Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: 1916

East Is East (1916)

A light-hearted melodrama of social class set in England, this movie follows the familiar plot of the waif who is suddenly given wealth and must adapt to a world of “refinement” and snobbery. Director Henry Edwards takes on the challenge of co-starring with Florence Turner and shows a definite flair for both directing and acting himself.

east_is_eastThe movie begins with Florence Turner as Victoria (“Vickie”) Vickers, a girl from the East End of London who sits in front of window displays and dreams of a life of comfort and grace. Her boyfriend Bert Grummet (Edwards) is a skinny ragamuffin who gives her a laugh, but she refuses his offer of marriage saying, “We’re such good friends, let’s not spoil it.” He munches on his fish and chips and thinks maybe if he can start a successful fish shop, she’ll change her mind.

east-is-east1Vickie lives with “an assumed aunt and uncle,” which I think means that she has assumed them, not that she assumes they’re really her aunt and uncle. Anyway, the little family decides to pile all their worldly goods into a pram and go off to the countryside “hop-picking” (something similar happens here in southern Oregon once a year, but it’s not hops they’re picking…). Bert invites himself along and tries to kiss Vickie, which she resists. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a lawyer who is trying to locate Miss Victoria Vickers before her inheritance defaults to certain unnamed charities. He sends an assistant to scour the East End and even contacts Scotland Yard to no avail. Giving up with only days to go, he gives the assistant leave to go to the countryside on a “photographic holiday.”

Vickie and Bert look at a pretty house in Kent and fantasize about living there one day. Then Bert steals one of their chickens. As he brings the prize back to camp, the lawyer’s assistant fortuitously sees Vickie and asks to photograph her. She is indignant, and refuses, “as sure as my name’s Victoria Vickers!” The assistant suddenly realizes that he’s talking to one of the wealthiest heiresses in London, but he has considerable difficulty convincing her or her companions that he isn’t nuts. Finally, they agree to accompany him back to London to meet the lawyer. The lawyer confirms the story and explains the terms of the will: Victoria will have to learn “refinement,” while she lives on an allowance from the trust for three years. She seems dubious about this, but agrees because it means she can get money to send her “aunt” and “uncle” to visit relatives in Australia and give Bert the money to open his fish shop.

east-is-east

Would you trust this man if he told you he had a million dollars for you?

This aspect of the plan works well, especially when Bert hits upon the idea of buying up cheap dogfish and selling it as “fish” (by crossing off the word “dog”). His business booms, and soon he is opening a chain of stores and sending out trucks for home delivery of his popular fish. Meanwhile, Vickie is learning how different reality is from her store-front fantasy. Servants are constantly telling her what to wear and trying to comb her hair for her. Her table manners make everyone stop and stare. She is unable to make friends at parties, even though she does learn to speak in a “refined” manner. She lives with a Mrs. Carrington (Ruth McKay) and her son, Arthur. Arthur has a bad gambling habit, but Mrs. Carrington is more concerned that Victoria will be corrupted by the “bad influence” of having contact with her old friends like Bert, who has to shove past the butler to get in when he calls.

Mrs. Carrington decides that the best thing to do is take Victoria abroad on an extended tour of exotic (unspecified) locations, while continuing her tutoring. She throws away letters that Victoria writes to Bert instead of mailing them. Victoria is kept away from all her friends for two years, and, failing socially with the new crowd, becomes lonely and depressed. Bert, meanwhile, has decided that he needs some schooling as well in order to impress Vickie. He hires a tutor and a tailor to help with his clothes. Then, he sells off his business and goes to propose to Vickie in his best suit and after some last-minute pointers from the tutor. Along the way, he reads a shocking headline in the society pages – Victoria Vickers is now engaged to Arthur! Arthur is desperate for money to cover his enormous gambling debts, so he proposed to her and since she was so alone and desperate, she agreed, despite his Charlie Chaplin mustache which she mocked in the first reel. Bert gives up and moves to Kent, buying the lovely little cottage they had admired, and living alone with a housekeeper.

east-is-east2But all is not yet lost. Victoria overhears Arthur talking to one of his girlfriends, and he says that of course he doesn’t love her, but he needs the money. Victoria finally has a revelation that she cannot live this “artificial life,” and voluntarily gives up her fortune, hoping to return to the happiness she knew in poverty. As a parting shot, she gives Arthur enough money to be free from debt. When hop-picking season comes, Vickie goes back to Kent and lingers at the site of her youthful happiness, noting that “someone” (Bert, in fact) has put barbed wire around the chicken coop to prevent theft. Bert looks out his window and sees her standing there. He sends the housekeeper out to invite her to tea with “the lady of the house,” not telling her who it is. Vickie goes in out of curiosity, and when Bert shows up she is flummoxed. “Who is the lady of the house?” She asks. Bert tells her she is, if she will still have him.

