Shot off-the-cuff by writer-director Louis Feuillade in the streets and interiors of 1915 Paris, "Les Vampires" was banned by the Paris police for glorifying crime. A smash hit when finally released, and for fifty years celebrated as a masterpiece of French cinema, "Les Vampires" is complete and restored, with English titles and inserts, tints and an evocative orchestral score.