Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Max the Heartbreaker (1917)

Max Linder stars as Max Linder, who dates two pretty American tourists only to create complications for himself. Again, the style of droll humor contrasts interestingly with the more overt slapstick of the era.

The movie begins with a close-up on the two female leads, accompanied by a short poem that relates to the French title (“Max Between Two Fires”), then an Intertitle informs us that Max is traveling “incognito” to Switzerland. We see shots of the Riviera, with Max watching the two girls feeding the birds. He tries to join them, but they break into laughter when they recognize him. He looks annoyed and leaves. The next day they send a note apologizing and inviting him to meet them at a specific time and place with a white carnation. He has his “revenge” by substituting a red carnation instead. For some reason, this insults them and they leave, then he sends an apologetic note…I forget how many times this goes back and forth, but eventually they meet and talk and seem to get along well. They all spend the next day together seeing the sights. There’s an odd bit I don’t quite get in which one of the girls sneaks off and substitutes a woman with painted dark skin and wild hair (a gypsy?) for herself, surprising Max when he turns to kiss (?) her. Max is so startled  that he almost trips over a pig. It’s sort of like the routine from “What Happened in the Tunnel,” but less clear.

We now see Max, in medium-close shot, looking at pictures of the girls, kissing them, but apparently unable to choose. He brings two bunches of flowers over with identical notes, and manages to hide the extra one each time and give the right bunch to the right girl. He also makes dates with each of them, at different times. He goes horseback riding with the lighter-haired girl and on a moonlit rowing excursion with the darker-haired girl. The next day, the two girls are walking around kissing their pictures of Max when they run into one another. They tease each other a bit for being in love, then agree to show each other the man of their heart. Their playfulness gives way to anger, then tears, when they both realize the other has been seeing Max. Soon they decide upon a plan for revenge. They allow Max to overhear them planning to have a duel over him. He arrives before the appointed time and climbs a convenient tree to watch the carnage from above. The girls go through the motions of the duel, but at the last minute, one of them points her gun in the air and fires into the tree! Max falls out and runs away, holding his scorched bottom.

I’m going a bit backward with Linder – recently I reviewed his last movie at Essanay, and this time I’m reviewing a movie he made in France before contracting with them. It’s not a romp like “Max in a Taxi,” but it’s probably funnier than the description above makes it sound. Linder is very good at improvising little bits of “business” and he’s particularly amusing when he flirts with one of the girls. The girls are also funny when they mimic each other’s reaction to his advances and betrayal. The review in the Moving Picture World says “Some scenes in the doctor’s office are quite funny,” but I never saw any doctor’s office – either this is an error or there’s something missing from the surviving print.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 19 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

August 1917

The First World War continues to be a major change agent in the world, but the Century News for August, 1917, emphasizes militarization and revolt more than actual military actions. Here are some of the headlines people saw in their newspapers 100 years ago:

Dunning, after completing the first successful moving carrier landing

World War I

Squadron Commander E.H. Dunning lands his aircraft on the ship HMS Furious in Scapa Flow, Orkney on August 2. He is killed 5 days later during another landing on the ship.

Social Unrest

The Green Corn Rebellion, an armed uprising by several hundred farmers against the WWI draft, takes place on August 2-3 in central Oklahoma.

A general strike begins in Spain on August 10; it is smashed after 3 days with 70 left dead, hundreds of wounded and 2,000 arrests.

Military

The New York Guard is founded on August 3 as the state defense force of New York State.

The Military Service Act is passed in the Canadian House of Commons, giving the Government of Canada the right to conscript men into the army.

Diplomacy

Republic of China declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on August 14.

Arts

One of English literature’s important meetings takes place on August 17 when Wilfred Owen introduces himself to Siegfried Sassoon at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh.

Disasters

The Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 in Greece destroys 32% of the city, leaving 70,000 individuals homeless.

Film

Golden Rule Kate, a drama western starring Louise Glaum released August 12.

His Wedding Night, a ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle / Buster Keaton short released August 20.

The Little American, starring Mary Pickford; directed by Cecil B. DeMille released August 27.

Straight Shooting, directed by John Ford released August 27.