Like a lot of melodramas of the period, this relies heavily on rather unlikely coincidence (the assistant stumbling onto Victoria in Kent with only days to go being the most extreme), but it is actually a nicely crafted story within the limited formula. The contrast of rich and poor, and the ability of poor people to “know their place” and accept it, are common themes in British literature and film of the time. From that point of view, this movie makes sense, although my American sensibilities say she should have ditched Arthur, finished out the last weeks of her tutelage, and then taken the money and started her own business. It also seems strange that Bert has to sell his business in order to be “respectable.” He doesn’t seem to have anything to do but guard his chickens now, when he could be the (dog)fish-king of the whole realm! But, I think that is a reflection of British class expectations as well.

east-is-east1Overall, the movie is well-shot and edited. During the sequence where the lawyer is looking for her, we flash back and forth from his office to what she is doing. This is a kind of parallel editing, but it is more subtle than what one usually sees from D.W. Griffith, who almost always used the technique simply for suspense or in the telling of a single story, not to run two of them together, at least until “Intolerance.” Both leads do a very good job in terms of acting. I thought the best part of Turner’s performance was when she was still “unrefined,” but dressed as a rich woman in a rich world. Her body language still speaks cockney, so to speak, and even without being able to hear her accent, we could see how she didn’t fit in. But Bert undergoes the more impressive transformation, from street rat to entrepreneur to successful businessman to retired gentleman. He actually seems to fill out and gain considerable weight during the course of the picture, but I think it’s just carefully chosen wardrobe that makes the difference.

One final note: every source agrees that this film was made by the “Turner Film Company,” and one at least lists Florence Turner as the producer. I wonder if she might have been the Turner for which it is named. That would be another example of a pioneering woman business owner and producer from the early years of film, but I can’t find anything definite.

Director: Henry Edwards

Camera: Tom White

Starring: Florence Turner, Henry Edwards, Ruth McKay, W.G. Saunders, Edith Evans

Run Time: 71 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music, and it’s a very over-exposed pixillated digitization. It’s all I could find, so if you know of a better version, please comment!)

Joan the Woman (1916)

Cecil B. DeMille enters the arena of the historical epic with this depiction of France’s most famous saint, starring Geraldine Farrar, who had been very successful in “Carmen” the previous year. While a bit rough in places, it is likely to be a major contender in this year’s Century Awards.

joan_the_womanThis is one of those silent movies that, unfortunately, begins with several minutes of intertitles explaining the plot. Most silent directors did their best to avoid this, but DeMille may have felt that because he was dealing with such a “serious” subject, his audiences would need a little priming to get into the mood. Anyway, after five minutes of introductory reading, we finally get to an unnecessary wraparound story. We begin in the trenches in France in 1916, where a young English soldier is digging in the dirt wall for some reason, and pulls out a sword, apparently buried there since the fifteenth century. He speculates that some “queer bloke” must have wielded it, and then responds to a call for volunteers from an officer. The officer is looking for someone to carry a very unwieldy bomb across no-man’s-land to destroy an enemy trench. He tells the soldier to think about it until midnight before making a decision whether to take on the suicide mission. Once back in his barracks, the soldier sees a vision of Joan of Arc and the real movie finally begins!

joan-the-woman2 Read the rest of this entry »

The Captive God (1916)

In a departure from his standard Western-tough-guy, William S. Hart appears as a native Mexican warrior in this tale of Meso-American star-crossed love. Unfortunately, the available print is incomplete, but we’ll do our best to make sense of the remaining plot.

captive-godAt the beginning of the movie, we see a war between the “Maya” and the “Azteques” (note that all names differ from those in the original print as recorded by sources like imdb. More on that in a minute). Hart plays “Tonga,” the leader of the Maya side, but the Azteques apparently win this round. Montezuma, the Azteque chieftan (Robert McKim), offers “Matho” who led the attack (P. Dempster Tabler) any reward he names for routing the enemy. Matho requests his daughter, who is saddled with the unfortunate name “Tacki” in this version (Enid Markey), and Montezuma grudgingly agrees, although his daughter vows not to obey.

Screen-captures used by permission. Thanks to Christopher Bird and Fritzi of Movies Silently.

