The Italian Straw Hat

The Italian Straw Hat (1927)

René Clair’s sparkling comedy of manners is a witty, delicate, inspired satire on propriety and behavior in the bourgeois mind-set. Transposing the action of the perennial stage farce from 1851 to a summer wedding day in 1895 – the birth of cinema – Clair recalls detail, costume and design captured by the first movies. The Italian Straw Hat – Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie – triumphantly survives its 1927 journey from stage to screen; a dozen eccentric characters, superbly acted, try desperately to keep up appearances in the face of disaster, their attitudes, concerns and gestures exquisitely stylized under Clair’s deft orchestration. The sets and costumes, too are a charming combination of the suffocating and the exact.

A bridegroom is riding to his marriage when his horse eats a straw hat hanging on a branch while its owner, a married lady, enjoys a tryst behind the bush with her lover, a fierce hussar. She cannot go home without her hat, so the groom interlaces his wedding with an attempt to find madam a twin chapeau, launching a series of misunderstandings and embarrassments. The Italian Straw Hat has few cinematic equals and inspired Pauline Kael to observe “One of the funniest films ever made… so expertly timed and choreographed that farce becomes ballet.”

This is the only fully complete edition of The Italian Straw Hat ever available to American viewers. The film was mastered in high definition at 19 frames per second from the original 35mm negative used for the English release in 1930. As that version had been subjected to about twenty edits, all the missing pieces were restored from an original French print. Intertitles are in English, with optional subtitles of the original French text.

There is a choice of two new accompaniments, one by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and the other by pianist Philip Carli, each providing a unique interpretation on this delightful film.

The bonus materials include a short film by René Clair, La Tour (The Eiffel Tower) (1928) and Ferdinand Zecca’s Noce en Goguette (Fun After The Wedding) (1907), typical of the early films that inspired Clair. Lenny Borger and Iris Barry both provide essays in an enclosed booklet. The complete 1851 play Un Chapeau de paille d’ Italie by Eugene Labiche and Marc Michel, here in an English translation of 1916 as The Leghorn Hat, is included as a DVD-ROM extra.


Silent Classic

UPC: 6-17311-67509-6
ISBN: 1-893967-50-6

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