Births

Earl Cameron, actor (appeared on “Doctor Who” and “The Prisoner”) born August 8.

Mel Ferrer, actor (in “Brannigan” and “The Hands of Orlac”) born August 25

Minor Announcement – Letterboxd

For years now, I’ve semi-seriously joked about starting “a second blog” for all the movies I watch that aren’t part of the Century Film Project. Believe it or not, the majority of my viewing time and expertise is not really devoted to 100 year old movies! But one blog is a lot of work to keep up, and it has begun to look unlikely that I’ll be able to manage two before retirement.

I do write short reviews, however, of every movie I’ve seen twice. I’ve been doing that for over five years, and my “review” folder has over 1500 such reviews stored up. I recently learned about the “Letterboxd” social media service that lets film buffs track their viewing and share reviews. This looks like a lot less work than trying to build an entire new blog! So, I’ve gone ahead and opened a profile and started putting my reviews there.

If you’re curious what my “normal” taste in film looks like, you can check out my profile here. If you use Letterboxd, follow me to see the reviews as I share them, and also to track my first-time views (sans reviews) as they happen in real time!

The Christmas Dream (1900)

Georges Méliès displays the holiday spirit with this fanciful and homely short film. Impressive for the period in its number of setups, it is surprisingly devoid of the special effects that one expects from Méliès.

The opening scene, which may be incomplete, shows children being tucked into a four-poster bed in a room decorated with noble crests and a fireplace. The servant that tucks them in is in Renaissance-era clothing, and she sits down to read aloud from a book. The image then fades to a stage, and a bearded man in a crown hustles people off the stage to prepare for a dance number. First, there is a kind of parade in which a coach is wheeled behind a minstrel, and what appears to be a giant toy rabbit hitting a drum. Then some clowns come onto the stage and perform a dance. One of them loses his shoe, and the rest of the performers dance around it, including dancing girls and a ballerina. Finally, the clown leads another dance and retrieves his shoe, but in doing so, his hat falls off. The crowned man returns and shoos everyone offstage, grabbing the clown by the neck. The next shot shows the snow-covered rooftops of a small town. Angels flit from one roof to another, dropping presents down the chimneys. Next we see the interior of a church, where a man supervises some children pulling on the bell ropes. Some well-dressed citizens come in and shake the snow off their clothes, removing their cloaks and proceeding into the chapel. The next shot shows the bell, constructed of wooden flats but given the illusion of reality by perspective painting and a separate clapper that swings opposite to the bell. Doves fly around the bell tower and a man with a lantern climbs up at the end of the shot.

The next scenes show well-dressed people going in to a feast, first from an exterior street shot (actually a standard proscenium stage dressed as a street), then from inside the hall. The rich people walk past some beggars in the snow and ignore them. One of them comes inside the hall, and he is generously invited to join the feast by the lord of the manor, although the servants don’t want to admit him. This happy scene fades out again and back to the bedroom from the beginning of the movie, where the children are waking up to find presents at the fireplace. Grownups come into the room and see them at play, bringing more toys for them. The final shot shows angels dancing in a snowy heaven.

It’s interesting that Méliès stayed away from his usual trick film effects, especially people appearing and disappearing. There’s a brief image of a transparent angel at the end of the shot with the rooftops, which may also be an incomplete scene, but apart from that there is no camera trickery, just some dissolves from one scene to the next. I wonder if Méliès was trying to achieve a more reverential or serious tone with this film, maintaining a respect for the holiday rather than the fantastic and whimsical approach of his trick films. He certainly did go to (at least) his usual effort on the props and costumes, and the number of setups alone make this a “big budget” film by 1900 standards. It seems to be lacking a clear plot, but I also wonder if the story of the rich man and the beggar might be from a source that French children would recognize. In general, it seems to be more interested in capturing the mood of Christmas than in telling a story, and one imagines that it pleased the children who got to see it.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 4 Min, 15 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Max in a Taxi (1917)

In this short film, Max Linder plays “Max,” a rich swell who gets himself into trouble drinking, then proceeds to get into even more trouble trying to get out of trouble! Linder’s physical comedy skills are on full display, but the situational aspects of the movie are what make it work.

