Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: May, 2019

Max Takes Tonics (1911)

Alternate Title: Max, victime du quinquina

This short from Max Linder is basically an extended “funny drunk” routine and may have influenced later work by Charlie Chaplin, that use similar themes. Linder is able to go farther in some respects, and makes more use of class as a theme, perhaps because of the cultural differences between France and the US.

The movie begins with Max visiting a doctor’s office. The entire appointment is in medium shot, with the doctor behind his desk and Max seated before it. He tells the doctor that he’s been tired lately, and the doctor looks at his tongue before telling him it’s nothing serious, but he’ll prescribe a tonic that should help. He is to take it each morning. The next scene shows Max seated at a table with the tonic, which is labeled “Bordeaux of Cinchona.” His wife brings out a very large glass, which is labeled “Souvenir de Bordeaux” and he concludes that this is the correct dosage of the tonic he is meant to take. He pours out almost the whole bottle into the glass and drinks it with a straw. Thus fortified, he goes out on the town.

His first encounter is with another man in a top hat, who is trying to get into a cab. Max keeps trying to get in from the other side, and each time the two see one another, they walk around the back of the cab and argue briefly, seeming to come to some agreement, and then both walk back around to their respective doors and try to get in. Finally, the cab drives away, without either one on board. Rather than coming to blows, the two exchange cards. This first fellow, we learn, is the Minister of War. Next, Max goes to a nightclub and tries to get a young lady interested in him. Unfortunately, there is a grouchy older man at the next table, and Max keeps accidentally hitting him, or forgetting which table has the young lady at it. Finally, when the young lady’s real date shows up, he pushes Max into the angry customer, who gives Max his card. He is the ambassador of Styria. Max also exchanges cards with the date, challenging him to a duel for hitting him, and this man is the commissioner of police.

Drunk Max heads out on the street and has an encounter with a lamp post, with the result that he tries to put his jacket on while leaning against it, so that the back of the jacket is wrapped around the pole and he can’t move. A police officer, seeing a drunk, comes over to arrest him, and when he asks for identification, Max gives him the one of the cards he has received. The policeman immediately salutes and carries him to the address indicated. It is the address of the Minister of War, who is enjoying a late dinner. When he hears someone enter his apartment, he hides under the table. Max sits down and finishes his dinner, but then the minister leaps up and throws him out of the house, rolling him down the stairs and to the feet of a second policeman. Again, Max gives the wrong card and is taken to another posh apartment. Here, his over-consumption of alcohol (and perhaps the Minister’s dinner) catches up to him and he pantomimes an urgent need to vomit. He picks up a top hat and vomits into it just before the Ambassador comes out to investigate. The Ambassador, assuming that he is now ready to initiate the duel, gives Max the choice of swords of pistols, and then puts on his hat. He is so outraged at the result that he forgets the duel and throws Max out the window, where he crashes into a third policeman. This man now carries him to another apartment (although the same staircase is used as for the last one), where the exhausted Max takes off his jacket and tumbles into bed. Unfortunately, he is now sleeping next to the wife of the commissioner of police, who is sneaking in late after his date, only to find his wife in bed with another man. He also throws Max out, only to have him quickly returned by the same policeman. Finally, when he also hurls Max out of his window, Max crashes into a convocation of the three police officers, who are sharing a smoke and talking about the prominent drunks they’ve run into tonight. Each of them recognizes Max and they compare the cards he has given them, finally recognizing him for an impostor. The movie ends with the three of them beating Max up.

Charlie Chaplin famously referred to Max Linder as “the Professor” at a time when Linder’s star was in decline and the two of them became friends during Linder’s brief career in Hollywood. I’ve always felt that a bit too much is read into that – Chaplin didn’t know Linder before he started acting, and it’s not clear how familiar he was with his work. The compliment appears to have been written to help a friend through a difficult time, not to prove who was the better comedian. Still, this movie definitely has many elements of Chaplin’s work in it. It’s hard to know how much of it comes before his top-hatted drunk routines on stage with Karno, but in particular the sequence with the lamp post was familiar, and a lot of what Linder does here we’ve seen Charlie do in movies like “One A.M.” and “A Night in the Show.” On the other hand, and despite critics talking about “vulgarity” in Chaplin movies, it’s impossible to imagine Charlie using vomit in such an explicit way! And, of course, all of the business about calling cards and duels is pure European upper-class culture, with no place in an American film. Even the fact that all of these powerful people live in Paris apartments is a bit foreign.

