The Cook’s Revenge (1900)
This short trick film from Georges Méliès is another example of the use of violence for humorous effect that was so common in his work. While much simpler than the longer story pieces he was making around the same time, like “Blue Beard” and “Cinderella,” it still shows considerable effects wizardry in its brief running time.
As the film opens, a cook is harassing a maid in the kitchen, causing her to drop a stack of dishes. The cook hears someone coming and hides in a cupboard. A man runs in who looks like a butler or headwaiter to me, although the Star Films catalog identifies him as either “the manager” or “the proprietor,” suggesting this may be the kitchen of a restaurant. He chastises the maid for her clumsiness in breaking the dishes, and she exits. Then the manager sees the cook sticking his head out of the cupboard, and runs over to it, pushing it closed in the process. The cook’s head is thus severed and drops to the floor. The manager picks it up and puts it on a table, where it comes to life and moves and speaks. This alarms the manager further, and he picks it up and throws it back into the cupboard. Now the cook emerges, whole, and grabs the manager, knocking his head to the floor. Then he picks up the manager’s headless body and flails it around, taking control over the situation as the movie abruptly ends.
I think both of the male characters in this movie are played by Méliès, but even if they aren’t, the multiple-exposures necessary for the effects would have been pretty demanding in-camera. He has to switch between the living characters to mannequins (or mannequin heads) or back three times in less than sixty seconds. If they are both played by him, he also had to deal with re-shooting the scene in order to get both images of himself to interact. Of course, he had done all of this before, for example in “The Adventures of William Tell” and even more impressively in “The Four Troublesome Heads.” These movies have generally been set in the world of fantasy, or at least clearly marked as performances of stage magic, but here we begin in a seemingly ordinary situation that rapidly becomes fantastic. It’s a slight but amusing piece of his work that hold up well today.
Director: Georges Méliès
Starring: Georges Méliès
Run Time: 57 secs
You can watch it for free: here.