Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Waiting at the Church (1906)

This Nickelodeon release from Edison Studios uses a popular song as the source for its story, which would have cued exhibitors what music to play for accompaniment, and perhaps encouraged audiences to sing along. Director Edwin S. Porter takes the simple premise to develop a comedic “chase film,” similar to others we’ve seen in the course of this project.

The movie begins with a shot of a man, sitting on a public bench, reading a newspaper. He is joined by a young woman who appears interested in making contact, although he tries to ignore her until she drops something from her purse. Then he gallantly recovers it for her and makes his introduction, and soon the two are strolling arm in arm, the camera panning to follow their action. The next scene shows the two of them at another bench before a lake in a park, flirting affectionately, and the man falls to his knee in the traditional pose for proposal. She responds enthusiastically, and several kisses are rapidly exchanged. The next shot is of the woman alone in a hammock, kissing a photograph repeatedly. A fantasy wedding appears in a double-exposure floating above the woman, but it disappears as the hammock unexpectedly collapses, causing her to crash to the ground. The man suddenly runs up to help her at this moment. The next shot is a medium shot of the man getting ready before a mirror. He fixes a collar on his shirt and fixes his hair with brush and comb, before putting on a jacket and top hat.

The next shot shows a group of children, ranging in age from about 3 to 10, standing in a circle tossing a ball. The man in his top hat is seen leaning out of a window of the house, but he withdraws before they see him. When one child throws the ball out of range, all of the children run off camera to chase it, and now the man comes out of the window and climbs out, running out to the street. The kids, seeing him make an escape, pursue him, the elder child running to the house to get her mother first. The next series of shots are out comedy chase. The man is running with a line of kids (and a wife) running after him, first down a suburban street, the across an open field, then through a columned pavilion, and finally up to the edge of some water, into which he splashes, the mother catching him here and dragging him off by the ear. One running gag is that the smallest child is unable to keep up, and so is always seen dawdling at the end of the line of pursuers. The final shot shows the woman from the original narrative, now dressed as a bride and standing on the stairs of a church, when a man in a messenger’s outfit walks up and gives her a note. She pays him by pulling some coins from her stocking and an insert of the note gives the punch line: “Can’t get away to marry you today. My wife won’t let me.”

While the joke may seem a bit lame today, audiences of the time probably appreciated it – the closing line comes from the chorus of the song, so it didn’t surprise so much as verify the humor they had been enjoying since the beginning of the film. The actress playing the jilted bride is Victoria Vesta, the music hall singer who had popularized the song. The camera movement, double-exposure, and mid-shot were all fairly advanced filmmaking techniques at the time, so this wasn’t necessarily a low-value production. It looked to me as if most of the locations used were pretty close together – the bench in the opening shot has columns behind it that look a lot like the pavilion, and the body of water he splashes into at the end could easily be the same lake we saw in the background of the proposal – but there are quite a lot of camera set ups for the period, and it looked to me as if the church was in some very different part of the city from the suburban homes we see when the man makes his escape. Porter had made a number of similar movies, perhaps the classic today being “How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Columns,” but comedy chases were a staple of the time, because they allowed movement and action along with humor, and didn’t require much dialog or explanation once they were underway.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Victoria Vesta, Alec B. Francis

Run Time: 9 Min

I have been unable to find this movie for free on the Internet. If you do, please comment.

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Back Stage (1919)

Buster Keaton and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle team up again for this short from Arbuckle’s Comique Film Corporation. Keaton has a very prominent co-starring role in this, although Arbuckle is still the center of attention.