By the standards of 1911, this is a somewhat long comedy, and Linder is at the focus of all of the humor. He has to appear drunk enough to be helpless in many situations, and yet also to be in complete control in reality. Physically, he had probably managed better work in “Max Learns to Skate” and other films with similar themes, but he definitely handles drunk well here. Most of the scenes are shot from a single camera angle, although the choice to shoot the cab-dispute from the rear of the cab was a very effective way to show the confusion over who was getting in first. For some of the violence, Max is replaced with a dummy that is tossed around, something we’ve seen in Méliès and other French movies.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Maurice Delamare, Gabrielle Lange, Lucy d’Orbel,

Run Time: 17 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

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Fireman Save My Child (1919)

This animated short stars “Mutt and Jeff,” themselves stars of a long-running newspaper comic strip. The movie emphasizes slapstick and low-brow comedy of various kinds.

The movie begins with a very primitive image of the front of a fire station. Mutt and Jeff walk out to the front and Mutt sees smoke billowing out from a neighboring tree. On the logic of “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” he and Jeff spray the tree with a fire hose, putting out the cigarette of a policeman who’s standing there and drenching him as well. Jeff runs away, climbing the fire pole and putting his hat on one bed, rumpling the covers to make it appear he’s there, then hiding under another one. The cop comes into the station and hits Mutt with his billy club. Mutt grabs a fire ax and goes looking for Jeff. He finds the hat and gets ready to swing, but suddenly five other firemen jump out of the bed and confront him. Further problems are prevented when a real fire bell goes off and everyone piles into the fire truck in a comedy sequence. They get to a tall building that’s on fire and a lady is yelling “save my darling!” Jeff uses the hose to squirt Jeff up to the top of the neighboring building and helps one young woman escape, but she’s not the right one, so he goes in to the burning house, where he’s attacked by a vicious dog. Eventually he makes an escape, getting ready to leap onto the firemen’s life net, but at that moment a pretty girl is climbing down the fire escape and all the firemen go to look up her skirt. Jeff crashes through the pavement. He and Mutt go to talk to the screaming woman and it turns out that her “darling” is the dog. They pass out on the street.

There’s not much to this, besides constant cartoon violence. The backgrounds remain simple and un-detailed, and most of the animation is repetitive. There is a quick close-up on Mutt as he hides under the bed, which shows more detail than most of the images. The other interesting bit is how various characters, including Mutt and the policeman, are able to “ride” the water coming out of the fire hose. It’s not an entirely reliable mode of conveyance, but it does allow some impossible things to happen. Mutt and Jeff were one of the first comic “strips,” in the sense of being several linked panels, and ran for many years. Many kids, like me, who never actually saw Mutt and Jeff heard about it from our parents: they were American comic icons to which modern cartoons and comics were always compared. This series of animated shorts was produced from 1916 until 1927 and consisted of over 300 movies.

Director: Bud Fisher

Camera: Unknown

Run Time: 6 Min

I have been unable to find this available for free viewing. If you do, please comment.

Max Fears the Dogs (1912)

This short shows Max Linder at the mercy of elements beyond his control. It pushes its comedic premise past the point of reality to a ridiculous degree, that still works in a slapstick context.

The film begins with a young woman sitting on a bench with a dog, two more dogs arrayed at her feet. Max Linder approaches from behind, and tickles her with a flower, gaining her attention. She is receptive, but he seems afraid to come any closer with the dogs present. A liveried servant comes and puts a leash on the dog sitting on the bench, then leads the others off screen, and Max finally sits next to the young woman. Then the camera cuts to a dog house with a firm gate on the front, and we see the servant locking the dogs in, under Max’s supervision (even though he was supposedly sitting next to the girl). The next shot shows the entrance to a ball room, with couples coming in to a formal occasion and being announced as they enter. The dogs now break out of their kennel and run into the house. Max sees them coming and flees in terror, the dogs in fast pursuit. He uses a piece of lumber to pole vault over a fence, but the dogs easily follow. He runs into an apartment building and tries to move a piece of furniture in front of the stairs to impede them, but again they simply leap over it. He runs through an apartment, over a man who is in bed sleeping, and up a chimney, and still the dogs relentlessly pursue. Finally, trapped on a rooftop, Max takes out a pen and paper and writes a note, which he gives to the lead dog. It reads “Don’t bite. I have rabies.” Luckily the dogs can read and the pursuit ends, although Max’s clothing and face are thoroughly soiled with soot from his ascent.