Screen-captures used by permission. Thanks to Christopher Bird and Fritzi of Movies Silently.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Return of Draw Egan (1916)

William S. Hart returns to the screen with familiar Western tropes done in a mature and morally sophisticated manner. While not as unrelentingly dark as “Hell’s Hinges,” this movie confirms that early silent audiences already knew that cowboys weren’t just kiddie fare.

return_of_draw_eganAs the movie begins, Hart is introduced as the title character, a wanted criminal with a price on his head. He has a sizeable gang of desperados with him, but he decides that the heat is too much and they should split up and “shift for themselves.” One member of the disbanding gang is Arizona Joe (Robert McKim), who “has a yellow streak a mile wide,” but hides it with bluster and bravado. Before they can go their separate ways, however, the posse catches up to them and chases them to an abandoned mountain shack they use as a hideout. There’s a pitched gun-battle, but several of the gunmen escape through a tunnel underneath the shack to a place where they’ve stashed horses. Arizona Joe is too timid to try this, and tries to sneak past the lawmen, but he’s captured on the way out.

return-of-draw-egan Read the rest of this entry »

The Danger Girl (1916)

This short from Keystone is the first Gloria Swanson movie I’ve reviewed for this blog. It’s probably not the sort of thing most people think of when they think of Gloria, but it does demonstrate her versatility and comfort in front of the camera.

danger-girlThe movie begins with a quarrel between Myrtle Lind and Bobby Vernon. Myrtle’s in a rather unflattering Mary Pickford-style wig, which I guess signals us that she’s a “good” girl. Bobby quickly falls into the orbit of “bad” girl Helen Bray, who may be deliberately imitating (or parodying) Theda Bara’s performance in “A Fool There Was.” She’s going riding, and invites Bobby along after brushing off “Last Season’s Suitor” (A. Edward Sutherland).  Gloria shows up driving recklessly with her brother Reggie Morris (for some reason known throughout as “Honey Boy”). Reggie is hoping to hook up with the danger girl, and Gloria develops an interest in Bobby when he helps her change a tire. When all the men start gravitating to the danger girl at a party, Gloria decides to take matters into her own hands by dressing as a man and distracting her. Myrtle ends up with Reggie, once the danger girl is no longer in play, but Gloria has to avoid the attacks of Last Season’s Suitor until Bobby drives a bus through the plate-glass window of the café they’re at and rescues her. Finally, all the “good” people are happily paired up.

danger-girl1This movie is a bit hard to keep up with, in part because the prints I was able to find were of poor quality, so it’s hard to tell actors apart, but in part because the characters don’t have enough personality or back story to identify with. The danger girl is distinctive, and once Gloria’s in her masculine attire, she’s easy to track, but the others seem quite interchangeable. I’m still not 100% sure I kept the division between Myrtle and Gloria straight before the “drag” sequence, and I gave up even trying to tell Reggie from Last Year’s Suitor, although Bobby Vernon is generally recognizable.

danger-girl2For a Keystone comedy, I was a bit surprised at the “adult” approach to comedy for the first two-thirds of the movie, although once we get to the café the Mack Sennett chaos does kick into gear. The theme of women in “masculine” attire goes a bit beyond just the explicit drag sequence: the danger girl’s riding outfit includes pants and a blazer, giving her a “hard” look, and Gloria puts on overalls when she has to work on her car. I suspect this was titillating to a 1916 audience, who didn’t often see women in pants. Some of the most interesting scenes involve Gloria in the “male” domain of a saloon, where she has to figure out how to stand at the bar, and avoid being groped by a fat drunk.  We do get some basic camera movement and reasonably sophisticated editing, certainly if one compares this to the Keystone Chaplins of 1914, but it was hardly cutting-edge in production values.

Director: Clarence G. Badger

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Gloria Swanson, Bobby Vernon, Helen Bray, Myrtle Lind, A. Edward Sutherland, Reggie Morris, Josef Swickard

Run Time: 20 Min

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

The Mysterious Shadow (1916)

This is the first official episode of “Judex,” the first having been mere “prologue.” This one would make very little sense without it the other, however, so I’d be inclined to call it episode 2.

judex-mysterious-shadowThe story picks up shortly after the engagement party at which the banker Favraux (Louis Leubas) unexpectedly died after taking a sip of wine. His daughter Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor), who is completely innocent and ignorant of the crimes he has committed, is grief-stricken, but now Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque), the detective Favraux hired, shows her the threatening notes that he had received, which explicitly accuse him of theft and murder. She checks with her father’s secretary and learns that it is all true. Then, to add to her stress, a new note arrives that explicitly enumerates the crimes the mysterious “Judex” holds Favraux responsible for. She decides that she cannot keep a fortune earned dishonestly, and makes arrangements to give it all to the Bureau of Public Assistance. Since the Viscount (Georges Flateau) had only wanted to marry her for her money, she releases him from their engagement. She puts her son, Little Jean (Olinda Mano) in the care of trustworthy servants, dismissing the others (including Musidora), and seeking work to support herself and to send money for his education.