The movie begins with Max very drunk. He and a friend have various mishaps in trying to get home. Eventually max hitches a horse to a carriage to drive them home – only he’s so drunk that he hitches it so that it’s facing the carriage. Fortunately, the horse is good at following orders, so it just trots backwards with the carriage attached. Max has further pratfalls as he bids his friend goodnight at the door and tries to go upstairs. At one point, he falls out a second-story window backward and lands on his friend as he walks out the door! Finally he makes it up the stairs to encounter a stern-looking older man in his room. I presume this is Max’s father or rich uncle or whoever supplies the money he lives on. He obviously disapproves of Max’s state, and he tosses him out with no further support.

This is not, in fact, a taxi.

Max walks the street for days, still in the finery he wore for his night of partying, but unable to come up with any money for food or other survival needs. He resolves to kill himself and tries and fails to do so in several amusing ways. He lies down in front of a train, but the train switches tracks at the last minute. He tries hanging himself, but the rope breaks. Now Max discovers an invitation in his pocket for a party at a wealthy woman’s house that very day. He rushes over there, fakes his way in past the butler, and dances up a storm, somewhat flustering the hostess. Soon, he gets to the main purpose of his visit – a large table stacked with pastries and treats. He sends the butler away so he can chow down, stuffing several into his mouth at a time. However, the hostess now brings her young daughter (Martha Mansfield) over to meet him. He’s nearly as interested in her as in the sweets, and she takes him out on the dance floor with his mouth full. He eventually comes up with the expedient of getting rid of the many cream puffs jammed into his mouth by hiding them in the piano. For some reason, he also throws a cat in after them, and of course that ruins the music. Max manages to stay sober and makes a graceful departure, shaking hands with the butler instead of giving a tip since he’s broke.

The next day, he spends his last two pennies to buy a paper and look at the want ads. He applies for a job driving a taxi, even though he doesn’t know how to drive a car. He gets a short lesson from his new employer by pretending he’s not familiar with “this model,” and gets the car a few blocks away from the station before parking it. Soon, the two ladies from the party walk up. He doesn’t want to admit he’s driving a cab for money, so he puts his top hat back on and tells them he’s just waiting for the chauffeur. They wait for a while but get bored and leave him to nap in the car. When they return, he tries to start the car, but it starts going on its own. Soon, Max is riding the driverless car on the hood, while the two women sit in the back. It hits a telephone pole and is destroyed. The women are alright, but they clothes and hair are ruined. They look for Max in the wreckage, but he has been thrown onto the telephone wires, where he does a few tumbles for the audience.

This is a taxi, but Max isn’t in it.

I’ve been somewhat remiss, up to now, in not reviewing a Max Linder movie. It’s not that I was unaware of him, or thought he was unimportant, or don’t like him. It’s just that there’s always so much to review, and until now I hadn’t gotten to it (I’ve still only reviewed one movie by Harold Lloyd, who’s actually my personal favorite of the silent clowns, so this isn’t entirely a matter of favoritism). This one seems like a good starting point, but note that Linder had been doing “Max” films for ten years already when it came out. Charlie Chaplin fans will see some similarities between the opening of this movie and Charlie’s “One A.M.” from the previous year. Chaplin was influenced by Linder’s work, and later honored him as “the professor” who had taught him the art of comedy. This movie was actually a bit of a collaboration between them, as it was shot in Hollywood and Linder met Chaplin and spoke with him about shooting it while it was in progress. There’s a lot of difference between Linder’s on-screen persona and Chaplin’s, though. When Chaplin played the “drunken swell” (as opposed to the Little Tramp), his comedy was almost entirely physical, and what little we see of the character is largely unsympathetic. Max’s “swell” is certainly dissolute and libertine, but he has a definite charm and sympathy. His character is aware of social expectations, and as a result gets into humorous situations when he doesn’t have the money people expect him to have.