I found a couple of different versions of this movie, but still have the feeling that something is missing from all of them. The continuity error of Max sitting down with the girl and then suddenly being with the servant, as well as the sudden jump to the beginning of the party, leave me feeling that what we have today may be an incomplete print of a longer film. Still, in the tradition of the comedic chase, which was done at many studios for many years, this is a decent little example, and it ends with a funny twist on reality when Max writes his note. My only complaint is that we get fairly little of Linder being Linder, none of the little mannerisms that make his character so memorable, just a high-speed chase in long shot, which is nothing new by 1912.

Director: Unknown

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max LInder

Run Time: 3 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music, excellent print)

Max and the Lady Doctor (1914)

This short from Max Linder presents his typical character with an unexpected gender reversal, far from typical in the early twentieth century. Looked at today, Max’s responses to the situation make us think about what the average woman endured at a time when all professionals were (perceived to be) men.

We see Max in a stairwell, with a letter he has written to an attractive neighbor, requesting a rendezvous. She ignores him as she walks by, but then he has a bright idea to get in legitimately – he will ask for an appointment. He preens himself a bit before ringing the bell, as usual showing the audience his anticipation of pleasure-to-come with gestures and expressions. Max walks into a nicely-appointed apartment and is greeted by a servant, who for some reason does not take his hat and coat, but merely directs him to wait. After a moment, the woman emerges from another room and invites him in. This room also looks like the typical Linder interior set, except that there is a tray, evidently with some medical implements in the center of the room. Max takes some time figuring out where he wants to stash his hat and coat, and eventually sits down to explain his ailment to the woman, who asks him to stand up again. She tries touching him in a couple of places, each time Max gestures negatively – no, that’s not where it hurts. Eventually, she tries touching him in the stomach, around where the kidneys are, but this makes him flinch. At first I thought he was in pain, but as she tries a couple more times, it becomes obvious that he’s ticklish there. Eventually, by closing his eyes, he is able to endure her touch. She writes him a prescription and he leaves.

In the next scene, Max comes rushing back into the doctor’s office. He gets down on his knee and produces a ring. She looks thrilled, and accepts it. In the next scenes, the doctor wears a bridal gown. She very chastely accepts a kiss, but will not let him remove her veil. The servant now rushes in with a note telling her of an urgent case and she runs out, still in her bridal gown and veil. We see a scene in which she assists a woman with giving a man a foot-bath. Then she returns to Max, who manages to get her veil off before the next emergency is announced. Each time, Max shows his rage at these interruptions. This time, she is called on a poisoning case, and apparently wants to induce vomiting (we see a basin, but nothing truly vulgar happens on screen). This time, when she returns and the servant walks in, Max chases him out, tossing a pillow after him. He and the lady doctor laugh.

Next, we see the waiting room, which is filled with men. The doctor comes out to call in the next patient, and we see him showing her how bad his cough is. Now Max comes in to the waiting room carrying a baby, and looks around suspiciously. He looks into the office and sees his wife encircling the man’s chest with her arms (not really an embrace – sort of like a Heimlich Manuever, but with her ear against his back). He puts down the baby and flies into a rage, running into the room and ejecting the man, then proceeding to bully and abuse all the other men into leaving. The final shot shows Max and the doctor in their bedroom, the doctor is rocking the baby, and Max contendedly smokes a cigarette.