Judex strikes a pose.

Judex strikes a pose.

Before she can leave the now-empty mansion, however, she receives an unexpected phone call. The voice on the other end sounds like her father, and he begs for her forgiveness. Jacqueline thinks she must be going mad, and goes out into the street alone, but we shift scenes to the recent past and an explanation. For now we first see the shadowy Judex (René Cresté) with a gang of grave robbers, retrieving the body of the deceased and taking it to an underground catacomb. Jude is tall and slender, and wears a hat and a long cape, looking somewhat like the Shadow, although his face is visible. His base is “the underground passages of Chateau Rouge.” He revives the “dead” man, revealing that the poison in the drink only gave the appearance of death, and forces the man to call his daughter and beg forgiveness.

judex-mysterious-shadow2Next, we see Little Jean, apparently enjoying helping out with chores on the farm he now lives on with the former servants, and receiving a letter in which his mother tells him about the work she has taken on, tutoring English and music. He tucks the letter lovingly into his blouse. Then, we see Jacqueline at her work, still wearing the black clothing of grief, and fending off the advances of an overly amorous employer. Said employer, it transpires, is buddies with Moralés (Jean Devalde) and Musidora, and he tells them of his infatuation. They advise him to let them abduct the woman of his dreams, possibly because they connect her with the disappearing heiress, whose whereabouts the papers are speculating about, or maybe just because they are criminal types who think that way. As they present the plan, they can capture her and then allow him to rescue her. Judex, however, is watching over Jacqueline, and sends her two white doves, which he instructs her to release if she ever needs his assistance.

judex-mysterious-shadow3This episode isn’t really a complete story, nor is it a “cliffhanger” the way serial episodes would be in years to come. It still seems to be taking its time in setting up situations without actually developing them very much. We now know that Jacqueline’s father is still alive, and in the custody of Judex, but it isn’t clear what justice Judex plans to enact on him. We know about the kidnapping plot, but haven’t seen it put into action. Also, we know that Jacqueline is effectively in hiding, but it’s not really clear what the bad guys want with her since she no longer has a fortune. We do get our first look at the title character and his home base, which is really just a room with various technical gadgets and a sliding panel, but it does fire the imagination that he has this underground chamber with apparently more secret rooms attached. In the background lurks Judex’s brother, played by Édouard Mathé, the bland star of “Les Vampires.” He seems more suited to his sidekick role, here. Sadly, we haven’t seen any more of Lévesque, who was really the saving grace of “Les Vampires.” I hope we aren’t done with him.

judex-posterThe photography in this episode is a bit less mobile than in the prologue, and we spend less time in close-up, and there are longer waits between edits, making  this one seem a bit slower than the previous one although it is ten minutes shorter. There is, however, some nice tinting on the night scenes. The scene of the retrieval of the banker’s body is tinted red, I assume to give the impression of torchlight, or perhaps to heighten the mood a bit, and Jacqueline’s race into the unknown is tinted blue. This adds some visual interest to the story, but we’re still just getting started.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: André Glatti and Léon Klausse

Starring: René Cresté, Yvette Andréyor, Louis Leubas, Marcel Lévesque, Olinda Mano, Édouard Mathé, Georges Flateau, Musidora, Jean Devalde

Run Time: 26 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Judex – Prologue (1916)

Another crime serial from Louis Feuillade, this one has the remarkable twist of making the masked mastermind into a force of good! This first episode only really sets up the premise, but it is effective at drawing the viewer in to what promises to be a good ride.

judex-posterBefore I talk about the movie itself, let’s talk about the date. I generally date the movies I review by the year of release, which is usually the same year they are shot, or in the case of movies shot at the end of the year, sometimes the year after. In this case, Feuillade made this movie and “Les Vampires” more or less simultaneously in 1914, then went off to serve in World War One. Gaumont Studios released “Les Vampires” beginning at the end of 1915 and running through early 1916, then finally released the first episode of “Judex” in December, 1916, but most of the episodes weren’t seen until 1917. As a result, you may find it listed in different places as a 1916 movie, a 1917 movie, or even a 1914 movie! I’m going to stick to my tradition of reviewing the episodes separately, and dating them according to which year they were actually released. Note, that this means that only this episode and the next one qualify as nominees for the 1916 Century Awards.

