As everything under to sun sooner or later makes it do DVD, hope turns again to those films that are long, long overdue for the deluxe treatment. Consider this another installment of the Wish List, but with an asterisk. The film in question in Seven Footprints to Satan (1929). I’ll get to the asterisk in due course.
Seven Footprints to Satan was a variation on the Old Dark House film that was so popular in the late-twenties and early-thirties. Here a bored young heir finds himself swept up in a convoluted adventure with menacing figures (human and otherwise), disappearances, abductions, and a sinister conspiracy. SPOILER ALERT: STOP READING THE COLUMN NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE ENDING. But then comes the twist: the entire adventure was a fake, mounted by our hero’s friends to give him the excitement he craved.
If I hear you sigh, you are entitled to do so. This identical twist has turned up subsequently in everything from David Fincher’s The Game to Richard Matheson’s novel 7 Steps to Midnight. And the ending never works. It always feels like a cop-out: the desperate gambit of writers who have come up with a scenario so convoluted that they cannot come up with a satisfactory explanation, and so decide to announce that all the excitement was nonsense. In other words, by their own estimation, there is no way of making sense out of their self-created cat’s cradle. Frankly, this is a twist that, along with It Was All A Dream and They Were Dead All Along, should be banished from human ken, and anyone pulling these tricks again should be taken out to the back forty and shot.
Now, I am not about to let Seven Footprints off the hook, but at least it was made in 1929, not 2008, and it was one of many films from that period to pull a similar gambit (such as the lost and never-to-be-found London After Midnight). Awkward denouement aside, however, the film is enormously exciting and atmospheric, and the climax has a truly astounding set.
So, now for the asterisk. There is, apparently, a DVD (or at least DVD-R) version of the film floating around out there, but as far as I can tell, it’s the print that was available on VHS about a decade ago: a rough-but-watchable (though no more) copy from Italian television. This means that the intertitles are Italian, which doesn’t make the plot convolutions easier to follow for North American audiences. So the movie, in some form at least, does exist. Even if this is the best we can get as far as print quality goes, surely someone out there could put out a fairly decent DVD package. If it has happened, I haven’t found it yet. So here’s hoping.
Meanwhile, if this is the best we’re going to have, the film is still worth tracking down. Since it is a silent, one can still more or less follow along even without the benefit of English intertitles. See this, then, and remember it next time you encounter something that pretends this twist is original.