Max and His Dog (1912)
This short movie from Max Linder shows him in a close relationship with an animal, and less successfully with a human. It seems to have been a fairly cheap production, compared with some of the ones I’ve reviewed recently, but it has an interesting structure.
An intertitle tells us that Hanni (Jane Renouart) has two suitors, but can’t make up her mind, and a scene (the longest of the movie) establishes this by showing her standing between Max Linder and another man (Henri Bosc). Each one tries to woo her, but each time he seems to be making progress, the other interrupts. Finally, she hits upon the expedient of having the draw straws. Max wins, and another intertitle tells us that they are married, but soon she has second thoughts. We see Max discover her writing a love note, but she claims it is for him. His suspicions are aroused, however, so he calls in his dog, “Dick.” The dog seems to want to follow Max, but Max finally persuades it to stay on guard. When Henri comes in and goes into the bedroom with Jane, Dick springs into action. He goes over to the phone and pulls it off the hook with his teeth, then barks into the receiver. We see Max, at his office, pick up the phone and appear surprised, and Max and the dog are briefly intercut, then a shot of a rainy Paris street appears to stand in for Max’s hurried flight home. Max enters the bedroom and catches the illicit lovers sitting at the end of the bed, fully clothed, but obviously becoming intimate. It appears Max will fly into a rage, but he restrains himself and gives a pitying smile as he calls in the dog, who brings in a suitcase.* Hanni pulls out a hat from the suitcase and puts it on, sadly leaving her once happy home in shame. A final shot shows Max sharing coffee with Dick, his only true friend in the world.
For once, Max is not the big loser in one of his movies, although he is cuckolded and winds up losing the girl. Still, the end seems to imply a kind of affection and a self-sufficiency far beyond what he demonstrates in “Troubles of a Grasswidower.” On the other hand, seeing him get the upper hand in the situation really isn’t as funny as his usual failures. The movie consists of just a few camera set ups on small sets, and I almost wonder if it wasn’t an effort to save money so that some of the bigger location films could be made with the profits from other Linder work. They probably had a rapid schedule of putting these out and had to maintain that schedule to keep exhibitors happy. What stands out about it, though, is the close-ups on the dog using the telephone, and the interesting editing of the telephone sequence. On closer inspection, the “rainy Paris street” scene I described seems has something going on on either side of the screen – it is a Feuillade-style split screen with the dog and Max talking on the phone on either side. As such, it represents Pathé adopting a convention of “film grammar” from Gaumont, making for a specifically French cinematic trope. At any rate, this is the one part of the movie that deviates from extremely conventional Nickelodeon-era shooting and editing, and is what makes this movie worth checking out.
*= I consulted the book “Max Linder: Father of Film Comedy” by Snorre Smári Mathiesen for this review, and the marked sentence is paraphrased from his description of the film.
Director: René Leprince, Max Linder
Starring: Max Linder, Jane Renouart, Henri Bosc
Run Time: 8 Min
You can watch it for free: here.