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I Have Killed!

Japanese-born thesp Sessue Hayakawa created a sensation as the lecherous villain in one of Cecil B. DeMille's earlier hits, 1915's "The Cheat." It was particularly successful in Europe --- which is where the actor and sometime writer-producer went to work during subsequent periods, prior to his postwar revival as an international character-part star. The 1924 French Hayakawa starrer "J'ai tue!" (which eluded Variety reviewers at the time) was restored by the Cinematheque Francaise in 1990, and this well-produced, if dramatically turgid, meller will primarily interest archival programmers looking for minority images in silent Western cinema. In contrast to his sensual, exotic predator in "The Cheat," "J'ai tue!" ("I Have Killed!") presents Hayakawa in a noble, self-sacrificing mode. Huguette (Huguette Duflos), well-to-do wife of a professor specializing in "Orientalism," is being blackmailed by two upscale con artists on the basis of a prior "imprudent moment."

With:
With: Sessue Hayakawa (Hideo), Huguette Duflos (Huguette), Max Maxudian, Denise Legeay, Maurice Sigrist, Pierre Daltour.

Enter the prof’s Tokyo antique dealer, Hideo (Hayakawa), who has traveled to France after losing his family in an earthquake. Penniless, and secretly smitten with Huguette, Hideo accepts his former client’s offer of a job as his

assistant. He also sets about exposing both ne’er-do-wells, at first posing as a wealthy aristocrat to tempt the female vamp (Denise Legeay).

When latter’s partner (Maurice Sigrist) assaults Huguette during a soiree, her feeble-hearted husband (Max Maxudian) dies saving her. Hideo is mistakenly

tried for murder; he’s willing to accept the rap if it will save the honor of his benefactress, but she at last exposes the truth. While leads share a clear mutual attraction, propriety of the era leaves them going their separate ways at the end.

Despite that forbidden-fruit aspect, and fleeting acknowledgments of anti-Asian prejudice, pic makes surprisingly little use of East-West cultural contrast. Hayakawa cuts an elegant figure here, but has little to do save appear kind (especially toward Huguette’s young son, who gets much screen time), loyal and resourceful. His customary understatement is echoed for the most part by

fellow players.

Journeyman director Roger Lion doesn’t execute routine script with much imagination, though the film has an opulent look: rococo interiors (occasionally obvious as studio inventions), plush fashions and lavish country-estate

exteriors convey the characters’ upscale milieu. Two most cinematic segs intercut novelty dance numbers (at a “Russian” cabaret and the prof’s home gathering) with intrigue. Of additional interest are some outdoor glimpses of

1920s Paris, and jarring newsreel snippets early on of the quake Japan suffered in 1923.

While some brief scenes have deteriorated, pic is generally in remarkably good shape; frequent tinting (mostly amber for domestic scenes, purple hues for the villainous ones) further aids appreciation of the crisp detail in handsome

production design. Intertitles are in the original French.

I Have Killed!

French

Production: A Cinematheque Francaise presentation of a Les Films Thyra production. Produced by Richard Pierre Bodin. Directed, written by Roger Lion.

Crew: Camera (B&W), Maurice Desfassiaux; art direction, E.B. Donatien; reconstruction, Renee Lichtig. Reviewed at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, March 3, 1997. (In S.F. Asian American Festival.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With: With: Sessue Hayakawa (Hideo), Huguette Duflos (Huguette), Max Maxudian, Denise Legeay, Maurice Sigrist, Pierre Daltour.

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