judexOK, let’s get on with the movie. The home video version begins with a lengthy credit sequence that I suspect did not exist at the time of original release. More common would have been an introduction to the cast of characters through short clips showing them in action (as with “Fantômas” and “Child of the Paris”), and that would have made it a lot easier to keep track of all of these character names. I kept recognizing actors from other Gaumont productions, but then not being able to remember who they are supposed to be. Imdb will be my friend in reviewing this series! We are quickly introduced to several characters once the movie does begin: There is Favraux, the banker (Louis Leubas), Robert Moralés (Jean Devalde) and Diana Monti (Musidora), who hope to blackmail the banker, and Jacqueline (Yvette Andréyor), the banker’s innocent daughter who is engaged to the impoverished Vicomte de la Rochefontaine (Georges Flateau). Musidora manages to infiltrate the premises by getting a job as the governess to Jean (Olinda Mano), Jacqueline’s son presumably by an earlier marriage.

judex1One day, a tramp (Gaston Michel) shows up at the gate demanding to speak with Favraux. He is an old man who was swindled by Favraux, then sent to prison for 20 years when he embezzled to try to get out of financial difficulties. His wife has died, and now he hears rumors that his son is involved with crime as well, and he blames Favraux for all of it. Favraux, predictably, tells him to go away, and then less predictably runs him over in a car on the road a few minutes later (actually, his chauffeur runs him over, but Favraux is in the car). Soon, he receives a threatening letter signed only “Judex” (Latin for “judge”), which informs him he must turn over half his fortune to charity or die. Since the letter appeared mysteriously on his desk without anyone seeing who delivered it, Favraux is understandably concerned.

judex2So, he hires a private investigator named Cocantin (Marcel Lévesque, who “Les Vampires” fans will remember as the wonderful Mazamette). Cocantin has only just inherited the detective business from his father, and there’s some amusing business between him and his employee, who clearly feels that Daddy was better-suited for the job. Cocantin doesn’t do much to prove himself, skulking around in bushes, but avoiding eavesdropping while his employer makes time with the governess, and failing to figure out how a second threatening note manages to mysteriously appear on the premises. At the dinner to celebrate Jacqueline’s engagement, Favraux makes a toast, sips his wine, and promptly drops dead. Cocantin is now uncertain whether or not he should reveal the existence of the letters (!).

Only seconds to live.

Only seconds to live.

It’s a little too early for me to say how I feel about this series so far. I found “Les Vampires,” on the whole, a bit uneven compared to “Fantômas,” although it had its good aspects, including Mazamette, Musidora, and some very memorable visuals and outrageous crimes. It seems like silent fans always end up picking a “favorite” Feuillade serial, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Fantômas” remains unbowed in that position for me. But, I am excited to see a new one from him, to see how this plays out, and to see how Bout-de-Zan makes an appearance. Some people credit “Judex” with inventing the whole “caped crusader” concept that led to Batman, the Shadow, and other superhero vigilantes, so this could be an important piece of nerd history.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: André Glatti, Léon Klausse

Starring: Louis Leubas, Jean Devalde, Musidora, Yvette Andréyor, Georges Flateau, Olinda Mano, Gaston Michel, Marcel Lévesque, Édouard Mathé

Run Time: 36 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Battle of the Somme (1916)

Alternate Title: Kitchener’s Great Army in the Battle of the Somme

This documentary of the First World War was shot in the British trenches during the outbreak of one of the War’s most crucial (and largest) battles. Despite the limitations of the technology and avoiding potentially dangerous shooting conditions, it manages to present a powerful picture of the event.

Battle of the Somme-filmThe movie is divided into five parts, which are presented as a chronological account of the battle. The first two involve preparations and troop movements, the third shows the beginning of the battle, while the fourth mostly shows wounded and prisoners returning to the British side, and the final chapter shows some of the aftermath. Soldiers are generally identified by division or unit, and no names (even that of a general addressing his troops) are given. A lot of the men look at the camera, and it’s interesting to note the looks on their faces. Occasionally, they stare blankly at the camera, but more often they seem cheerful and wave or smile. No one shows fear or anger. No gunfire or hand-to-hand combat is shown, although we do see a progression of increasingly large mortars and cannon firing at the enemy lines, and also some shots showing the explosions from a distance. Scenes depicting the men going “over the top” in chapter three are simulations, however there are some shots of what appear to be real body piles in the later parts of the movie.

Carrying the wounded off the field.

Carrying the wounded off the field.