Like a lot of these two-reel Comique shorts, this movie is divided into two very short story lines. True to the title, the first focuses on the backstage antics of a small theater troupe, while the second shows a performance, disrupted by hecklers. The movie begins by showing two men (Buster and Al St. John) re-arranging furniture in what seems to be a small bedroom. Suddenly, they grab hold of the flats that serve as the side walls and move them, then the backdrop is raised into the ceiling, showing that we have been looking at a set. Arbuckle is now seen, pulling the rope that lifts the backdrop. This sets the stage for the many sight-gags we’ll be seeing throughout. An intertitle informs us that Arbuckle is in charge of the theatrical company, and we see him outside the theater, trying to paste up a new poster for a coming attraction, but a small child takes an interest in his work and keeps getting in the way. Arbuckle finally pastes him to the wall to keep him out of trouble. He then tears him down and sends him on his way, pasting a bit of poster to his bottom to hide where his pants were torn in the process. When he’s done, the sign advertises a famous star, but the sliding door to the theater obscures half the message when left open, and the remaining text appears to promote a stripper. Inside, Keaton is dealing with a touchy star who insists on having a dressing room with a star over it. Once he’s inside, Keaton pulls the string that moves the star over another dressing room.

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Life of a Cowboy (1906)

For this Independence Day post, I’m reviewing a quintessentially American film – one which its director, Edwin S. Porter, believed was “the first filmed Western” (evidently “The Great Train Robbery” didn’t count). It makes use of familiar tropes of Western stage plays and Wild West shows to present its story.

It begins in a saloon, the “Big Horn” (named for a steer skull prominently hanging over the bar). An old Indian comes into the saloon, wobbling a bit, and is turned away by the white bartender. Now, an identifiable bad guy with a black hat comes in and orders a drink, taking it over to the Indian, but an Indian squaw runs up and knocks the glass away before he can take a drink. A generic white good guy in a white hat runs in and stops the bad guy from hurting her, then enforces his departure with his six-gun. He leaves, and some rather odd folks come in. One, identifiable by his Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker cap and portly girth, evidently represents an English tourist. There is also a skinnier man and a woman with him. Five cowboys on horseback soon enter and entertain themselves by shooting off guns and making the tourist “dance” ala “The Great Train Robbery.” They ride up to the bar and take some drinks, occasionally firing off a gun for good measure.

The next scene takes place on a dirt-covered street outside the hotel. A stagecoach drives up and disgorges the Englishman and his companions. The skinny Englishman is dragged out of the coach by some cowboys and playfully flogged with a saddle. The good guy from the first scene embraces the woman, pushing the bad guy aside when he shows an interest. Then we cut to a scene on a local ranch, where the local cowboys are showing off their lassoing skills to the newcomers. The portly Englishman gets too close, and is dragged around the yard before the main entertainment begins: a woman rides past the lasso artist and he ropes first her, and then her horse as they pass by. We now cut back to the dirt road and watch as the stage coach departs, and the bad guy jumps on a horse and follows, cutting to a side road at top speed.

The bad guy is soon seen to have rounded up some Indian allies, and they chase the stage, eventually overtaking it and wounding the driver. The woman is put on a horse by the bad guy and Englishmen are forced to walk. The stage driver is able to get to the good guy, who rounds up a posse to go after them. There is another chase and several Indians are shot as the good guy and his team liberate the prisoners. At last, evidently free from peril, the good guy and his girl sit by some trees, but the bad guy sneaks up on them, followed by a lone figure. Just as he is about to shoot the good guy in the back, the figure shoots him from behind and we see that it is the Indian girl from the first scene. The good guy thanks her and kisses his girl.

At 17 minutes, this is a fairly long movie for 1906, and it’s not easy to follow the action. I made use of a synopsis, provided to exhibitors by Edison, to make sense of it, and in the theater an exhibitor would most likely have narrated the action for the audience. That synopsis refers to the bad guy as “a Mexican greaser,” but since there is no racial coding that would be obvious to a modern audience, I avoided that term. I did go ahead and refer to the Native Americans in the movie as “Indians,” because their costumes will be recognized by anyone today. They represent several stereotypes, but at least there is some complexity among them: the old man is a drunk, the young squaw is a tragic hero, and most of the younger men are generic thugs. They do a lot of the better stunts, and my guess is that they worked on Wild West shows in real life, where falling off horses and shooting off guns for an audience paid well. The lassoing sequence also comes straight from the Wild West shows (including the comedy of the “rube” getting dragged around), while the reference to the “Big Horn” saloon is from the stage version of “The Squaw Man,” later to be filmed by Cecil B. DeMille, among others.

