Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Category: Reviews

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.

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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.

The Legend of Ponchinella (1907)

This early short from Max Linder demonstrates a very different style to what would become his established routine in later movies, seeming to draw from the work of Georges Méliès, as well as French folklore, for its inspiration. Rather than his usual fussy modern aristocrat, Max plays a fairy tale hero in this one.

The movie begins with a series of shots of Max, in Harlequin costume, leading a group of short masked people (probably intended to represent elves, dwarves, or goblins) through various medieval settings. Real locations are used for this, no doubt genuine castles and other ancient landscapes in France that were briefly closed off so that the costumed actors could appear to exist in some timeless period. The small band climbs a stairwell and enters a room, causing smoke somehow to start billowing up from the floor, then they all run off screen. The next scene is preceded by the intertitle “Harlequin rescues his love.” We see a group of well-dressed people surrounding a girl on a short pedestal. She moves in a mechanical way, turning and bowing to the people in the room, to their evident delight. Suddenly the smoke enters the room and all of the aristocrats flee, leaving the clockwork girl alone. She stumbles and collapses from her perch.

The room now transforms from a nice, well-appointed space to a ruin. Now Max enters and finds her in pieces on the floor. He gathers up the pieces of the girl and stuffs them into a sack and carries her away. The next shot shows Max, still with the sack, some distance from the smoking wreck of a castle. He uses a magic wand to create a bridge across a chasm and escape the wreckage. He brings the sack to a beautiful fountain and with a wave of the wand, brings the girl back to life. She now moves in a natural manner, embracing Harlequin and walking off with him. The final scene is called “Harlequin Triumphant” and it involves a series of fairy dances, in a set that closely resembles a Méliès movie, even to the point of having a face like a large moon presiding over the proceedings.

It’s important to realize that when this movie came out, Méliès was one of the most important and successful filmmakers in the world, and that much of the movies coming out imitated or outright stole from him. This is at least somewhat original, more of a homage than a rip-off, though it’s not really what we think of when we think of Max Linder. We hardly see Max’s face at all – most of the scenes are tableaux in proscenium-style sets in long shot. There is one rather lengthy pan as Max and his fairies move through the streets, but Max is always shown at full-figure, never in close-up. The use of actual castle locations is what gives the movie its distinctiveness, although most of the action takes place in sets like the one used for the final fairy dance. I believe that the final fountain where Harlequin resurrects his girlfriend may be at Versailles – possibly a good part of the movie was shot there. In all, it’s an amusing entry in French cinematic history, though not very representative of the work of Linder.

Director: Albert Capellani, Lucien Nonguet

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 7 Min, 40 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Max Takes a Bath (1910)

Max Linder is back with another comedy of errors. This time, he finds a simple matter of hygiene to be beyond his abilities.

We see Max at a store, purchasing a fancy new bathtub. He shows how thrilled he is to have something so elegant in which to wash himself. He takes it out to the street and tries to hail a taxi, but when the cab driver sees the tub, he abruptly drives on. Max is forced to lug the thing home on his back. He manages this, however, and soon after arriving, decides to fill it. There’s one problem – his apartment building has a single shared spigot, out in the hallway. He finds that the small containers he has will take forever to fill the tub, when filled up one at a time and brought back into the apartment, so he has the bright idea of bringing the tub out to the spigot and filling it right there. Then, when he tries to move it back into his apartment, he finds it much too heavy to push.

Not one to let a small thing stand in the way of achieving his goal, Max gets his soap and towel, then strips down and gets into the tub right there in the stairway. Everything is going fine until a neighbor walks by. Max tries to hide by sinking under the water, but of course, the neighbor notices the tub on the stairway landing and investigates, ultimately calling in the manager, then the police. Max tries to shoo them away by splashing them, but this simply results in his (and the tub’s) being hauled down to court. He tries the same tactics on the magistrate with as little success. When they try dumping Max and his water out, he rolls the tub over and scrambles out with it on his back like a turtle’s shell! He’s soon being pursued this way by police and the inevitable little dog.

Once again, this comedy follows the basic plot of Max eagerly anticipating some simple pleasure, only to be thwarted at every turn and ultimately humiliated and ruined. It’s quite funny, although it’s hard to imagine that any apartment house would provide no other way to get running water than a spigot in a common hallway. How was Max bathing before this? Maybe he’s a new tenant. The scenes of Linder in the tub made me think of Alice Guy films from around the same time, like “The Drunken Mattress” and “The Rolling Bed.” No doubt Linder was also familiar with these films when he made this one.

Director: Lucien Nonguet

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 7 Min, 45secs.

You can watch it for free: here.