Forward-facing intertitles inform us of the specifics of the scenes that follow them, often describing two or three scenes before they happen. The editing tells a story of British victory at the Somme, although by the time this reached theaters in the UK the battle was still raging more or less indecisively, and thousands were being killed on both sides. Because we never see the battle itself, we can only view events from a kind of “headquarters-eye-view,” with soldiers going out and then streams of wounded and prisoners coming back in, but a disconnect in terms of what really happens in the middle. In spite of that, this is emotionally effective propaganda, because the British are shown as brave and eager to serve, and there is a sense of camaraderie and resolution to the piece. For the most part, the War as we see it here is fought between the British and the Germans, although some Canadians are depicted in one scene.

I've seen this a hundred times.

I’ve seen this a hundred times.

It is also highly effective documentary cinema. The images in this movie are probably familiar to anyone who’s seen a documentary about World War One. There just isn’t that much other footage from the period, so certain shots from this one show up in almost everything that gets made. The footage lacks sound and color, but it shows us images of the real people, animals, and machines that fought the battle and allows us to witness military activity from a now-remote past. One thing that this footage makes obvious is the importance of horse-power in fighting at the time. Far more cannon and supplies are shown as drawn by horses than motors. We also see how many dogs were present at the front, and one especially powerful image shows a dead dog lying next to “his master” (according to the intertitle) on the battlefield. We definitely get a clear picture of the French countryside before, and its devastation after, the battle. One panorama shot of the ruined town of Mametz seems to go on forever, reminding one of later images of Hiroshima.

Formerly Main Street.

Formerly Main Street.

Director: Geoffrey Malins

Camera: Geoffrey Malins, John McDowell

Cast: Major-General Beauvoir De Lisle, unknown soldiers.

Run Time: 1 hr, 15 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Bloody Wedding (1916)

Alternate Titles: The Terrible Wedding, Les noces sanglantes

We finally reach the last chapter of the serialLes Vampires” by Louis Feuillade. Although this episode ends with a kind of resolution, it doesn’t differ all that much in structure from the previous chapters of the story.

A happy couple.

A happy couple.

One change is that, whereas previously episodes had little time lapse between them, in this case the story picks up several months after the last one. Philippe Guérande (Édouard Mathé), the reporter-hero of the story, is now married to Jane (Louise Lagrange). We don’t even get to see a wedding! Philippe writes an obscure article about how the Vampires have been quiet lately, but refers to some never-depicted crimes in which he can “detect their handiwork.” Then Augustine (Germaine Rouer), the widow of the poisoned concierge from the previous episode, stops by for a visit. Guérande hires her as a housemaid at Jane’s suggestion, to help her through her difficult time. Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque) stops over and appears very happy at this news.

A grieving widow.

A grieving widow.

We learn, however, that the Vampires are spying on Augustine by crawling on the rooftop and watching through the skylight. They see her trying to predict her fortune with cards, something which Jane disapproves of. So, they send her an anonymous invitation from a fortune teller who promises to reveal “the mysteries that surround you.” Of course, what she really wants is information that will lead to the capture of the Vampires. So, she lies to Guérande and says she is going to visit her husband’s grave, but actually goes to the fortune teller. Fortunately, Mazamette is now smitten with her, and follows her secretly, discovering the location she is really visiting. Irma Vep (Musidora) and another Vampire put on a show of spiritualism for her, pretending to be visions of themselves so that she will believe in the fortune teller’s powers, and then hypnotize her so that she will admit them to Guérande’s apartment. Mazamette confronts her on the way out, but doesn’t see any Vampires, so doesn’t really think anything is wrong.

A jealous suitor.

A jealous suitor.

That night, Irma Vep and Venomous, the new head Vampire (Frederik Moriss), show up with an apparatus for filling a room with poison gas. Augustine lets them in under a trance and they attack her and tie her up, then attach the apparatus to the keyhole of Guérande’s bedroom, but Mazamette, who cannot sleep because his infatuation is so strong, sees all of this happen and hides behind an arras. Once they have begun to pump the gas, Mazamette fires his gun, and they run off in a panic. He switches off the device, and helps Guérande untie Augustine when he wakes up. Augustine, Mazamette and Guérande (still in his bedclothes) go to report to the police, and Jane is left alone with a pistol for protection. Venomous returns, trying to break into Jane’s bedroom with a glass-cutter, but she shoots at him and then goes to the window. A Vampire on the sidewalk below lassos her and pulls her down, thus capturing her and they drive off with her as a captive.

A nocturnal attack.

A nocturnal attack.

