Turn-of-the-Century Surgery (1900)
Alternate Title: Chirurgie fin de siècle
I discovered a handful of older movies by Alice Guy that I’d missed reviewing, and this is one of them. I hope to get through her by the end of the month and put some time into Edison before my “history of horror” kicks in in October. For this film, we have a very basic “trick film” that has a somewhat grisly sense of humor, but is more in the way of black comedy than horror.
Four men are in a small room. Two of them are in surgical whites, one is in a hospital gown, and the tallest among them is dressed sort of like a butcher. There is a sign on the wall that says “Please do not cry” in both French and English. The patient is lying on top of a table and a large cone is held over his face while he struggles. Suddenly, he stops struggling (apparently the cone applied Ether somehow) and the tall man begins cutting off his limbs. Of course, the real actor has been replaced with a doll in a stop trick shot. The butcher uses a variety of nasty-looking cutting implements and eventually removes an arm and a leg. These are placed into a bucket and taken away. The butcher/surgeon leaves and the two doctors discuss the case. One of them goes outside and brings in a large barrel marked “Exchanging Pieces” and pulls out a doll’s arm and leg (possibly the very ones that were just removed). They apply glue to the ends and stick them back on the doll, which they now sit in a chair and blow air onto with small bellows. The patient wakes up, suddenly human again, and begins dancing about, waving his new limbs.
I liked this movie pretty well – once again Guy shows her competence with special effects without overdoing it. The props (the cone, the knives, the doll-patient, and a cardboard bell, for example) in this movie are completely unconvincing, but I think that adds to the unreality of the staged experience and doesn’t detract from the comedy. It’s very interesting that the English-language market was already important enough to justify bi-lingual signs on the set. I think “exchanging pieces” would have been better translated as “replacement parts,” but that also adds a little to the comedy. Most of the run time is spent with the patient getting hacked up, which I imagine would fascinate children the way gross things usually do, and perhaps annoy their parents.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown (possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville)
Run Time: 2 Min, 15 secs
You can watch it for free: here.