This is a rather odd story – ultimately what I’d call “a long walk for a short laugh.” Max evidently goes to the lady doctor in the first place as a form of courtship, and is punished at the end by the fact that other men are doing the same. His resolution is to deprive her of her career and turn her into a housewife. Ultimately the movie appears to condone sexism, but it certainly also highlights it in a number of ways. When it shows Max’s discomfort with partial disrobing and being touched by the lady doctor, it calls our attention to the fact that women going to the doctor at this time had to accept the touch and gaze of a man in order to get treated. Since Max is able to overcome his ticklishness by closing his eyes, it appears that he might not have so much difficulty with a male doctor, and that also raises questions about how we respond to gender. And, to begin with, Max is not really treating her as a professional, but rather as an object of desire, highlighting the harassment that working women receive and the difficulty they have being accepted in positions of authority, no matter their qualifications. I wouldn’t call this Linder’s funniest film, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Lucy d’Orbel

Run Time: 12 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max’s Hat (1913)

This is a Max Linder short with a familiar structure of anticipation leading to ruin. Max has been invited to visit a nice home and must dress formally, but each hat he attempts to wear for the occasion gets destroyed.

The movie begins with Max opening a letter and giving his usual indications of happiness and excitement. But, a finicky note creeps in as Max prepares to go out – he seems to be detecting bits of dust or hair on everything, and he won’t go out until he is perfect. He nearly topples a vase from a tall pedestal, so busy is he checking and re-checking himself in the mirror as he goes out the door. On the street, he walks past a workman carrying a door. The man stops to light a cigarette, clumsily letting the door topple down on Max! He is unhurt, but his fancy top hat has been crushed. He goes to a local hatter and purchases a replacement, after trying on first a hat that is too large and then one that is too small. This time, he only makes it a short distance before a cat leaps down from a nearby balcony, not just crushing the hat but leaping right through it so Max can put his arm through it. He returns to the hatter and buys a second replacement. The hatter, perhaps jokingly, offers to let him keep his two ruined top hats. Now he hails a taxi, only to have the hat knocked off as the driver pulls up. Once again, he buys a new hat, and once again the hatter offers him his old ones back. This time, however, he leaves the hat in its box until he arrives at his destination – the only way to be sure it will survive. He refuses to let the servant take it, but then he is unable to find a good place to put it while he waits for his host, so he puts it on the floor. Then the family dog walks up and lifts its leg…And just as Max I dealing with that catastrophe, in comes the family he is visiting. The old gentleman thinks the hat is for him, and puts it on…Suffice to say that Max is given to understand that he won’t be welcome at this house again.

I was pretty surprised by the “vulgar” humor of the dog piddling in the hat at the end, but it certainly raised the stakes on this very simple little short. The version I watched lacked intertitles, so we didn’t know who he was going to visit, but one version in French says he is visiting future in-laws (the usual wealthy parents of a girl Max hopes to marry), and that works well with the story. But, we don’t really need to know. All we know is that it is an important social occasion and Max wants to look his best, but events conspire to keep that from happening. Linder adds a lot of little bits of business that keep the audience engaged through this relatively redundant set of situations. First, there is his excessive fastidiousness at the mirror. Then, when he speaks to the hatter, he keeps miming out the incidents that have caused the wreck of his hats. He shows us that he won’t put his hat on the end table at the house by wiping it with his finger and showing himself rubbing up bits of dust. It’s little actions like these that give his character so much interest, even in very simple storylines.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 8 Min, 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here (incomplete, no music, best I could find on the Internet).

Bobby Bumps Starts for School (1917)

This short piece of animation is very similar to “Buster Brown” comics and movies, as well as other early twentieth-century American depictions of “rascally” children. It shows the first day at school of a known troublemaker.

As the movie opens, Bobby is in his bathroom, getting thoroughly scrubbed by his mother. He says “Wow!” repeatedly, as shown in a speech balloon. When she’s done washing his face, he staggers about the room blindly, yelling “Towel!” until Fido, his dog, passes the towel on the chair to him. Fido makes the mistake of laughing, however, which results in Bobby scrubbing his face until he starts running around looking for the towel too. Now the cat comes in and laughs and the dog scrubs his face until the cat punches him, giving him a black eye. Bobby lugs enormous school books down the street, and then is shown sitting at his desk working on a writing project. He gets distracted by daydreaming about playing baseball with Fido, but then the teacher asks him to turn in his work. We see that he has written “Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin he helped his father to build.” (Pretty good grammar for a little kid, whatever the logic of the sentence!)