It takes quite a few hours for Mazamette and Guérande to rouse the police to make a raid on the fortune teller’s house, but eventually they all drive out together (without even checking at home first). Astonishingly, the Vampires are there, rather than some other hideout, so the police are able to roust them. Irma Vep escapes by winding a long rope around herself and spinning to the ground like a yo-yo. They leave a bomb (that never goes off) and manage to capture Augustine, who was brought along for some reason, so the whole thing is a failure anyway, except that Mazamette shoots at their car and causes an oil leak, giving him and Guérande a trail to follow. For some reason he goed alone, without calling in the police this time or even waiting for Mazamette. He finds Jane and Augustine held in a cell below the chateau and passes them a pistol. Then he goes away until nightfall.

A daring escape.

A daring escape.

That night the Vampires are all drinking and celebrating the marriage of Irma Vep and Venomous. No one is guarding the prisoners or the chateau, so Guérande knots a rope and ties it a second story balcony in preparation for an escape. The police raid the party and a gun battle breaks out, and most of the Vampires wind up on the balcony, which Guérande now causes to collapse with the rope. Venomous and his lackeys are killed in the crash. Irma Vep, meanwhile, runs down to the hostages and threatens them with a gun. Jane shoots her with the pistol Guérande gave her and he runs in to find them over her body. A few days later, Mazamette proposes to Augustine and all ends on a happy note.

A lively dance.

A lively dance.

As I said above, this episode is a lot like the others, in that we see various captures and escapes, and the trade-off between hunter and hunted, as the story proceeds. There are the usual leaps in logic: Why did Venomous and Irma Vep go back to the fortune teller’s house, when they know the police will get that information? Why doesn’t Guérande have better security by now? Why does it take so long for the police to organize either of the raids? We’ve gotten used to the idea that Mazamette is estranged from the wife he had at the beginning of the story, but it still seems odd that he starts stalking the widow so soon after her bereavement. Also, the idea that you could follow a trail of motor oil on city streets is pretty hard to credit – anyone leaking that much oil wouldn’t get far.

An unlikely discovery.

An unlikely discovery.

In all, I would rate “Les Vampires” a little lower than “Fantômas,” not least because of the lack of a truly effective villain. The Vampires go through three leaders (or four, if we can count Moréno), none of whom really seems as diabolically brilliant as Fantômas. The one consistent thread is Irma Vep, who I must admit makes up for it somewhat with her powerful presence. Musidora is at times sultry and seductive, at others snarling and animalistic, and always seems dedicated to crime and evil. Unfortunately, she also seems to be more of a girlfriend than a leader. She’s always “with” the head Vampire, never taking charge herself. On the other side of the law, Juve wasn’t a great hero, but he’s a darn sight better than Guérande. Mazamette is the character we care about on that side of the team, but he’s ultimately a sidekick as well.

A tense situation.

A tense situation.

That’s all from the point of view of the script, but in terms of filmmaking Feuillade does show some interesting improvements in “Les Vampires” over “Fantômas.” There’s much more use of close-ups and different camera angles, rather than proscenium-style set pieces, for example. The editing has improved as well. For example, in this episode the sequence in which Venomous tries to get in the window to get Jane is cross-cut in a wonderfully suspenseful manner that actually had me tense to the point of yelling at the screen. The audience knows that Jane has a gun, and we see her see Venomous’s hand at the window, but Feuillade keeps cutting back and forth and we wonder if she has the courage to shoot right up to the last moment. It’s a sequence worthy of Alfred  Hitchcock, and there was nothing like it in “Fantômas.” The first police raid also includes some good cross-cutting between the police and the villains, although that was sort of ruined when the bomb didn’t go off.

I probably won’t return to this series as often as I do to “Fantômas,” but it’s been good to see Feuillade’s further development. Next, I’ll have to move on to “Judex!”

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Frederik Moriss, Marcel Lévesque, Musidora, Louise Lagrange, Germaine Rouer

Run Time: 55 Min

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

The Poison Man (1916)

Halloween has come and gone, but I’m not yet finished with the crime serial called “Les Vampires!” In this episode, a new Grand Master takes charge of the Vampires’ ongoing quest to snuff out Mazamette and Philipe Guérande, but Irma Vep still gets most of the screen time.

Venemous at work.

Venemous at work.

At the beginning of the movie, we establish “Venemous,” (played by Frederik Moriss) the “brilliant but deranged chemist” who is the new Grand Master of the Vampires, hard at work in his chemical laboratory, assisted by Irma Vep (Musidora). He receives a message with invisible ink on it, revealing it by brushing it with a special chemical. It states that Guérande (Édouard Mathé) is engaged to be wed to Jane Bremontier (Louise Lagrange), and that he visits his fiancée every day. He sends Irma Vep and two female collaborators to rent the apartment above Bremontier’s. They are able to learn about an upcoming dinner party and get the proposed menu from a maid. Venemous now calls the caterer and cancels the order, substituting Vampires for the caterers on the night of the event.