Linder had recently moved to the USA from France and joined Essanay, who hoped to replace the recently departed Chaplin and make a profitable series of “Max” films. This was the third of those, and apparently the most successful, but it wasn’t enough to justify his salary, and the failing studio canceled the contract. Linder’s career went into a decline afterward, although he did make more films and film appearances periodically until his death in 1925. We still have quite a few of them to enjoy, and I trust this will not be his last appearance in this project.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Arthur Reeves

Cast: Max Linder, Martha Mansfield, Mathilde Comont, Ernest Maupain

Run Time: 19 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Magic Book (1900)

This typical trick film by Georges Méliès plays on the theme of still images coming to life that mirrors the miracle of motion pictures and would be seen again in such movies as “The Hilarious Posters” and “The Living Playing Cards.” A minimal plot is woven around what appears to be a filmed performance of a magic show; just what we would want and expect from Méliès.

A proscenium-style set is decorated to be a kind of fantasy workshop, with clocks, a skeleton, a desk, and a very large bookstand at center stage. Méliès walks onto the set from a door at the rear, dressed in a beard and a bald cap, with wild hair springing out below the cap. He gives a bow to the audience and indicates the bookstand, then pulls a book fully as tall as himself from somewhere offscreen, carrying it over and putting it on the stand. The book’s title (in both French and English) is “Le Livre Magique/The Magical Book.” He opens the book, revealing a picture of a clown-like figure on the first page. He dances and gestures and the drawing comes to life, a man in a similar costume emerging and the page now appearing blank. The clown imitates the dance Méliès just gave, then goes to the side of the stage. Méliès turns the page, revealing pictures of Harlequin and Pierrot, and the process is repeated, with Méliès acting out a bit of physical business, bringing each figure to life, and the figures imitating his movements before going to one side, where they interact like old friends meeting unexpectedly.

The next page shows a young woman and an old man. When Méliès pulls the young woman from the page, all of the clowns respond with obvious interest, so I guess this represents Columbine. She does a ballerina dance and Méliès separates her from the clowns, but they soon run across the stage to fall at her feet once again. Now he animates the old man. The old man fights the clowns, one at a time, making it possible for Méliès to return them to the book. Pierrot, however, sneaks off while Méliès is distracted finding the right page, and Méliès returns all of the others to the book without noticing. He then discovers the blank page and looks around, easily finding Pierrot hiding next to the bookstand. He grabs Pierrot and forces him into the book, closing the cover, but Pierrot does not turn into a drawing, he tries to fight his way out of the pages. When Méliès tries to force the cover shut, he again hops out of the book onto the stage. After appearing and disappearing a couple of times, he is again thrust at the book, and this time becomes a drawing once again. Méliès bows, but the book falls on top of him. He disappears and reappears at the rear door, bowing once again for his performance. Then he picks up the book and walks offstage.

While this is a relatively simple film, in terms of effects and story, there are a couple of interesting aspects. One is the use of both French and English on the cover of the book, suggesting that Méliès was already aware by 1900 that much of his audience was English-speaking (and probably largely American). The other thing that stood out to me was the use of the familiar Harlequinade characters as a kind of theatrical/cinematic shorthand to give more depth to characters who could as easily have been generic clowns or nameless figures. In that sense, it’s interesting that it’s Pierrot, and not Harlequin, who almost gets the best of Méliès at the end. He’s usually the loser in this comic drama, but perhaps Méliès had a soft spot for him.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Georges Méliès

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Rough House (1917)

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle directs and the new talent of Buster Keaton gets a shot at a bigger role in this 2-reel slapstick comedy from Comique. While it builds on older gags and situations, it shows a definite development in the comedy troupe’s abilities and cinematic imagination.

The movie begins with a typical Arbuckle situation. He plays “Mr. Rough” (hence the multi-tiered pun of the title), a married man whose mother in law (Agnes Neilson) has come to visit. He is hiding in the bedroom while wife (Alice Lake) and mother take their breakfast. He dozes off with a cigarette in his hand, starting a fire on the bed. When he comes to, he stares blankly at the fire for a while, then walks out to the kitchen to fill a teacup with some water, which he then leisurely brings back to the bedroom and tosses on the raging flames. He goes to repeat this, but is distracted by the pretty maid (I think it’s Josephine Stevens), who he tries to kiss, and then he ends up drinking the water! By this point, wife and mother have become alerted to the situation, and they raise the alarm, causing a nearby gardener (Buster Keaton in a beard) to supply Fatty with a hose. He sprays everyone but the fire, eventually drenching the bedroom so much that fire simply cannot continue.

