On the Barricade (1907)
Alternate Title: Sur le barricade
This is the last narrative short I have from the collection of Alice Guy movies I’ve been reviewing since March. While most of them have been comedies (the ones with any story at all, that is), this is at least an attempt at a more dramatic, even action-packed movie, with a sentimental ending.
A young man and his aging mother are eating a meal in a house whose door allows a view into the street. We can see uniformed men rushing by with guns, but the pair continue to eat. An intertitle reminds us that “Even during the revolution, it was necessary to provide for the household.” The young man gets up and takes an empty milk bottle. His mother urges him not to go out, she fears for what will happen if he gets caught in the fighting, but he insists. He goes out and we cut to a shot of some people building a makeshift barricade in the street, using parts of a wagon, bricks, baskets, and barrels. The young man approaches from behind the barricade, and the revolutionaries try to shoo him off, warning that the army is approaching from the other direction, but he says he needs to get milk for his mother (another intertitle), and they let him pass rather than argue further. The barricade keeps going up after he goes through.
Now we see a corner further along, with a large factory in the background. The boy runs up to the corner, and peers around as another group of revolutionaries retreats, forced back by the advancing troops. We see three of them get shot before the others retreat, the boy running along with them. They run down an alley, but the army pursues, and soon we are back at the barricade. The army is shooting down the revolutionaries, and the boy picks up one of their guns, but the soldiers quickly leap the ramshackle affair and take the survivors prisoner. At the officer’s command, hasty firing squad is set up, but the boy pleads to be able to take the milk to his mother, and gives his word to return. The officer grants him permission, and the boy runs off. We see his mother, pacing and fretting at his absence, and then he runs in with the milk. He puts the milk on the counter and hugs his mother, but then he insists he has to go. He goes back out the door and she follows. Meanwhile, the firing squad are finishing off some other captives, and the boy runs up just after one is shot. The officer seems surprised at the boy’s return, but doesn’t hesitate to order his men to take aim. Then the mother runs in front of the guns, and the soldiers refuse to fire at an old woman. She pleads with the officer and even he seems moved, ordering the men to volte-face and sending the boy and woman away free.
There’s a continuity problem with this movie, in that the boy, coming from his mother’s house, first approaches the barricade from behind, but when he returns to the firing squad, he and his mother approach from the other direction (they exit back in the original direction, walking towards the camera). This doesn’t really make sense, unless he’s running around the block for some reason before coming back, but I don’t know how sensitive a 1907 audience would be to this detail. It would depend largely on how careful theatrical productions were to match exits with entrances. Of all the French movies I’ve seen from this period, this is the first to be set during the revolution of 1789, perhaps the most important event in European history to this time. From that point of view, it’s interesting to think about how Guy went about selecting locations in Paris that would look enough like they did 100+ years earlier to work for the audience – although I’m not certain that the factory with the name painted on the side was likely in 1789. This movie avoids dealing with political questions or the international implications in favor of a small, human story that reminds me of the sort of war movies D.W. Griffith made during his time at Biograph. It’s a bit hard to imagine anyone returning to a firing squad after being allowed to leave unguarded, but this is presumably meant to heighten our sense that the boy is honorable and good, and thus make us identify with him. For me, it doesn’t necessarily work as well as the bizarre comedies where inanimate objects come to life and so forth, but it is an interesting piece.
Director: Alice Guy, possibly with help from Louis Feuillade
Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville
Run Time: 4 Min, 30 secs
You can watch it for free: here.