A generous tenant

A generous tenant

On the day of the party, the Vampires are admitted and allowed to prepare and serve the meal. However, Jane’s mother gives a bottle of the champagne to the concierge to thank him for helping to bring up the food from the delivery, and when he tastes it, he dies! His wife runs up to the party to warn everyone not to drink the champagne, which no one has touched yet because Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque) is making a very long-winded toast. The Vampires in the kitchen realize the gig is up and escape out the window, but Venemous, who is dressed as a valet, must hide in a cabinet in the dining room. Mazamette tries to catch him in the dark, but winds up fighting with Guérande instead. Venemous is also able to escape over the rooftops of Paris.

poison-man2Now Guérande becomes convinced that he must move his fiancée to the country in order to hide her, but Irma Vep sees the car arrive to pick them up and takes a perfume bottle full of sleeping gas to surprise them. Mazamette has been hiding in a trunk on the side of the car, however, and he attacks her. Irma Vep is able to spray him with the gas and her accomplices remove him. Then, she hides in the trunk. Mazamette is dumped on the street and taken to the police station, believed to be drunk. When he wakens, he calls Philipe to warn him, but Irma slips out of the box and gets away in the car before Philipe can catch her.

Musidora is horizontal for much of the film.

Musidora is horizontal for much of the film.

Irma Vep now finds herself at a fancy restaurant in the Fontainebleau forest. She summons Venemous by telephone, but Guérande turns up first and attacks her, tying her up and leaving her on the road as a car approaches (almost a rare case of a woman tied to train tracks!). The car contains Mazamette, who stops at first to assist the damsel in distress before recognizing her. Guérande has been waiting nearby with a pistol, and now he joins his friend. They put Irma Vep in Mazamette’s car and go to lie in wait for the arrival of the Grand Master of the Vampires at the restaurant. However, when he arrives, Irma Vep honks the horn with her head and he finds her there and they drive off together in Mazamette’s car, with Guérande and Mazamette in pursuit in his car.

poison-man4

You’re doing it wrong! You’re ruining it for me!

After a lively chase, Venomous leaps out of the vehicle; Philipe chases Venomous on foot, following him onto the top of a moving train, but Venomous gets away, shooting him in the leg. Mazamette has been restrained from jumping onto the train by two well-meaning policemen, and he punches one of them. He is held for assaulting an officer, but when Guérande shows up and strikes him in the police station, the police decide to forget the whole affair.

poison-man5I found this episode to be more visually satisfying than most of the others, in part because so much of it is shot on location in the streets of Paris or the forest of Fontainebleau. We get some nice blue tinting on the night shots. Also, there was a good amount of close-ups, including on Mazamette and Guérande when they first enter the darkened room, and some good camera angles when, at various times, Irma Vep is lying on the ground, and in order to see the figures escaping across the rooftops. Finally, the editing of the chase sequence was very satisfying, including some classic cross-cutting, even though I’ve seen critics who claim Feuillade never used any. The chase across the top of a train was, of course, similar to many Westerns that had already been released, beginning with “The Great Train Robbery,” but it is handled well here also.

This is how Mazamette rolls.

This is how Mazamette rolls.

I usually criticize some aspects of the strained logic in each episode, but this one has only minor departures from logic. The biggest is that, since we’ve already established that Guérande is a teetotaler, it doesn’t make much sense to put poison only in his champagne, instead of the rest of the meal. Of course, it may well be that even a truly sober Frenchman has to sip a little champagne at his own engagement, so maybe that was safe. I was a little surprised that Venemous himself turned up at the party in the guise of a butler, but at this point we’ve gotten used to the Grand Vampires taking ridiculous and unnecessary personal risks, so we’ll give that a pass as well. There’s a somewhat silly bit when a figure in Vampire disguise climbs up a drainpipe – in order to deliver a perfume bottle in Irma Vep. Surely the front door would work just as well. The one part that doesn’t make much sense to me is why is Mazamette riding in the trunk in the first place? Surely the Vampires are going to assume that he is wherever Guérande and his fiancée are, so it doesn’t seem like it would really help much in terms of security. Still, it’s a minor point and doesn’t interfere much with the enjoyment of this episode.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Marcel Lévesque, Musidora, Frederik Moriss, Louise Lagrange, Florense Simoni

Run Time: 50 Min

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