Classic Film Guide

Bohème, La (1926)

La Boheme (1926)

Directed by King Vidor, and based on the Henri Murger novel (Life in the Latin Quarter), this above average silent stars Lillian Gish and John Gilbert (among others) as starving artists that live in the same apartment building in Paris's Latin district, Bohemia, in 1830. It's primarily a love story between these two main characters, he's a writer named Rodolphe while she's a seamstress named Mimi. Important supporting roles are played by Renée Adorée, who plays Musette - the non-starving girlfriend of Marcel (Gino Corrado), Rodolphe's painting roommate, plus there's a piccolo playing songwriter Schaunard (George Hassell) and his ‘assistant’ Colline (played by an unrecognizable Edward Everett Horton, wearing glasses), and Roy D'Arcy, who plays an aristocrat that's interested in more than just Mimi's work. Some of the film's titles flash by much too fast to read, one or two frames at most, which requires a quick hand on the remote in order to read them.

Of course, the most difficult thing the artists face each month is paying their rent (in fact, this story has been adapted into plays & more contemporary musicals such as Rent (2005)). Eugene Pouyet plays Bernard the landlord; Karl Dane & Mathilde Comont play the Benoits, who manage the flats. However, by pawning their things, working together and sharing, the artists all seem to find the means to stay off the streets. Mimi is initially a loner, living alone in another flat, but through Rodolphe she meets his friends and becomes part of the group. Also, she meets Vicomte Paul (D'Arcy) on the street one day, and he becomes (in effect) her benefactor, ordering lots of work from her in order to get closer to her; he is quite taken with Mimi. One spring day, the artists go on a picnic in the country, taking their ‘adopted’ Mimi with them for the very first time. During the outing, Rodolphe and Mimi spend some time alone and declare their love for one another.

With Mimi's love, Rodolphe is inspired to write a play, at the expense of his other writings (e.g. those that pay his rent!). When Mimi delivers his latest article to the (uncredited, unless it's David Mir) paper's editor, he tells her it is too late, and that Rodolphe is fired. Mimi decides to keep this fact from him so that he can complete his play without worry. She works another job at night to pay Rodolphe herself as if he were still getting money from the editor for his articles, which she hides in a drawer in her flat. He is very excited about his play, and he acts it out of her in one of the film's many great scenes. She in turn acts it out for the Vicomte, who promises to share it with a friend of his that manages a theater, in order to win her favors. But Rodolphe discovers him in Mimi's flat and is outraged, he says that he would rather starve than receive the Vicomte’s assistance.

Later, however, Musette is able to arrange Mimi's introduction to the theater manager (Frank Currier). Meanwhile, Rodolphe is upset to learn of Mimi's deception. He discovers his writings in her drawer. He confronts her about it and she explains; all is well until he rightly suspects that she's been out with Vicomte Paul. Rodolphe flies into a rage and accidentally hurts Mimi. Realizing what he's done, and (then, finally) the sacrifices she's made for him, he vows to take care of her forsaking his play. But because of her love for Rodolphe, Mimi disappears when he leaves the room. His love and sorrow, suffering, enable him to write a great, successful play while Mimi slaves away in the slums of Paris. While celebrating his play's opening with his friends at his flat, Rodolphe proposes a toast to Mimi and beckons her. Somehow, she hears his plea and, though she's near death due to consumption (tuberculosis), she finds a way to make it to Bohemia and the building in which she used to live. She is reunited with Rodolphe and his friends, but only temporarily before she dies. These final scenes, Mimi's struggle across town and her death, are the film's best, and most powerful.

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