Tourneur ImageMaurice Tourneur had an impressive background in the visual arts when he made his first film for Paris' infamous Grand Guinol Theatre. Tourneur had experience as a magazine illustrator and a graphic designer, he'd worked for sculptor Auguste Rodin and muralist Puvis de Chavannes, and he'd been an actor and set designer at the Theatre de la Renaissance in Paris. In 1911, when Tourneur began his cinema career as an assistant to his friend Emile Chautard, he had a background in visual arts that was equaled by very few in the new medium.

Tourneur directed, or assisted in the direction of, over a dozen films for Eclair studios between 1912 and 1914. When Eclair established a branch in Fort Lee, New Jersey in 1914, Tourneur moved to America to direct features for the new studio. He wound up staying in the United States until 1926.

By 1915, Tourneur had put together a creative team that produced a remarkable series of visually impressive feature films, including The Wishing Ring (1914), Trilby (1915), A Girl's Folly (1917), and The Whip (1918). As the feature film evolved, Tourneur, his assistant and editor Clarence Brown, art director Ben Carre, and cameraman John van den Broek together fashioned a string of successful films which incorporated the evolving language of film (parallel action, close-ups, etc.) and developing technology of film (tracking shots, special effects, etc.) with a consistant visual strength that served to smooth over the trial-and-error nature of early feature filmmaking. Whether the story was a romance, a mystery, or a period adventure, these films had a visual appeal that separated them form their competition, and Tourneur was recognized as one of the most respected directors in the industry.

In 1918, Tourneur directed The Blue Bird, a heavily stylized adaptation of the tale of two children searching for the Bluebird of Happiness. Featuring unusual sets and costumes, The Bluebird anticipated the visual theatricality of Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). Tourneur followed The Bluebird with Prunella (1918), a similarly stylized adaptation of a Broadway production. These films met with critical acclaim, but limited commercial success, and Tourneur's next films returned to the naturalistic style of his earlier works.

Tourneur's last American film was "The Mysterious Island" (1926), which he left shortly after shooting began. Tourneur had been growing increasingly disillusioned with the production system that was taking form in Hollywood, and rather than accept working under a production supervisor on The Mysterious Island, he left the picture and moved back to Europe.

Tourneur's first European film since 1914 was made in Germany. Das Schiff der verlorene Menschen (Ship of Lost Men, 1927) featured Marlene Dietrich in one of her first important roles. Tourneur's assistant and editor on the film was his son, Jacques, who would assist his father on films through the mid-1930s. Jacques Tourneur would later direct such American classics as Cat People (1942), I Walked With a Zombie (1943), Out of the Past (1947), and Anne of the Indies (1951).

Maurice Tourneur continued to direct films in France until he was seriously injured in an auto accident in 1949. During this forced retirement, he spent his time translating detective novels from English into French.

Born February 2, 1873, Belleville, Paris, France. Died August 4, 1961.

Maurice Tourneur filmography.

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Copyright 1996 E.H. Larson.