The next sequence takes place during recess, which is set up with a large shot of all the kids playing and fighting in the school yard. A lot of them look just like Bobby, except for some African American caricatures. Bobby sneaks up to the belfry and climbs into the large school bell. When the teacher goes to pull the rope for the bell, no sound comes out. We see that this is because Bobby, briefly joined by Fido, is riding the clapper and presumably muffling the ringing. The teacher comes up to investigate and he sees Bobby just as Bobby and Fido leap out the window and climb down to a waiting mule. The teacher foolishly climbs out on the roof and is kicked by the mule when he falls, flying back up to the belfry and crashing through it on his way down the other side. He is shown beneath the broken bell, his legs flailing and kicking at the sides. This alerts the children in the schoolyard that recess is over. We see the school kids crowded around a sign informing them that the school will be closed until the belfry can be repaired. They all smile in joy. Bobby goes to visit his teacher at the hospital, where a doctor can only hear a ringing noise through his stethoscope.

This movie confirms that casual violence has always been a part of American animation targeting children – and it has always probably been popular with that age group as well. The redundant “towel” sequence seemed to fill up a lot of space, but the “punch line” (ahem), with Fido getting a ring around his eye was cute. It seems like animators at this time relied on being able to repeat actions in order to save time on drawing new images. A lot of the movement we see in this is repeated at least twice, though that also probably makes it easier for very small children to follow the story.

Director: Earl Hurd

Camera: Unknown

Run Time: 5 Min

You can watch it for free here (no music) or here (with music).

His First Cigar (1908)

Max Linder stars in this short from Pathé. As you might guess from the title, it depicts a man whose first time smoking doesn’t quite turn out as planned.

We see Max at a table in a well-appointed dining room, sitting with an older gentleman (his father, presumably). The old man suddenly gets up and leaves, leaving Max alone with his cigar box. Max jumps up and stuffs his pockets full of them, showing his delight at anticipating enjoying this illicit pleasure. A woman comes in (his mother, we assume), but does not suspect anything as Max prepares to go out for the day. He walks to a sidewalk café and sits down, ordering a drink from the waiter and flirting a bit with a woman from the next table. He gets out one of his cigars and lights it. The shot changes to a close-up as we watch Max smoking, drinking, and flirting. Things are fine at first, but gradually he begins to make faces suggesting nausea. Max throws the cigar down. The shot cuts back to long as he staggers off, to the amusement of the waiter and the people at the next table. He makes his way back home, but at first he can’t get in because he tries to use a cigar instead of a key, and then his hands re shaky so it’s hard to fit the key. He accidentally enters the wrong house and is kicked out by a man in his nightclothes wielding a gun. Then he makes it home, but his mother, disturbed that he is pulling down various decorations he tries to hang on to, tries to comfort him with a drink, which only makes him look sicker.

With this film, we return to the now-familiar pattern of Max anticipating a pleasure, only to be disappointed by the reality and ultimately be ruined by it. In this case, he’s also being punished for stealing from his parents, and perhaps for trying to put one over on the girl he flirts with. Given the simple plotline, I was a bit surprised at the number of set-ups used to tell the story, and especially with the use of close-up to show the transformation in Max’s mood. Other Linders from this period that we’ve seen have saved the close-up for the denouement. It was a good choice, however, because we needed to see how he went from happy and relaxed to nauseous and stumbling. The fact that much of the humor relies on a lengthy insert-shot of Max’s hand trying to fit a cigar then a key into a keyhole is more questionable, but different. It was also a little surprising to see Max portraying a man so young (the French title, “Le premier cigare d’un collegian,” suggests he is home from college). Linder was 25 at the time this film was made, and though he always shows youthful exuberance in his film, he doesn’t really come across as an adolescent. Still, twenty-somethings playing teenagers in cinema would remain a standard for most of the twentieth century, so it can’t be called out as a peculiarity of the time.

Director: Louis J. Garnier

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 5 Min, 7 secs

You can watch it for free: here.