While all of this has been going on, and inter-cut with it, the help have been engaged in slapstick shenanigans. Apparently the cook (Al St. John) also has an interest in the maid, but she isn’t interested in him, and kicks him into a pan of white goo, possibly a future cake that is now spoiled. At table, Fatty entertains the maid with a little bread roll fork-dance that Charlie Chaplin fans will find familiar. Then, her real love interest shows up in the form of Buster Keaton in his primary role as a delivery boy. He does several impressive pratfalls to introduce himself and starts throwing things at Al, resulting in more chaos in the house. This soon escalates to Buster chasing Al through the house with a knife, and Fatty become involved in throwing household objects at both of them. Mr. Rough eventually throws both of them out and they are arrested by a passing policeman when their fight spills into the yard.

Mr. Rough consoles the maid, tending to her injured ankle – until the wife and mother-in-law return. They immediately show their wrath, mother-in-law choking Fatty, and wife firing the maid. Now Fatty has to take on the domestic tasks of the household, preparing for dinner company – a pair of “Dukes” (who are actually robbers) are coming over. Meanwhile, Buster and Al are offered jobs on the police force because the cells are all full. Fatty now does several of the “funny cook” gags we’ve seen in “The Waiters Ball” and elsewhere. He chops bread with a fan, puts out the table settings by carrying it all in the tablecloth, and pours gasoline all over the steak. Soon, the dinner degenerates into chaos, which gives one of the thieves a chance to sneak into the bedroom and steal a string of beads. Unfortunately for him, he is observed in this act by a plainclothes detective who has been following the phony aristocrats. He calls the station and Buster and Al are (of course!) called in to apprehend the miscreants. They now do their best tribute to the Keystone Kops, especially Buster, whose oversize helmet keeps falling off as he tumbles over fences and down slopes to rush to the scene of the crime.

Meanwhile, the detective has recruited Fatty, and tries to hold the “Dukes” at gunpoint, but instead they make a break for it and he and Fatty shoot wildly at them (and at pretty much anything) while they run madly around the house. The thieves run out into the street with the detective and Fatty not far behind, and they hide in a cellar while Fatty shoots at the detective accidentally. After their journey to the house is delayed when the delivery boy gets stuck on a fence, the new police recruits eventually arrive at the house just in time to unintentionally stop the fleeing thieves by bumping into them. Mr. Rough takes back the necklace and the thieves are taken to jail.

Arbuckle often structured his 2-reelers as 2-part stories, as in this case, where the first part of the story is the fire and the fight among Fatty and his help and the second part is the dinner and the chase after the thieves. The two parts are only loosely connected: Having Al and Buster become cops in the middle defies logic, but it keeps the best clowns available for more gags in the second part. Other comedy directors of the time did similar things (think of Chaplin and “The Immigrant,” with part one on the boat and part two in the restaurant), but it seems to me as though Arbuckle was especially devoted to the structure, sometimes at the expense of coherent narrative. This was a fairly early entry in Arbuckle’s series of films with Comique, his own film company, with distribution through Paramount Pictures, and only the second time he had worked with Buster Keaton. Keaton, who had an extensive stage career as a slapstick clown from childhood, is clearly comfortable in front of the camera and working well with the team. His rivalry with Al St. John works especially well in the first half. Interestingly, unlike “Oh Doctor” and “Coney Island,” both of which came out later in 1917, he’s not particularly expressive here, even if he hasn’t quite become “Old Stone Face” yet.

Although the movie, and especially the final chase, is clearly built on older work from Keystone, it also shows cinematic advancement. The scene with the bed fire is pretty much lifted straight from “Fatty’s Plucky Pup,” but here the cross-cutting with another comic storyline makes it funnier and more effective. I’ve mentioned the parallel between the second part of the film and the Keystone Kops, but again there’s improvement, both in terms of the comic timing and the use of camera angles. We get close-ups on the ridiculous-looking station sergeant that Keystone would never have taken the time to do, and one sequence of pratfalls is shot in long shot, with the actors appearing as silhouettes, which is lovely. There’s also a contribution to future movies, in the form of the “bread roll dance” Fatty does for the maid. He’s not really as amusingly sympathetic as Chaplin will be eight years later, but it does show how all of the comedy masters freely borrowed from one another. I think this is the funniest of the Comiques I’ve reviewed so far, and the most readily re-watchable.

