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
Run Time: 17 Min
You can watch it for free: here.