The Cleaning Man (1907)
Alternate Title: Le frotteur
This is another of Alice Guy’s late-period comedies with Gaumont, or at least it is according to the Kino/Gaumont release of Gaumont films, although again there are online sources that attribute it to Louis Feuillade. I’m inclined to think that these movies may have been collaborations, as Feuillade was coming up the ladder at Gaumont and Guy was soon to leave.
Like, “The Fur Hat,” this movie also begins on an interior stage set with obviously fake props, in this case it appears to be the living room of a middle-class apartment, with a desk in the center of the room. A man is working at the desk when another man, in somewhat frayed clothing, comes in and offers to do the floor cleaning for him. The homeowner agrees, and he and the maid leave the room. As soon as they are gone, we see that the cleaning man has a very serious commitment to his job, and a very casual attitude toward the possessions of his clients. He hurls the desk and chair aside, oblivious to the damage they may suffer. He scrubs madly at the floor, knocking over a flower vase and other furniture, and whenever they get in his way, he tosses them aside as well. Soon, we cut from this scene to the dining room of another apartment, where a man and his wife appear to be enjoying breakfast. They seem to notice a commotion from above, and then their ceiling lamp begins to shake and bits of plaster start raining down on them. They run to the window and yell, and a policeman comes in their door quite soon afterward. At this point the lamp has crashed down and a good deal of plaster is strewn about the room. They all exit with the apparent intention of investigating upstairs.
We now cut back to the cleaning man, who is dancing about madly on the floor, continuing his work. The maid comes in and expresses amazement at how clean the floor looks, but as soon as she steps on it, she slides out of control. The cleaning man is unable to keep from slipping as well, and soon the room is filled with tumbling bodies as the owner, the police, and the downstairs neighbors arrive. Suddenly the floor, either because of the number of people or because it has been weakened by the thorough cleaning, gives way and everyone slides until they fall through the hole, crash through the floor of the ruined apartment downstairs, and finally tumble onto a man sleeping in a bed on the ground floor. The policeman arrests the cleaning man, who manages to cause further damage to the sleeping man’s furniture on his way out the door.
Although what we see is really a pretty simple edited sequence between three stationary long-shots, this movie works largely due to the manic performance of the actor in the title role. This is an example of how, even at this stage, proper casting could make a huge difference to a movie’s success, and why the star system began its rise shortly thereafter. The cleaning man’s lanky frame adds to the effect of his gesticulations and bizarre dance-like movements, and you can almost believe that he has scrubbed the floor so smooth that it has become frictionless (and undermined) at the end of his performance. His callousness toward his client’s possessions is also very funny. It’s interesting to note that this movie came out at a time when hygiene and cleanliness were becoming associated with middle class existence, and that brought with it a certain austerity in terms of furniture and decorative knick knacks, now seen as “dust collectors.” This movie touches on that, as well as the common wisdom that “you are most likely to slip and hurt yourself when the floors have just been cleaned.”
Director: Alice Guy, possibly with assistance from Louis Feuillade
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 3 Min, 40 secs
You can watch it for free: here.