Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth, an hour-long silent film from France starring Sarah Bernhardt, debuted on this date in 1912 in New York City. It is the first foreign feature-length film of note to receive attention in America. It is one of the earliest feature-length films, period.
Adolph Zukor’s film company, Famous Players, imported it. The film was enough of a success that Zukor and other producers started to view feature-length films as viable and foreign films as a worthwhile investment. (Zukor later merged his company with Jesse Lasky’s company, Feature Play, and in 1927, their company became Paramount Pictures, the name the company still employs.)
Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth tells a story that Hollywood told and subsequently re-told (Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, in one example) many times: the affair in the 1590s between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, the affair that Robert Tombs refers to as the “final tawdry drama of Elizabeth’s reign.”