The movie, like many from this period, relies heavily and fast moving action and chases, along with bits of slapstick comic relief, to keep the audience engaged. It doesn’t come across as being as exciting or innovative as “The Great Train Robbery,” but Porter is correct in that it more clearly evokes the atmosphere of the Old West, as understood by film audiences then and now. Porter had gotten proficient at shooting a standard chase sequence at this time, and the use of camera pans allows us to follow the action, but the sequential editing limits the suspense of these scenes, and makes for a less exciting experience than later Westerns would provide.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter and/or Wallace McCutcheon

Starring: Unknown

Run Time: 17 Min, 21 secs

I have not found this movie available for free on the Internet.  If you do, please comment.

Max Plays at Drama (1913)

Another comedy short from Max Linder in which he aspires to something, only to fail spectacularly, and humorously, to achieve it. This time, the humor relies on editing, which is an interesting new feature.

We see Max in a small circle of friends (2 men, 3 women). He is holding forth or reciting for their amusement, and they all laugh and applaud appreciatively, but apparently Max was attempting to be serious. He tells them they should come see him in his new dramatic play, and writes them out an invitation. The scene now cuts to Max, in period dress, standing on a small stage. He gives a bow and begins to perform. The sequence is cross-cut between him and the audience, where his friends are seen prominently sitting in the first two rows. At first, his performance is drawing applause, but in the middle of a scene in which he is professing love over the telephone, a woman comes on stage and yells at him, flustering him so that the apparatus is caught in the curls of his long wig. This draws laughs rather than applause. The story develops such that the two women fight a duel over Max, which is handled in deliberately formalized manner with fencing foils. The one who yelled at Max is victorious, stabbing the other (presumably the recipient of the phone call) with her sword. Max now runs on stage, his wig still quite frazzled, and threatens her with his sword, which he cannot pull from its sheath. She runs off stage anyway, and Max kneels to lament the loss of his love. Unfortunately, his wig keeps falling over his face, drawing more laughter, so he takes it off to give his final soliloquy. As he does, the audience is shown to be looking increasingly concerned, even horrified, by the action on stage. Finally, in a reversal of “Romeo and Juliet,” Max pulls poison from his pocket and drinks it, giving his final words as he dramatically dies. As soon as he has fallen across the body of the dead woman, he leaps up and runs to the front of the stage to receive his applause, but when the cut comes we see the entire audience has fallen asleep. Max does not appear alarmed, and he quickly goes off stage and comes back with a fire hose, which he turns on, spraying the audience and letting them know what he thinks of their performance.

Most of this movie depends on the cross-cutting from stage to audience. Because it’s a silent film, we can’t gauge how good or bad Max’s performance is, so we need the reaction shots to understand how the story is progressing. This also adds a bit of suspense to the denouement, because the last we saw, everyone seemed to be rapt with attention, but at the very end we learn that Max has gone on too long and everyone fell asleep. I don’t recall another of Linder’s movies that relies so heavily on reactions and cutting, so that makes this one a special case. Otherwise, it’s fairly typical of the structure of many of the Linders I’ve reviewed in recent months – Max is sure at first that he will be able to do something, then learns to his chagrin that it isn’t as easy as it looks, and his reactions as the pressure mounts are increasingly desperate. Max’s natural charm makes watching him fail at something a surprisingly delightful experience.

Director: Lucien Nonguet

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 6 Min, 11 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1906)

This early short from Edison incorporates several technical advances worthy of Méliès, but employs them in a decidedly different manner, producing a very “American” special effects comedy, despite its being a remake (not to say outright rip-off) of a British original. It’s particularly interesting as one of the first iterations of a persistent early cinema myth.

