A Four-Year-Old Hero (1907)
Alternate Title: Une heroine de quatre ans
Another apparent collaboration between Alice Guy and Louis Feuillade, this short takes us out into location shooting on the streets (and parks) of Paris. The story is light and domestic in nature, and some use of cross-cutting is made to heighten tension.
The opening shows a typical stage set designed as a room in a middle-class family’s home. The father sits at a large desk in the center of the room and writes on papers, while over to one side we see the mother and a small girl. The nanny enters from a door behind the mother, and she gets up and helps the daughter into her coat. The nanny takes the child’s hand and leads her out the door. An Intertitle now comes up to tell us they are “on their way to Buttes-Chaumont Park.” Now we see our first exterior shot, a fairly tight shot of a doorway through which the nanny and daughter leave. They leave that shot on the right, and a nicely matched over-the-shoulder shot cuts in to give us the impression that they have simply walked across the street to the park. In the establishing shot of the park we see several other “characters,” who I suspect are not extras but just people who happened to be in the park that day. The next shot is tight on a bench and the path in front of it, and the nanny stops here to rest, quickly dropping off to sleep while the child takes out her jump rope and begins to play. Soon, she is jumping down the path away from the negligent nanny.
The child merrily hops her way through the park and another Intertitle appears, with the word “Apaches.” Now we see two rough-looking men beating up a third man near a gate. The girl enters through the gate and, thinking quickly, ties her jump rope to the gate at ankle-height, so that when the ruffians try to get away, they trip and fall into the bushes. Rather than wait for that to happen, the child runs off. After we see the expected trip-and-fall, we cut to a shot of the little girl running to a policeman for help. He gets to the scene in time to arrest the muggers, and also returns the jump rope to the girl, who skips away. The next intertitle introduces a “poor blind man,” who is walking near a canal. He tries to cross on a bridge, which is not fully extended. The print is damaged here, so it’s hard to see, but I think the child manages to extend the bridge so that the man does not fall into the canal. Next comes “drunkards in danger.” Here, the girl closes a gate in front of a trio of stumbling men before they manage to walk in front of a train. After the train passes, we see them strewn across the gate, snoozing happily. Now the little girl realizes she is lost, and approaches a policeman, who takes her into the station. At this point the nanny wakes up and realizes her charge is gone. Her search for the child is cross-cut with her interactions with the police, and their making phone calls to find her home. Finally, when she reports her error to the parents, the phone on the father’s desk rings. He picks it up and speaks to the police, who have his daughter. A policeman takes her home and she scolds the nanny, pulling her by the ear.
This domestic comedy never becomes terribly tense, because we always know the little girl is all right, but its focus instead is on transmitting the idea that the little girl is “wiser” than all of the adults around her. There is, however, some good editing and camerawork, and we happily escape from those phony-looking sets for much of the picture. The use of Intertitles is interesting, but a bit odd. There haven’t been very many in the Guy movies I’ve seen up to now (although that could be because they’ve been lost, which happens a lot with titled prints), and it seems to me that several of these are superfluous. I suppose they may have wanted to identify Paris’s famous park, but was it really necessary to tell us the muggers were “Apaches” or that a man walking with a cane was a “poor blind man?” To me, these titles seem to interrupt the action more than inform it. As with yesterday’s “The Cleaning Man,” the story here focuses on the actions of a single character (the little girl), and her performance could make or break the picture. She comes across as sweetly precocious, but never annoying, which is quite a trick under the circumstances. No doubt the lack of sound actually helps here, because she doesn’t have to remember lines, just act like a child, which was obviously no problem. If she was really 4, she’d by 113 years old today!
Director: Alice Guy (possibly with help from Louis Feuillade)
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 5 Min, 20 secs
You can watch it for free: here.
What a beautiful park this is! And that heroic little girl is adorable.
Also, I love the telephones from this period.
I see what you mean about the intertitles being rather self-evident, but I didn’t mind them. They helped give me a sense of time passing and introducing a new location.
Yes, particularly the phone on the father’s desk, where he seems to pull off a pair of earbuds to talk. I wonder if the intertitles were an “innovation” that Feuillade introduced, and if he was still getting the feel of how to use them. I didn’t really mind them, either, I was just wondering what they were doing there, after so many movies without them.