The Ninth Gate

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The Ninth Gate
Theatrical release poster showing the film's title against a dark fiery image of Johnny Depp's character with a cigarette in his mouth
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by
Based on The Club Dumas 
by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Music by Wojciech Kilar
Cinematography Darius Khondji
Edited by Hervé de Luze
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 25 August 1999 (1999-08-25) (France)
  • 27 August 1999 (1999-08-27) (Spain)
  • 10 March 2000 (2000-03-10) (United States)
Running time
133 minutes[1]
  • France
  • Spain
  • United States
  • English
  • French
  • Latin
  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
Budget $38 million
Box office $58.4 million

The Ninth Gate is a 1999 French-Spanish-American mystery thriller film directed, produced, and co-written by Roman Polanski. The film is loosely based upon Arturo Pérez-Reverte's 1993 novel The Club Dumas. The plot involves the search for a rare, ancient book that purportedly contains the secret to magically summoning the Devil. The premiere showing was at San Sebastián, Spain, on 25 August 1999, a month before the 47th San Sebastian International Film Festival. It failed critically and commercially in North America; reviewers claimed it was a lesser effort than Rosemary's Baby (1968), Polanski's best-known supernatural film. Nonetheless, The Ninth Gate earned a worldwide gross of $58.4 million against a $38 million budget.


Balkan shows his 17th-century copy of The Nine Gates to Corso.

Dean Corso (Johnny Depp), a New York City rare book dealer, makes his living conning people into selling him valuable antique books for a low price, and then selling them for profit. He meets with wealthy book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), who has recently acquired a copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows by 17th-century author Aristide Torchia, one of only three copies known to exist. According to legend, the book is Torchia's adaptation of an older book written by the Devil himself and purportedly contains the means to ritualistically summon the Devil and, through him, acquire invincibility and immortality. Balkan believes two of the copies are forgeries. He hires Corso to authenticate all three copies, and acquire the legitimate copy by any means necessary.

Balkan's copy of The Nine Gates had previously belonged to Andrew Telfer (Willy Holt), who committed suicide soon after selling the book to Balkan. Telfer's widow Liana (Lena Olin) wants the book back, as Telfer originally bought the book for her. Liana seduces Corso, but she fails to re-acquire her book. Meanwhile, Corso's business partner, Bernie Rothstein (James Russo), with whom Corso had hidden the book, is murdered; his corpse is posed in imitation of an engraving in The Nine Gates.

Corso travels to Toledo, Spain, where book restorers the Ceniza brothers show him that three of the book's engravings are signed "LCF", which Corso understands to mean that Lucifer himself designed and cut them. Corso goes by train to Sintra, Portugal, to compare Victor Fargas' (Jack Taylor) copy of The Nine Gates to Balkan's. To his surprise, Corso discovers that the signature "LCF" is found in three different engravings in the Fargas copy, which vary in detail from their counterparts in the Balkan copy. The next morning a mysterious young woman (identified only as "the Girl") (Emmanuelle Seigner) who appears to have been shadowing Corso since Balkan hired him, awakens Corso and leads him to Fargas' house. There he finds the old man murdered and the "LCF"-signed engravings ripped out of his copy of The Nine Gates.

In Paris, Corso visits the Baroness Kessler (Barbara Jefford), the owner of the third copy of the book. The Baroness initially refuses any contact with Corso once she realizes who his employer is, but Corso returns and intrigues her with evidence that the engravings differ among the three copies, and he explains his theory that each copy of The Nine Gates contains three "LCF"-signed engravings, requiring possession of all three copies to have an authentic set of nine for the ritual. Gaining access to Kessler's copy, he finds the "LCF" on three different engravings, which are also slightly different from their counterparts in the two other copies. Later, Kessler is killed, and the Girl rescues Corso from Liana's bodyguard. Liana steals Balkan's copy from Corso's hotel room. He follows her to a mansion and witnesses her using the book in a Satanist ceremony. Balkan suddenly interrupts the ceremony, kills Liana, takes the engraving pages and his own intact copy, and then flees.

Corso pursues Balkan to a remote castle, which was depicted in one of the engravings, and in a postcard that Corso found in Kessler's copy, and finds Balkan preparing to open the Nine Gates. After a struggle, Balkan traps Corso in a hole in the floor, immobilizing him and allowing Balkan to perform his summoning ritual with Corso as a 'witness'. After arranging the engravings on a makeshift altar, in a mixed order, Balkan begins reciting a series of phrases related to each of the nine engravings. Balkan then douses the floor and himself with gasoline and sets it alight, believing himself to be immune to the flames. Balkan's invocation appears to fail, however, and he screams in pain as the flames engulf him. Corso frees himself, kills Balkan, takes the engravings and escapes the burning castle.