The classic proscenium-style frame actually does depict a stage in this instance, a stage on which a screen has been set up for projecting motion pictures. There is a box visible to the left of the screen, and a man sits in it, presumably part of a larger, invisible audience. The first movie begins with a title telling us that the program is “The Edison Projecting Kinetoscope.”  The actually movie’s title is “Parisian Dance.” We see a young lady in modest attire come on the screen and do a dance, which does involve raising her skirts for a a few kicks. The man in the box gets increasingly excited, eventually jumping down onto the stage to join the filmed lady in the dance. She disappears and a new title tells us we will next see “The Black Diamond Express.” A train track appears and our rube again gets very excited, leaning forward into the screen to see the oncoming train. As the train rushes past the camera, he panics, and dives back into his box for safety. The final film is “The Country Couple,” and it involves a rustic young man and woman having a brief romantic interlude. The man again leaps onto the screen, perhaps jealous or perhaps angry because the girl reminds him of his daughter. He attempts to attack the young man, pulling down the screen as a result and revealing the projectionist behind it. He and the projectionist proceed to get into a scuffle, rolling across the stage in combat.

It was a pretty clever idea, using a series of old Edison pictures to fill in as “movies-within-a-movie” to develop a whole new plotline. It also required some technical understanding of how to handle split screen effects. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well when “Uncle Josh” gets in front of the screen: he tends to disappear as if he’s gone behind the screen, or to become transparent so we can see the movie projected on top of him. Still, this movie gave us a kind of “Shadowrama” almost ninety years before MST3k. I’m pretty sure that films were not rear-projected at the time, as we see here, and that in a real situation the projectionist would have been situated in front of the screen, not behind it, approximately at the position that the camera is for the purposes of shooting this movie. I suspect that the reason he is moved is so that he can be revealed to the audience when Uncle Josh pulls down the screen, since editing and multiple camera set ups are not within the framework of this movie, and also the reveal works dramatically much better than someone yelling at Uncle Josh from behind would. The “cinema myth” I refer to above is the commonly-recurring trope about people panicking and running from theaters when a train was shown coming at the camera. It appears unlikely that this ever happened, but the story expresses the power of cinema to move people, something that apparently film makers were already aware of in 1902.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Charles Manley

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max and His Dog (1912)

This short movie from Max Linder shows him in a close relationship with an animal, and less successfully with a human. It seems to have been a fairly cheap production, compared with some of the ones I’ve reviewed recently, but it has an interesting structure.

An intertitle tells us that Hanni (Jane Renouart) has two suitors, but can’t make up her mind, and a scene (the longest of the movie) establishes this by showing her standing between Max Linder and another man (Henri Bosc). Each one tries to woo her, but each time he seems to be making progress, the other interrupts. Finally, she hits upon the expedient of having the draw straws. Max wins, and another intertitle tells us that they are married, but soon she has second thoughts. We see Max discover her writing a love note, but she claims it is for him. His suspicions are aroused, however, so he calls in his dog, “Dick.” The dog seems to want to follow Max, but Max finally persuades it to stay on guard. When Henri comes in and goes into the bedroom with Jane, Dick springs into action. He goes over to the phone and pulls it off the hook with his teeth, then barks into the receiver. We see Max, at his office, pick up the phone and appear surprised, and Max and the dog are briefly intercut, then a shot of a rainy Paris street appears to stand in for Max’s hurried flight home. Max enters the bedroom and catches the illicit lovers sitting at the end of the bed, fully clothed, but obviously becoming intimate. It appears Max will fly into a rage, but he restrains himself and gives a pitying smile as he calls in the dog, who brings in a suitcase.* Hanni pulls out a hat from the suitcase and puts it on, sadly leaving her once happy home in shame. A final shot shows Max sharing coffee with Dick, his only true friend in the world.

