The Drunken Mattress (1906)
Alternate Title: Le matelas épileptique
There’s something about the comedies Alice Guy was putting out at this period; they manage to be silly in an almost-surreal manner without being so bizarre as to be incomprehensible. As soon as I saw the title of this one, I knew I was in for an interesting ride.
This movie begins with a husband and wife on spring cleaning day. The wife notices a tear in the mattress and calls the concierge over, she looks at it and they discuss what to do. Finally, she has the maid take it away to be repaired. In the next scene, the maid is in a park, with the mattress set up flat on a table so she can work on it. She is preparing her needle and thread when she suddenly gets an inspiration. She goes into a local pub for a drink. During the whole time of the “preparing to repair” sequence, there is a man in the far background, approaching the camera slowly, occasionally stumbling, like a Zombie from “Night of the Living Dead.” After the maid leaves, the camera watches his approach, and he comes into closer view. He is a drunk, stumbling home after a long debauch. When he sees the mattress, he decides to climb in and get a few winks. He gets in via the tear, and pulls the mattress like a sheet over his head to block out the sun. The maid, now a little tipsy herself, comes back to her work and efficiently sews the mattress shut.
The rest of the movie concerns the maid’s efforts to get the mattress back to its home. It’s much heavier now, and she keeps dropping it. It also occasionally attempts to evade her efforts to pick it up, or suddenly sits upright, or otherwise acts very unlike a mattress. At one point, she drops it off a pedestrian bridge into a street, and it gets run over by a car and caught in its wheels. At another, the woman and the mattress fall into a freshly-dug hole. It looks like it would be filthy, as well as having many new rips, by the time she gets it back (why did she take it so far away to repair it in the first place?). She does finally manage, however, and the couple, who have been waiting impatiently for her return (they’re already in their bedclothes when she finally arrives), pay her reluctantly and climb into bed. The mattress leaps up and they spring out of bed. The man grabs a chair, apparently planning to beat the mattress to death. The wife convinces him to throw it out the window instead. Of course, it clobbers the maid and the concierge, who finally rips the mattress open and frees the drunk. A fight breaks out, involving both of them, the maid, the couple who have run downstairs in their nightclothes, and a random policeman. Chaos reigns as the movie ends.
I was half-expecting something along the lines of “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.” This movie is less original and surreal than that, but actually a lot funnier, at least to me. Of course, for many of the stunt shots, there is no one in the mattress, and it is easy for Guy to edit between these and the shots where she needs someone to sit up or otherwise move within it. It seems to me she did a better job of that than with the hobo in a barrel in “A Story Well-Spun.” There are a more opportunities for cutaways here, and the pacing works better as well. At any moment, we know something can happen with that mattress, but it’s harder to predict just what it will be (I haven’t given away much above). It just keeps getting sillier. The whole premise is ridiculous, of course – the maid would notice a man in the mattress and the man would speak or give himself away, and probably could get out very easily – but it’s a great conceit for comedy, and reminds me of the ridiculous situations in “Monty Python.” This might be my favorite of the Alice Guy movies I’ve seen so far.
Director: Alice Guy
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 10 Min
You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).