Adventures of William Tell (1898)
Alternate Title: Guillaume Tell et le clown
This short trick film from Georges Méliès is an early example of slapstick, incorporating elements of circus performances into a short comedy routine. Although slapstick had been done before on film, especially with Edison’s release of “Robetta and Doretto,” this is one of the most violent of Méliès’s early films.
The movie starts with a clown building a mannequin by placing a torso onto a pair of legs, then a head and finally a pair of arms. The clown and mannequin are on a small set with a medieval theme, and there is a stool with a crossbow leaning against it to the left of the screen. The clown takes a round object (possibly a head of lettuce) from the stool and places it on top of the mannequin’s head, then goes back to get his crossbow. Suddenly, the mannequin comes to life and hurls the lettuce at the clown from behind. The clown jumps up and runs over to the mannequin, which has become inanimate again, and pulls off an arm, inspecting it and placing it back onto the mannequin. When he turns around to pick up the crossbow, the mannequin again comes to life and smacks him. This time the clown takes off the mannequin’s head and kicks it then puts it back on the mannequin, which immediately comes to life and grabs the clown, throttling him and tossing him about (the clown is now an inanimate doll, while the mannequin is played by a person). After stomping on the husk of the clown, the mannequin-figure runs out a door. The clown gets back up and picks up his crossbow, with the film ending with him in mid-motion.
According to the Star Films catalog entry for this movie, we are missing some of the end. Supposedly, the clown shoots himself with the crossbow, which then explodes, “producing some very fine smoke effects.” This would add to the violence and supply a bit more resolution to the action. The main special effect Méliès uses here is substitution of living actors and mannequins. Otherwise, nothing appears or disappears by magic, nor are there any other effects, apart from the exploding gun we didn’t see. It still appears to me that Méliès is not managing to create very coherent narratives for his movies at this point – he is just filling the sixty seconds or so of run time with as much action as possible, as he did with “The Magician” and “The Famous Box Trick.”
Director: Georges Méliès
Starring: Unknown (possibly Georges Méliès).
Run Time: 1 Min
You can watch it for free: here.