For once, Max is not the big loser in one of his movies, although he is cuckolded and winds up losing the girl. Still, the end seems to imply a kind of affection and a self-sufficiency far beyond what he demonstrates in “Troubles of a Grasswidower.” On the other hand, seeing him get the upper hand in the situation really isn’t as funny as his usual failures. The movie consists of just a few camera set ups on small sets, and I almost wonder if it wasn’t an effort to save money so that some of the bigger location films could be made with the profits from other Linder work. They probably had a rapid schedule of putting these out and had to maintain that schedule to keep exhibitors happy. What stands out about it, though, is the close-ups on the dog using the telephone, and the interesting editing of the telephone sequence. On closer inspection, the “rainy Paris street” scene I described seems has something going on on either side of the screen – it is a Feuillade-style split screen with the dog and Max talking on the phone on either side. As such, it represents Pathé adopting a convention of “film grammar” from Gaumont, making for a specifically French cinematic trope. At any rate, this is the one part of the movie that deviates from extremely conventional Nickelodeon-era shooting and editing, and is what makes this movie worth checking out.

*= I consulted the book “Max Linder: Father of Film Comedy” by Snorre Smári Mathiesen for this review, and the marked sentence is paraphrased from his description of the film.

Director: René Leprince, Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Jane Renouart, Henri Bosc

Run Time: 8 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max Juggles for Love (1912)

Max Linder stars in this comedy short about a man’s attempt to woo a young lady with an odd requirement for her paramour. It seems like some of the footage might be missing, but there’s enough here to get the story across.

The movie begins with Max in a room with a young lady, and her father standing between them. Max reveals an enormous bouquet of flowers, which seems to delight the girl, and she ushers her father out of the room. As soon as they are alone together, however, she attacks him, and Max runs in panic from her blows. She forces him to sit down and exits the room. We cut to her father’s office, where he is working on some papers. She comes in and uses a feather pen to tickle his ear, smiling and laughing and jumping about. When he gets up to urge her to see to her guest, she sits on the desk and writes out a letter. The letter states that while Max is attractive, he doesn’t “seem too healthy.” She insists that he demonstrate an ability to juggle three balls in order for her to consent to marriage. The father delivers the letter, which reduces Max to tears, and he commiserates for a moment until Max resolves to learn to juggle. He makes a brief effort with his hat and cane as he walks out the door, but the girl is standing on the balcony above. When he throws his cane too hard, she catches it and substitutes an umbrella, which consternates Max. He walks further down the street and finds some fruit at a fruit stand to practice with, but he bumps into a passerby who starts throwing fruit at him until a policeman arrives. Next, we see Max in the shambles of his apartment. Apparently he has tried juggling everything (right now he’s practicing with pillows) and he just can’t get the hang of it. Suddenly, his face lights up and he dashes off a note to the girl telling her to bring her father over to see him juggle. They receive the letter and look dubious, but prepare themselves and go to his apartment. When they arrive, there is a large screen set up in the room, and Max goes behind it, sticks his arms out and easily juggles the balls. She insists on a second demonstration, and knocks the screen down while he is doing it, revealing a hunched-over juggler substituting for Max! Max is once again in tears as she laughs at him.

I wonder if the original movie didn’t show more of Max’s attempts (and failures) at juggling. It seems to move rather quickly from his efforts on the street to his ruined apartment. The (uncredited) comedienne in this movie contributes a great deal to it with her apparently sudden mood swings and childish body language, especially in the scene in her father’s office. She seems to really enjoy tormenting Max, which makes her the perfect foil for his exaggerated emotional reactions. Linder himself is a pleasure to watch, as always. The camera work remains pretty standard, and the editing structure simply follows a linear thread, but the movie works as comedy because of the performances. However, the logic of the set doesn’t really work at the end – the girl and her father enter from behind the screen and should be able to see the juggler as they are shown to their seats. It is assumed that since the audience can’t see behind the screen, they accept that the characters cannot either.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 6 Min, 30 secs.

