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La Symphonie Pathétique (1928)

Having regained some of the respect and admiration he had lost in the Siki debacle and retired from the ring for good, Carpentier made a comeback on the silver screen. His first post-retirement role was in a French film, La Symphonie Pathétique, directed by Henri Etiévant and Marius Nalpas, in 1928. In keeping with his ongoing practice of playing parts that were in some sense autobiographical, Carpentier played an aviator in uniform (as he had in The Wonder Man). The story, based on a novel by Léo Durand, is set in Algeria, where the outside shots were in fact filmed, and seems to have been inspired by the “sheik” vogue in cinema following the great success of Rudolph Valentino earlier in the decade. The plot is summarized as follows:

The officer-aviator Paul Roland falls in love with a young Algerian, Zetzaïa, but the day they are engaged, she is kidnapped by the cruel Mouloud, her uncle, who opposes the marriage. With the help of the rich Fanny Arwood, Paul is nicely set up in life, but Fanny tries to separate him from Beatrice Hamilton, his new love and soon-to-be wife. Zetzaïa having asked for his help, Paul rushes to her side, but Fanny Arwood reveals the fact of his impending marriage. Zetzaïa dies of a broken heart and Paul returns to Beatrice.[1]

Carpentier’s return to the screen was well received; he was described as “the star of the production… a young leading man who is appealing, cosmopolitan and athletic.”[2] In other words, his performance underscores the qualities already conventionally attributed to the real-life Carpentier. According to at least one critic, Carpentier’s excellent performance in the film reflected well not only on him but on France. Carpentier the actor, it seems, was as much a symbol of France as Carpentier the boxer had been:

The few foreign spectators who were able to watch the first available footage from the film were enthusiastic about the allure, the acting and the athletic prowess of our national champion… They consider that Georges Carpentier will be as great a revelation in this film, as Josephine Baker was in her formidable success in The Siren of the Tropics […][3]

[1]This summary come from an unidentified document (a fiche of some sort from the Film Archives in Bois-d’Arcy) reproduced by Haÿ, 182. Return to text

[2]Haÿ, 183, citing an unsigned article from Cinéma (15 June 1928). Return to text

[3]Haÿ, 183, citing an unsigned article from Cinéma (15 June 1928). Return to text