Lightning Sketches (1907)

This very short film from Vitagraph beats Windsor McCay to the punch by several years in his claim to be the “first animator” – though it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there were even earlier examples. It serves as an example of developing film techniques in America as the Nickelodeon Era was beginning.

The screen shows a large pad of artist’s paper, hung up on a wall before the camera. J. Stuart Blackton appears on the left side and writes the word “coon,” then rapidly transforms the letters into a caricature of a black man. All of the action is undercranked, to make Blackton’s movements appear rapid when played at normal speed. He now writes the word “Cohen” on the paper next to the first cartoon, and transforms these letters into a caricature of a Jewish man. The paper is rolled up and removed in animation, but we do not see the hands of the person doing it. Next, a bald man comes out and takes a seat before the paper, and Blackton sketches him, giving him a cigar at the end and then adding it to the caricature. A few animated puffs of smoke are visible coming out of the drawn cigar. This paper is also rolled up and removed in animation. Now, Blackton sketches a glass, a bottle labeled “Medoc” and a spritzer bottle, then he departs the screen and the bottle is animated to pour into the glass, followed by a spritz of soda, which causes the glass to overflow. This paper is torn apart in animation and the film ends.

Although there’s only a few seconds worth of animation between the papers getting rolled up and the pouring of the bottle, this was probably a pretty exciting film for an audience of 1907. Even the speeded-up action qualifies as an “effect” and seems to have been done to emphasize Blackton’s ability to work quickly, without mistakes. The unfortunate racial stereotyping at the beginning was probably meant to be humorous and not offensive, though it hasn’t aged well. It was interesting how he integrated the letters into images of people’s faces, it was just an unfortunate choice of words to use to demonstrate this. Blackton barely looks at the bald man as he sketches him – the point of having him “sit” for the picture seems to be so that the audience can see how accurate Blackton’s portrayal is. The final animation of the wine and the spritzer bottle is the climax, and by modern standards it wouldn’t amount to much, but it may have fascinated audiences to see a moving drawing at the time.

Director: J. Stuart Blackton

Camera: Unknown

Starring: J. Stuart Blackton

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max Is Stuck Up (1910)

This is another short comedy from Max Linder for Pathé Studios. It has a similar narrative structure to our last Linder film, “Max Learns to Skate,” but takes place in the more familiar bourgeois setting of Paris shops and homes.

Max is invited to dine with a young lady by his “future father-in-law.” We see Max in his apartment putting the finishing touches on his preparations, looking dapper as ever and quite excited to be going out. He twirls his cane and heads out the door. Along the way, however, he stops at a butcher’s shop. The butcher is having difficulty with flies, so has set out several pieces of flypaper. Max steps on one as he approaches the counter. The butcher runs off screen briefly to retrieve a parcel for Max, presumably a pastry that he will bring to the luncheon date. As he begins to leave, however, he notices the flypaper on his shoe. Unable to shake it off, he sits in a chair to allow the butcher to pull it off for him, but in the process he sits on another piece. As this is removed, he puts his elbow on yet another piece, which goes with him out the door. At his destination, the young lady is still getting dressed, and is having some difficulty zipping up her dress, even with her mother’s help. Max arrives and hands over the pastry, only now noticing the piece of flypaper on his elbow. In removing it, he gets glue on both his hands and once more on his shoe, and he tries to conceal this, making it impossible for him to be of service to the young lady. He lingers briefly in the living room, fighting it out with the flypaper, before joining the family at the table for the meal. Now everything sticks to Max. His napkin, fork, glass, even the carpet are all snares he falls into. When he offers to pass a plate to his host, his difficulties reach their peak; the plate is finally destroyed and the two come to blows. On his way out the door, he once again collides with the same butcher, and is seen at the end in tears, covered in glue, paper, and baked goods.

As with “Max Learns to Skate,” we watch Max descend from happy and confident, through frustrated and discouraged, to desperate and crying. Once again, the effect is good comedy, although in this case he is a bit less sympathetic (we get the feeling he’s not really interested in the girl, but rather in the father’s money). I was surprised by the number of camera set ups and the use of insert shots to show Max’s stickiness, but when I first watched it, the print claimed the movie was made in 1906. However, it appears that this version, at any rate, really comes from 1910, which makes this less surprising (actually it’s a bit simplistic for 1910). Like many films of the time, it may have been a remake of an effort from a few years earlier. Be that as it may, I still enjoyed watching Max go through his routine, which uses subtle physical cues to illustrate his changing mood and heighten the humor of the situation.

Director: Lucien Nonguet

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder, Gabrielle Lange

Run Time: 6 Min, 14 secs

You can watch it for free: here.