You can watch it for free: here.

Max and His Mother-in-Law (1914)

This short film stars Max Linder as an unfortunate husband who brings his mother-in-law along on his honeymoon, with the expected frustrations and pratfalls ensuing. It’s one of the longest (2 reels!) Linder films I’ve seen.

The movie begins just after the wedding, at home, with Max and the bride still in their wedding finery, and the new mother-in-law in tears. Each time Max tries to get his wife alone, the mother bursts in crying and clutching at her little girl. Finally, Max leads her out to the train station, apparently resolved to begin the honeymoon early, but the mother pulls her daughter off the train and Max is stuck alone, getting off at the next station and running all the way back to find them. After appearing to threaten his mother-in-law, he agrees to the three of them going together. They return, apparently the next day (Max and wife are now in appropriate travel garb) and board the train together, arriving at an alpine lodge and taking a horse-and-sleigh from the station to their destination. Because the mother-in-law is so large, Max has to sit in front, with the driver, instead of with his wife.

The next day is a series of follies, similar to “Max Learns to Skate,” except this time he’s perfectly capable of snow-bound sport, but the mother-in-law is a consistent foil. First, when they go skating, Max’s skating lesson to his wife is interrupted because the mother-in-law doesn’t dare to move at all. When he tries to help, she falls over repeatedly, bringing max down with her and injuring him so he skates badly. Then, they try sleds, but Max’s wife insists that he ride with her mother and take care of her, but she keeps screaming and throwing her arms around him so he can’t see or steer. Finally, she is dumped off the sled and rides to the end on her bottom. Then, they try skiing, and once the mother-in-law has hers on, Max gives her a shove and off she goes, soon with Max and wife in pursuit (on foot). When they find her, she’s upside-down in a snowdrift. They pull her out and try to get her on to a train back to the lodge, but she still has one ski on and can’t mount the train. Max has the bright idea of putting her on a horse and tying the horse to the back of the train, but by the time they get to the lodge, the horse has freed itself and mother-in-law is dangling from a watering tower. Max helps her down and seems finally ready to lose his temper completely, but there is an unexpected reconciliation and all three hug one another.

This movie is pretty typical in terms of structure, but what makes it stand out is that Max Linder was not at the center of the physical comedy. I’ve never before seen Pâquerette, the comedienne that played the mother-in-law, but I have to say I was impressed with her frequent stage falls and deliberate clumsiness, all the more difficult to pull off because she was a large woman. Especially on the ice, she shows adequate control to make it look as if it is impossible for her to stay standing, and yet she consistently falls on cue. Max adds to the humor with his often over-the-top responses to her, and then having to suddenly change emotional registers immediately to placate his wife. Most of this is, as usual, handled in long shot more with gestures than facial expressions. The movie was apparently shot on location in Switzerland, so would have represented a bigger expense than usual for a Pathé comedy, which may explain its length as well: Having committed so much to the picture, they wanted a product that would justify the expense.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Pâquerette

Run Time: 24 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max and the Statue (1912)

Another short film starring Max Linder that follows his familiar cycle of excited anticipation leading to disaster, but in this case the plot takes a bizarre, almost surreal, turn. Max has to use a great deal of physicality here, because his face is hidden for much of the movie.

We see Max reading the newspaper in a well-appointed home. A servant comes in and delivers a note, which causes Max to get up and dance about joyfully. He calls the servant back and has him bring his top hat, then goes out. The next scene shows him at a costumer’s, wearing a sort of outlandish Arabian Nights outfit, apparently very happy about how he looks in it, but the costumer suddenly realizes that all of his costumes are reserved for tonight’s party, and removes it. Max is very disappointed, and gets ready to leave, but the costumer calls him back: There is just one costume still available, a suit of armor. Max doesn’t seem to like the idea, but the costumer is persuasive, trying on the helmet for him to show him how it looks. Finally, Max agrees. At the party, we see a lot of people running about dancing in costumes. Max is quite noticeable in his full-length suit of armor, and he catches a tall woman in a hood and mask. He persuades her to come with him for a drink, trying to get her to remove her mask so he can kiss her, but she demurs. He orders Champagne, and lifts the faceplate of his costume, but she keeps her mask on throughout. We see a brief close-up of the two of them, Max leaning in for a kiss, she laughing and remaining aloof.

