The Eye of INA: (re)discover Michel Strogoff, the series on Russia in the time of the tsars

Jean-Pierre Decourt was from 1960 to 1980 the director of soap operas and mythical mini-series such as Rocambole, Lagardere with Jean Piat and this adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel that Madelen invites you to see or see again.

The name of Jean-Pierre Decourt is unknown to the general public today. From the 60s to the 80s, those of the last century, the director nevertheless signed soap operas and miniseries that have become legendary: Rocambole, Gaspard of the Mountains, Lagarderewith Jean Piat, as well as Michael Strogoffwhich Madelen invites you to discover or rediscover.

In 1975, Decourt staged the adaptation in four 90-minute episodes of an adventure novel written by Jules Verne in 1876, on the occasion of the visit to Paris of Alexander II, the Tsar of all the Russians. The original text, in which the novelist Ivan Turgenev discreetly collaborated, was read and approved, before publication, by the authorities of the two nations.

A century later, Jean-Pierre Decourt will not have to take such preliminary precautions. The project being ambitious, and therefore costly, the management of the ORTF mainly set about finding American co-producers. This approach, which seems quite commonplace today, was so unusual that the financial arrangement of Michael Strogoff will constitute a first in the history of the small screen.

After months of meetings and negotiations, agreements were signed between France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Hungary. It is also decided that, for essentially economic reasons, the shooting will take place in Budapest and its surroundings. The sets will recall that of Siberia, where Captain Michel Strogoff goes to bring the Tsar’s brother a message of the utmost importance.

Claude Desailly, screenwriter of Tiger Brigades is responsible for adaptation. Anxious to modernize the original story and to touch the hearts of viewers, he makes Michel Strogoff a particularly complex character: a hero whose courage, especially when fighting wolves and bears, is altered by the cowardice with which he demonstrates in the face of former companions whose attitude, especially towards women, deserves punishment.

A triumphant welcome

The choice of actresses and actors will also be the subject of very long discussions. The role of Michel Strogoff is assigned to a German actor, Raimund Harmstorf, who will be dubbed, in the French version, by Claude Giraud. The balance between the producing countries is ensured by the presence of an Italian, Lorenza Guerrieri, and a Frenchman, Pierre Vernier, Decourt’s favorite actor since the filming of the 78 13-minute episodes of Rocambole.

Released during the 1975 holiday season, Michael Strogoff receives a triumphant welcome. On the evenings of the broadcast of each of the four episodes, the cinemas are almost deserted. A year later, a rebroadcast in the form of seven 52-minute episodes will experience identical success.

Finally, the 45 rpm where the credits appear then sold more than 150,000 copies. It was composed by a musician that the filmmakers are starting to fight over: a certain Vladimir Cosma. He is from Bucharest where he left with his family the day after adolescence to settle in France. Memories of a not always happy past of which he has kept only the good notes.

Michael Strogoff after Jules Verne, directed by Jean-Pierre Decourt in 1975, with Raimund Harmstorf, Lorenza Guerrieri, Pierre Vernier, Valerio Popesco, Rada Rassimov…


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