Outside, the Girl appears to Corso and then has sex with him by the light of the burning castle. She tells him that Balkan failed because the ninth engraving he had used, despite being signed "LCF," was a forgery. Corso, following her directions, returns to the Ceniza brothers' shop. Upon arriving, he finds the store gone and the last piece of furniture being removed, from the top of which falls the authentic ninth engraving with a very different image than the forgery. On it, there is a likeness of the Girl. With the last engraving in hand, Corso returns to the castle it depicts and, having apparently performed all the ritual requirements, crosses the threshold of the Ninth Gate.



Roman Polanski read the screenplay by Enrique Urbizu, an adaptation of the Spanish novel El Club Dumas (The Club Dumas, 1993), by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Impressed with the script, Polanski read the novel, liking it because he "saw so many elements that seemed good for a movie. It was suspenseful, funny, and there were a great number of secondary characters that are tremendously cinematic".[2] Pérez-Reverte's novel, El Club Dumas features intertwined plots, so Polanski wrote his own adaptation with his usual partner, John Brownjohn (Tess, Pirates and Bitter Moon). They deleted the novel's literary references and a sub-plot about Corso's investigation of an original manuscript of a chapter of The Three Musketeers and concentrated upon Dean Corso's pursuing the authentic copy of The Nine Gates.[2]

Polanski approached the subject skeptically, saying, "I don't believe in the occult. I don't believe. Period";[3] yet he enjoyed the genre, "There [are] a great number of clichés of this type in The Ninth Gate, which I tried to turn around a bit. You can make them appear serious on the surface, but you cannot help but laugh at them".[3] The appeal of the film was that it featured "a mystery in which a book is the leading character" and its engravings "are also essential clues".[4]

In reading El Club Dumas, Polanski pictured Johnny Depp as "Dean Corso", who joined the production as early as 1997, when he met Polanski at the Cannes Film Festival, while promoting The Brave, his directorial debut, then in festival competition.[5] Initially, he did not think Depp right as "Corso", because the character was forty years old (Depp at the time was only 34). He considered an older actor, but Depp persisted; he wanted to work with Roman Polanski.[6]

The film press reported, around the time of the North American release of The Ninth Gate, creative friction between Depp and Polanski. Depp said, "It's the director's job to push, to provoke things out of an actor".[6] Polanski said of Depp, "He decided to play it rather flat, which wasn't how I envisioned it; and I didn't tell him it wasn't how I saw it". Visually, in the neo-noir genre style, rare-book dealer Dean Corso's disheveled grooming derives from Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's quintessential literary private investigator.[3][7]

Polanski cast Frank Langella as Boris Balkan based upon his performance as Clare Quilty in Lolita (1997), directed by Adrian Lyne. Barbara Jefford was a last-minute replacement for the German actress originally cast as the Baroness Frida Kessler, who fell sick with pneumonia, and after a second actress proved unable to learn the character's dialogue; with only days' notice, Barbara Jefford learned her part, spoken with a German accent.[2] Depp met his long-time partner Vanessa Paradis during the shooting.


The Ninth Gate was filmed in France, Portugal, and Spain in the summer of 1998. Selected prominent buildings in the film are:


The Ninth Gate (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by Wojciech Kilar
Released November 16, 1999
Recorded Score recorded at "Smecky" Studios, Prague, March 1999.
Genre Soundtrack
Length 53:58
Label Silva Screen SSD 1103
Producer Reynold da Silva, Gwen Bethel
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[9]
Filmtracks 4/5 stars[10]

The main theme of The Ninth Gate is loosely based upon Havanaise, for violin and orchestra, by Camille Saint-Saëns;[11] some of the score is a vocalise by Korean soprano Sumi Jo.[12] The record was released on November 16, 1999 via Silva Screen label.