Later, Max, still in his armor, is slumped over the table and the woman is gone. The waiter wakes him up to present the cheque, but he cannot get through his armor to his pants to reach his wallet. In the process of trying, he drunkenly knocks the table over, and the waiter finally gives up and hauls him out to the street to sleep it off. Now we see a pair of thieves, who break into the Louvre, where they rather bizarrely decide to make off with a suit of armor, rather than an easier-to-carry item like a painting. When the night watchman discovers what has happened, he alerts two policemen, and together they go in search of the missing statue, only to find a suit of armor lying on the ground just in front of a nearby café. They haul the statue back, finding it difficult to stand it on its stand, and cover it over with a sheet. The next day (presumably), it is unveiled and the artist receives a medal. No one seems to notice that it is slouched over and occasionally moves or teeters a bit. That night (presumably) the thieves return and decide to steal the new statue, I suppose because they got so much for the first one. They haul Max back to their subterranean hideaway and pull out tools, apparently planning to cut him into smaller pieces for easy transport. When they start to saw into his stomach, Max wakes up and they both run out in horror, running into the arms of the police, who have apparently successfully tracked them this time. The police insist that they show them the statue, but when they get back to the table they left him on, it is empty. Suddenly Max staggers back on screen, playing a guitar, still in his suit of armor. Police and thieves both run out in panic.

Max has to use his body for a lot of the humor here, since his face is covered for about 2/3 of the run time. It’s remarkable how recognizable his body language is, particularly in the scene at the party where he meets the girl. He also gets to show off his “funny drunk” skills once again, as we saw in “Max Takes Tonics.” It strikes me that the more climactic, and slightly more believable, ending would have been for him to come to life during the ceremony instead of some number of hours later, at the hideout. The images of the thieves starting to cut him up, and of Max dancing about with the guitar were funny, admittedly, but it just seemed like an opportunity was missed when a crowd of Paris high society were solemnly saluting him. It would have saved them two camera set ups and some film as well, so Max must have been dedicated to the ending we see. Somehow the thieves’ hideout made me think of Feuillade, while the dancing suit of armor seemed straight out of Méliès, so this film was firmly grounded in the young French cinematic tradition.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 10 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (incomplete, but with music).

Max Takes Tonics (1911)

Alternate Title: Max, victime du quinquina

This short from Max Linder is basically an extended “funny drunk” routine and may have influenced later work by Charlie Chaplin, that use similar themes. Linder is able to go farther in some respects, and makes more use of class as a theme, perhaps because of the cultural differences between France and the US.

The movie begins with Max visiting a doctor’s office. The entire appointment is in medium shot, with the doctor behind his desk and Max seated before it. He tells the doctor that he’s been tired lately, and the doctor looks at his tongue before telling him it’s nothing serious, but he’ll prescribe a tonic that should help. He is to take it each morning. The next scene shows Max seated at a table with the tonic, which is labeled “Bordeaux of Cinchona.” His wife brings out a very large glass, which is labeled “Souvenir de Bordeaux” and he concludes that this is the correct dosage of the tonic he is meant to take. He pours out almost the whole bottle into the glass and drinks it with a straw. Thus fortified, he goes out on the town.