Director: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Camera: Frank D. Williams

Starring: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Alice Lake, Agnes Neilson, Glen Cavender, Josephine Stevens

Run Time: 22 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Wizard, the Prince, and the Good Fairy (1900)

Georges Méliès produces a typical fantasy or fairy tale in this short film from the turn of the century. While not as elaborate in special effects as some others of the period, it displays an increasing interest in developing a storyline within movies.

Méliès plays the prince, who enters the wizard’s chamber at the outset of the film and pays him handsomely to perform magic for him. The wizard makes his table disappear and directs the prince’s attention to an alcove where his cauldron sits bubbling. With a wave of his hand, the cauldron disappears and is replaced by a lovely princess. Méliès is overcome and thrilled, and he takes the young lady’s hand. But, she disappears when he goes to embrace her. Feeling cheated, he tries to attack the wizard with his sword, but the wizard uses magic to defend himself. At first he disappears, leaving behind a large wooden simulacrum of himself, which the prince sticks with the sword before turning and seeing the real wizard. When he grabs the wizard’s cloak, he again disappears, leaving Méliès with only the cloak, and he tumbles to the ground with surprise. When he makes another attempt with the sword, the wizard disappears completely in a puff of smoke, but now bars appear in the alcove, signaling that the prince will be unable to leave. When he tries to go out using the door he entered from, a group of witches comes in and surrounds him, turning him into a pauper. Now the prince prays, and his prayers are answered by a woman, who I guess is the “good fairy” of the title. She makes the bars disappear, replacing the alcove with an entry to a sylvan glen. Then she returns the prince to his noble condition. Finally, she brings back the princess, now dressed in a wedding gown. When the wizard appears and tries to object, the fairy gestures and he is now locked in a cage. Thus, the prince and princess may live happily ever after, and a wedding dance commences at the rear of the set.

While this starts out as a typical trick film, with things appearing and disappearing to the plotless annoyance of the main character, the appearance of the fairy changes it to a more story-focused narrative. We come to see the prince as a hero, wronged by the wizard, and his faith and love for the princess allows him to overcome evil. This is, of course, in extreme shorthand given the brief running time. Thus, unlike “The Cabbage Fairy,” sometimes called the “first narrative film,” this movie has a clear beginning, a middle, and an end, and is more successful at presenting a narrative form of a fairy tale. Of course, by 1900, it was hardly alone in this sense, and it remains a relatively “simple” film by the standards of Méliès, with only a few special effects and tumbles to keep the audience’s attention.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Rajah’s Dream (1900)

Georges Méliès is on familiar ground with this fantasy tale of the nighttime adventures of an exotic aristocrat. I doubt if his viewers learned much about India from this movie, but they were no doubt entertained as he intended.

The movie begins on a standard proscenium set, decorated as the sleeping chamber of a Rajah. The Rajah himself (Méliès) sits upon an elaborate bed, he yawns and lies down, still wearing his sword and all of his clothing. A butterfly swoops into the room and disturbs his nap, fluttering about his head until he gets up and tries to catch it in a net. Failing this, he lies down again, but this time the bed and the entire room disappear, and he tumbles to the ground, finding himself in a wooded area next to a stone wall. He tries to sit on a bench, but it disappears and reappears across the stage. Each time he tries to sit on it, he falls down again. Then, as he tries to approach it a dead tree appears in his path. He tries to pull it up, but a devil’s head appears on it and it starts waving its limbs like arms. He pulls out his sword to challenge it and it turns into a man with devil horns, who grabs the sword and dances around to mock the Rajah. The Rajah tries to wrestle him, but he disappears in a puff of smoke. After recovering from this, the Rajah finds himself confronted by a woman in a robe. He falls to his knees and professes love, but the woman refuses him. She summons other women, similarly skimpily attired, and they do a dance that involves twirling and knocking the Rajah to the ground. The Rajah manages to get up and run away, but even more women join the chase and soon the screen is filled with faerie-like young girls. They form a circle around the Rajah and beat his head with sticks. He is led up a scaffold to be beheaded. He fights with the executioner, but suddenly finds himself in his room, beating on a pillow. He falls to the floor once again and looks around, realizing that the entire experience has been a dream.