  1. Vocalise: "Theme from the Ninth Gate" – 3:56
  2. "Opening Titles" – 3:31
  3. "Corso" – 3:24
  4. "Bernie is Dead" – 4:31
  5. "Liana" – 3:03
  6. "Plane to Spain" – 4:48
  7. "The Motorbike" – 1:18
  8. "Missing Books" - 4:41
  9. "Blood on His Face" – 1:13
  10. "Chateau Saint Martin" – 4:05
  11. "Liana's Death" – 2:38
  12. "Boo! / The Chase" – 4:29
  13. "Balkan's Death" – 3:52
  14. "The Ninth Gate" – 1:13
  15. "Corso and the Girl" – 3:20
  16. Vocalise: Theme from the Ninth Gate (Reprise) – 3:56


Box office[edit]

The premiere screening of The Ninth Gate was in San Sebastián, Spain, on 25 August 1999; in North America, it appeared in 1,586 cinemas during the March 10th, 2000 weekend, earning a gross income of $6.6 million, and $18.6 million in total. Worldwide, it earned $58.4 million against a $38 million production budget.[13]

Critical response[edit]

The film received mixed reviews. The Ninth Gate holds a 41% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a metascore of 44 on Metacritic. Most movie reviewers said that the suspense in The Ninth Gate was less than that of Rosemary's Baby (1968), director Polanski's famous supernatural-themed film. Roger Ebert said the ending was lackluster, "while at the end, I didn't yearn for spectacular special effects, I did wish for spectacular information — something awesome, not just a fade-to-white".[14] In his review for The New York Times, Elvis Mitchell said the movie was "about as scary as a sock-puppet re-enactment of The Blair Witch Project, and not nearly as funny".[15] Entertainment Weekly rated the film "D+", and Lisa Schwarzbaum said it had an "aroma of middle-brow, art-house Euro-rot, a whiff of decay and hauteur in a film not even a star as foxed, and foxy, as Johnny Depp, himself, could save".[16] In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan said the film was "too laid-back, and unconcerned about the pacing of its story to be satisfying", because "a thriller that's not high-powered, is an intriguing concept, in reality it can hold our attention for only so long".[17] In the Village Voice, J. Hoberman said the film was "barely releasable hokum, stuffed with cheesy blah-blah".[18] European reviews were generally more attentive and praised the film's fine pace and irony.[19][20]

In Sight and Sound magazine, Phillip Strick said it was "not particularly liked at first outing — partly because Johnny Depp, in fake grey temples, personifies the odious Corso of the book a little too accurately — the film is intricately well-made, deserves a second chance, despite its disintegrations, and, in time, will undoubtedly acquire its own coven of heretical fans".[21]

In Time magazine, Richard Corliss said that The Ninth Gate was Polanski's most accessible effort "since fleeing the U.S. soon after Chinatown".[22]

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Graham said that "Depp is the best reason to see Polanski's satanic thriller" and "Polanski's sly sense of film-noir conventions pokes fun at the genre, while, at the same time, honoring it".[23]

On his website Groucho Reviews, web critic Peter Canavese called the film "an insinuating trip into devilish darkness" and a "sorely underrated occult mystery".[24]

After the release of The Ninth Gate, Artisan sued Polanski for taking more than $1 million from the budget, refunds of France's value-added tax that he did not give to the completion bond company guaranteeing Artisan Entertainment a completed film.[25]


  1. ^ "THE NINTH GATE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 17 January 2000. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Hartl, John (March 5, 2000). "The Ninth Gate Marks Return for Polanski". Seattle Times. 
  3. ^ a b c Howell, Peter (March 3, 2000). "Polanski's Demons". Toronto Star. 
  4. ^ Arnold, Gary (March 11, 2000). "Polanski's Dark Side". Washington Times. 
  5. ^ Archerd, Army (February 10, 1998). "Polanski opens Gate". Variety. 
  6. ^ a b Schaefer, Stephen (March 10, 2000). "The Devil and Roman Polanski". Boston Herald. 
  7. ^ This is a ridiculous remark because Chandler's Marlowe was always well turned out, and quick to criticise men or women who were not.
  8. ^ Filming locations for The Ninth Gate. Retrieved 2013-01-18.
  9. ^ Phares, Heather. The Ninth Gate at AllMusic
  10. ^ Filmtracks review
  11. ^ "The Ninth Gate (1999) - Soundtracks". Retrieved May 2013. 
  12. ^ Phares, Heather. "The Ninth Gate". Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  13. ^ "The Ninth Gate". Box Office Mojo. May 18, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 10, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  15. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (March 10, 2000). "Off to Hell in a Handbasket, Trusty Book in Hand". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  16. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (March 17, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  17. ^ Turan, Kenneth (March 10, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 29 September 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  18. ^ Hoberman, J (March 14, 2000). "Missions Impossible". Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Strick, Philip (September 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Sight and Sound. Archived from the original on 14 February 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-18. 
  22. ^ Corliss, Richard (March 27, 2000). "The Ninth Gate". Time. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  23. ^ Graham, Bob (March 10, 2000). "Summoning Silliness". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Shprintz, Janet (July 18, 2000). "Artisan Sues Polanski, Alleges He Took Money". Variety. Retrieved 2007-05-22. 

External links[edit]