His first encounter is with another man in a top hat, who is trying to get into a cab. Max keeps trying to get in from the other side, and each time the two see one another, they walk around the back of the cab and argue briefly, seeming to come to some agreement, and then both walk back around to their respective doors and try to get in. Finally, the cab drives away, without either one on board. Rather than coming to blows, the two exchange cards. This first fellow, we learn, is the Minister of War. Next, Max goes to a nightclub and tries to get a young lady interested in him. Unfortunately, there is a grouchy older man at the next table, and Max keeps accidentally hitting him, or forgetting which table has the young lady at it. Finally, when the young lady’s real date shows up, he pushes Max into the angry customer, who gives Max his card. He is the ambassador of Styria. Max also exchanges cards with the date, challenging him to a duel for hitting him, and this man is the commissioner of police.

Drunk Max heads out on the street and has an encounter with a lamp post, with the result that he tries to put his jacket on while leaning against it, so that the back of the jacket is wrapped around the pole and he can’t move. A police officer, seeing a drunk, comes over to arrest him, and when he asks for identification, Max gives him the one of the cards he has received. The policeman immediately salutes and carries him to the address indicated. It is the address of the Minister of War, who is enjoying a late dinner. When he hears someone enter his apartment, he hides under the table. Max sits down and finishes his dinner, but then the minister leaps up and throws him out of the house, rolling him down the stairs and to the feet of a second policeman. Again, Max gives the wrong card and is taken to another posh apartment. Here, his over-consumption of alcohol (and perhaps the Minister’s dinner) catches up to him and he pantomimes an urgent need to vomit. He picks up a top hat and vomits into it just before the Ambassador comes out to investigate. The Ambassador, assuming that he is now ready to initiate the duel, gives Max the choice of swords of pistols, and then puts on his hat. He is so outraged at the result that he forgets the duel and throws Max out the window, where he crashes into a third policeman. This man now carries him to another apartment (although the same staircase is used as for the last one), where the exhausted Max takes off his jacket and tumbles into bed. Unfortunately, he is now sleeping next to the wife of the commissioner of police, who is sneaking in late after his date, only to find his wife in bed with another man. He also throws Max out, only to have him quickly returned by the same policeman. Finally, when he also hurls Max out of his window, Max crashes into a convocation of the three police officers, who are sharing a smoke and talking about the prominent drunks they’ve run into tonight. Each of them recognizes Max and they compare the cards he has given them, finally recognizing him for an impostor. The movie ends with the three of them beating Max up.

Charlie Chaplin famously referred to Max Linder as “the Professor” at a time when Linder’s star was in decline and the two of them became friends during Linder’s brief career in Hollywood. I’ve always felt that a bit too much is read into that – Chaplin didn’t know Linder before he started acting, and it’s not clear how familiar he was with his work. The compliment appears to have been written to help a friend through a difficult time, not to prove who was the better comedian. Still, this movie definitely has many elements of Chaplin’s work in it. It’s hard to know how much of it comes before his top-hatted drunk routines on stage with Karno, but in particular the sequence with the lamp post was familiar, and a lot of what Linder does here we’ve seen Charlie do in movies like “One A.M.” and “A Night in the Show.” On the other hand, and despite critics talking about “vulgarity” in Chaplin movies, it’s impossible to imagine Charlie using vomit in such an explicit way! And, of course, all of the business about calling cards and duels is pure European upper-class culture, with no place in an American film. Even the fact that all of these powerful people live in Paris apartments is a bit foreign.

By the standards of 1911, this is a somewhat long comedy, and Linder is at the focus of all of the humor. He has to appear drunk enough to be helpless in many situations, and yet also to be in complete control in reality. Physically, he had probably managed better work in “Max Learns to Skate” and other films with similar themes, but he definitely handles drunk well here. Most of the scenes are shot from a single camera angle, although the choice to shoot the cab-dispute from the rear of the cab was a very effective way to show the confusion over who was getting in first. For some of the violence, Max is replaced with a dummy that is tossed around, something we’ve seen in Méliès and other French movies.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Maurice Delamare, Gabrielle Lange, Lucy d’Orbel,

Run Time: 17 Min

You can watch it for free: here.