This is a pretty standard Méliès short, with the main character plagued by things that appear and disappear at random, unable to gain control of his situation, and frequently leaping and tumbling for comic effect. Like all of them, it has lovely sets and costumes, and a sense of playfulness that keeps it fresh. What stands out a bit is the scene at the end with all of the women running around the stage. Méliès rarely had so many extras – I think there may be more people on the stage at one time here than we saw in the parade for “Joan of Arc!” He always had an eye for spectacle, and obviously in this case, he was willing to go to the effort to achieve his vision, even for a simple trick film.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Georges Méliès

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Man There Was (1917)

Victor Sjöström directs and stars in this Swedish melodrama of cruelty and the Sea, based on a poem by Henrik Ibsen. A major production in the history of Swedish film, it established standards that would influence the industry in coming years.

Sjöström plays a man named Terje Vigen (also the Swedish title of the movie). The film opens with him as an old hermit, whose eyes glaze over wildly whenever a storm is abroad. But he wasn’t always this way, and the movie quickly flashes back to his youth, when he was a sturdy sailor, known as a man who’s true home was the sea. We see him climb the mast of a large ship and unlash the mainsail. He returns home to his wife and gets his first glimpse of his newborn child, an event that profoundly moves him. The Intertitles inform us that he has ended his wild days and that his child is now the most important thing in his life. We see him turn down an offer to go drinking with a rowdy gang of his old friends, because he’d rather stay home and play with the baby. Then, in 1809, the Napoleonic Wars come to Sweden, and the English blockade the country. To feed his starving wife and child, he dares to take a skiff and try to smuggle food from Denmark, but his is caught on the way back by a crew from an English Man-O-War. The English captain ignores his tears for his child, scuttles the skiff, and sends Terje off to prison.

Terje spends five years in prison, mostly with Norwegian P.O.W.s, with whom he can’t even communicate. Finally, the war comes to an end and he is released. He returns home to fins strangers living in his house. They tell him that after the father “ran away,” the woman and child that used to live there died and were buried in the cemetery. He visits the grave in agony. Now, the movie has moved up to the period we saw at the beginning. Terje becomes a boat pilot and lives among others at the edge of the sea, but keeps away from people and becomes wild whenever there is a storm. During such a storm, he sees a yacht in trouble and braves the waters to go out and help. But, as he struggles to control it against the winds, he discovers that its master is the man who condemned him, and that now his wife and child are at his mercy. He lures them into a skiff, and prepares to sink it to have his revenge, but the sight of the innocent child stays his hand. He rows the damaged skiff to a reef and allows the other pilots to rescue the family. The next day, the family comes to thank him and he tells them it was the child that saved them.

Yep, this is a Swedish film.

Where “Ingebord Holm” surprised me, this was much more in line with what I expect from Swedish cinema – dark, brooding, and morally ambivalent, with lots of images of the coastline and men with beards. In short, it confirms my expectation that all Swedish movies must relate somehow to Ingmar Bergman, who was born the year after this was released. But, there are still some elements that remind me of D.W. Griffith. For one thing, Griffith also made a movie based on a poem about a sailor who loses his family (“The Unchanging Sea”). For another, this movie makes classically Griffithian use of cross-cutting, particularly in the scenes where Terje tries to run the blockade and is pursued. I found it relied rather heavily on Intertitles to move the plot forward. Sometimes a scene just seemed to be a short illustration between Intertitles, but this is partly a product of Sjöström’s decision to keep as close to the poem as possible, and to use it for the titles. Probably for fans of Ibsen, this would not be a drawback. Historically, I was struck with the thought that the Napoleonic Wars were about as distant for its audience as World War One is for us – just over a century. Sjöström makes use of this not-quite-mythic time to make a statement about humanity that people could easily relate to, and apparently had quite a success, because bigger-budget features became the standard in Sweden after this.

Director: Victor Sjöström

Camera: Julius Jaenzon

Starring: Victor Sjöström

Run Time: 52 Min

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