Gance is very ambitious with La roue, only not so much technically. Even the second half of the film, which opens up considerably (the first half takes place in a train yard, mostly on one set, while the second half moves the action to a idyllic mountaintop), Gance is far more concerned his protagonist’s internal struggles.
During the first half of the film, the protagonist—played by Séverin-Mars—has come to the realization he has improper feelings for his adoptive daughter (she doesn’t know she’s adopted, however). It rips the family apart, driving the daughter (played by Ivy Close) into a loveless marriage and leaves her brother (also unaware she’s adopted) in ruins. Gance plays pretty loose with the logic at times—he cut about three hours for the public release, so who knows—as the brother (Gabriel de Gravone) also has improper feelings, he just doesn’t know they’re technically “okay.” It’s all pretty creepy, actually, but very well done.
During the second half, Séverin-Mars’s problems become more physical, which leads to the the move to the mountaintop. There Gance really gets to show off. Before, he had some great editing, but in the second half, he also has some amazing shots. The film eventually has a bunch of out of place Christian allegory, but it eventually ebbs.
Fine acting from Séverin-Mars and de Gravone. Close’s good in an underdeveloped role. Georges Térof is great as Séverin-Mars’s sidekick.
It’s often quite brilliant, but a little hollow.
Written and directed by Abel Gance; directors of photography, Gaston Brun, Marc Bujard, Léonce-Henri Burel and Maurice Duverger; edited by Marguerite Beaugé and Gance; produced by Gance and Charles Pathé; released by Pathé.
Starring Séverin-Mars (Sisif), Ivy Close (Norma), Gabriel de Gravone (Elie), Pierre Magnier (Jacques de Hersan), Max Maxudian (Le minéralogiste Kalatikascopoulos), Georges Térof (Machefer) and Gil Clary (Dalilah).