Les Vampires 3: The Red Cryptogram 1915

Director: Louis Feuillade
"The crimes of the Vampires are consigned to these pages. Those who attempt to learn these terrible secrets will be cursed. Beware!"
The serial's third episode sees investigative reporter Phillipe Guerande applying some sneaky subterfuge of his own in his attempts to infiltrate the Vampires. Director Feuillade introduces iconic femme fatale Irma Vep, in the person of vampish silent sex symbol Musidora.

Phillipe Guerande, having survived his last encounter with the Vampires, has stolen the codebook containing details of their crimes. Sneaking out of his house in disguise, he visits the Howling Cat nightclub and witnesses a performance by the singer Irma Vep, whom he realises is part of the Vampires' inner circle.

After the club closes, the Vampires continue carousing as Vep and the Grand Vampire plot to retrieve their codebook. Back at home, Guerande is secretly visited by Mazamette, now working as an undertaker. For protection, he offers Guerande a poisoned fountain pen stolen from the Vampires. Meanwhile, Mme. Guerande acquires a new maid, who Phillipe recognises as Irma Vep. That night, his mother is unexpectedly called away, leaving Phillipe alone with his murderous nemesis...

Les Vampires hits it's stride in episode three, introducing legendary villainess Irma Vep (more on her later) and presenting a twisting plot that is characteristic of the series as a whole. Disguises abound, no-one is quite who or what they seem for very long, and characters move from place to place using a bewildering combination of rooftops, chimneys and speeding cars.

The restless spirit of the era was personified by personalities such as the undoubted star of Les Vampires, Musidora. Born Jeanne Roques in 1889 to a socialist father and a feminist mother, she was an infant prodigy who'd written her first novel by the age of fifteen. She later graduated to the stage, befriending performer and author Colette (best known for writing the novel 'Gigi', as immortalised on film by Leslie Caron). By 1914 she had made her first movie, Les Miseres de l'Aiguille.

Adopting her new name from a poem by Theodore Gautier (it means 'gift of the muses'), she joined forces with Louis Feuillade for Les Vampires in late 1915, and saw a considerable raise in her public profile as a result. Her dark-eyed, seductively vampish image paralleled that of Theda Bara on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and the enigmatic nature of her on-screen characters -- Irma Vep in particular -- only added to her personal mystique as an actress.

With Feuillade's help, she found a means of self-expression in film. While appearing in his 1917 seial Judex, she embarked on a succession of films which she produced wrote, and directed herself. Only two of those ten survive today, Soleil et Ombre (1922), and La Terre des Taureaux (1924). Although she achieved some success behind the camera, her acting career was beginning to fade, and from then on her involvement in cinema remained peripheral.

In 1950, she directed and performed in a short tribute to her old mentor Feuillade, Le Magique Image, her last venture into movie-making. Sadly not as indestructible as her on-screen counterpart Irma Vep seemed to be, Musidora quietly passed away in Paris in December 1957. R.I.P.

End Credits:
Edouarde Mathe (Phillipe Guerande), Musidora (Irma Vep), Marcel Levesque (Oscar Mazamette), Jean Ayme (The Grand Vampire), Delphine Renot (Mme. Guerande), Maurice Lugnet (De Villement), Renee Carl (The Andalusian), Georgette Farabouie (Vampire Dancer), Louis Leubas (Father Silence).
Scenario: Louis Feuillade, Photography: Manichoux.
Gaumont, France
Running time 39 mins.

To Be Continued in Part 4: "The Spectre"!

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