Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Ee

Extraordinary Illusions (1901)

Alternate Title: Dislocation Mystérieuse

This short trick film from Georges Méliès deals with magical dismemberment, animated body parts, and the danger of one’s own body parts going into revolt. Of course, it’s all handled in a light-hearted fun way that keeps with Méliès’s child-friendly spirit, but I’m still including it with my history of horror as a movie that may have inspired darker visions at a later date.

extraordinary-illusionsA man dressed as Pierrot walks onto a proscenium-style set painted to represent a cave, with a few stools set at a distance from one another. He sits on the middle stool, then looks over to see a bottle of wine to stage left. He reaches for it, but, as it is too far, he detaches his arm, which now floats over to the bottle and picks it up, floating back across the stage to re-join his shoulder. He then sends his other arm to retrieve the glass sitting on the other stool, and pours himself a glass of wine. Next, he takes out a pipe and puts it in his mouth, but the candle is on the second stool, so this time he detaches his head and it floats over to light the pipe from the candle. Now, he tries to cross his legs, but they are uncomfortable, so one detaches itself and floats to the right stool, the other to the left. His legless torso now drops painfully to the ground. He gets his rebellious legs to reattach themselves, and then does a dance which culminates in his complete dismemberment as all of his limbs and his head detach themselves from the torso, with all six pieces dancing on their own. Finally, the body is rejoined, and he takes off his own head and sits on it before bowing, tucking the head under his arm, and exiting the stage.

The original Star Films catalog refers to this as “one of the best and most mysterious films ever produced,” which seems to justify the sense that it might count as a horror film. It claims that “there [is] not the slightest doubt that they are genuine living limbs,” although for the final dance, most of the limbs do look like props on strings, except for the head. Nevertheless, a lot of work went into making these effects in-camera and getting the timing and positions right must have been quite difficult. Imdb claims that this movie stars Méliès himself, but I’m not certain – the Pierrot figure doesn’t have his signature beard, and I feel like he moves a bit differently from Méliès. At any rate, whether or not it is “absolutely unique” as the catalog claims, it is a fun example of what Méliès learned to do in a few short years as a filmmaker.

Director: Georges Méliès

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Unknown, possibly Georges Méliès

Run Time: 1 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

The Eyes That Mesmerize (1916)

Alternate Titles: Hypnotic Eyes, Les yeux qui fascinent

This installment in the crime serialLes Vampires” involves hypnotism, cross-dressing, and murder, as well as a hard-to-follow plot that strains credulity while being hard to predict. In other words, it’s a lot like other episodes of the series.

Focus! Focus!

Focus! Focus!

The movie begins by telling us that more than two weeks have passed since the events of “The Corpse’s Escape,” and that a notary has been killed at Fontainebleau. We also learn that Juan-Jose Moréno (Fernand Hermann) is a master of mesmerism, and he now brings his maid into the parlor and hypnotizes her, causing her to go into a deep trance. Then, Mazamette (Marcel Levésque) and Guérande (Édouard Mathé) decide to attend the movies. They see a story about the recent murder, and recognize Irma Vep (Musidora) and the Grand Vampire (Jean Aymé) in the footage. Immediately, they rush out of the theater and make plans to go to Fontainebleau. Along the way, they happen to see a visiting American named Warner galloping at high speed on his horse to a remote spot. They follow him and see him hide a box among some boulders, which they recover after he has left. At their hotel, they discover that it is $200,000, which was stolen from an American millionaire named Baldwin, who has posted a considerable reward for its recovery and the capture of Raphael Norton, the man who stole it. They realize that Warner is Norton in disguise.

This has nothing  to do with the plot.

This has nothing to do with the plot.

Meanwhile, the Grand Vampire is now disguised as a Count named “Kerlor” and Irma Vep accompanies him as a young (male) Viscount called “Guy.” They also figure out who Warner is (he’s not at all good at keeping secrets) and plan to rob him of the money. Moréno manages to get the room between “Kerlor” and “Warner,” although he has no idea what is going on, and he has brought a very large trunk along with him. The Count tells a rather silly story about a supposed ancestor of his who had to fight two bulls during the Napoleonic Wars (we see the whole thing played out). This somehow distracts the Warners while Irma Vep gets into her Vampire costume and searches Warner’s room until she finds the map. Of course, she is accosted by Moréno, who knocks her out with chloroform and drops her out the window to his gang waiting below. They bundle her into a car and drive off. Meanwhile, Moréno takes his hypnotized maid out of the trunk (!) and disguises her as Irma Vep, then has her give the map to the Grand Vampire in that disguise.

eyes-that-mesmerizeThe Grand Vampire now swings into action, sending his confederate (Miss Édith) to go find the loot indicated on the map. She gets there and finds instead a note from Guérande, inviting the legitimate owner of the box to meet with him. Then she gets captured by Moréno, who tells her to tell the Grand Vampire that he is holding Irma Vep and will release her for a ransom. She reports all of this to the Grand Vampire, who decides to get out because Guérande might have called the police, but plans to try to recover Irma Vep anyway. In the early morning, the police raid the hotel and find that Warner is actually Norton, so Guérande and Mazamette win the reward. Moréno falls in love with Irma and decides not to return her to the Grand Vampire. Instead, he hypnotizes her and causes her to write a confession of her various crimes, then orders her to kill the Grand Vampire, which she does with dispatch, as soon as he walks in the door.

Don't mess with Irma Vep

Don’t mess with Irma Vep

The episode ends with the now-rich Mazamette giving a press interview to his friend Guérande and other reporters, assuring them that, “though vice is sometimes slow to be punished, virtue is always rewarded.”

Since there are no actual vampires in the series, I am usually forced to stretch things a bit to justify my inclusion of it in my annual October “history of horror.” In this case, the connection is hypnotism, which has been a theme of horror writing and cinema since Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemaar.” When Mesmer first began convincing the educated world that hypnotism was a real psychological phenomenon, and not just a parlor trick, Europeans became frightened at the possibility of a strong will dominating a weak one. What if crimes could be committed while under hypnosis, even murder? Feuillade plays on that theme in this film by causing the weak-minded maid to become a virtual robot, and Irma Vep to switch allegiances from the Grand Vampire to Moréno. In that case, however, I’m not certain mental dominance was necessary: she appears to me to have chosen to abandon the less successful master criminal for the one who has really become the focus of the story for the last two episodes. If the Grand Vampire is really dead, though, I’m not sure how they can justify calling the rest of the serial “Les Vampires.”

How far would you trust this woman?

How far would you trust this woman?

And now for my usual nit-picky logical questioning of the plot. OK, so Moréno hires a girl who looks sort of vaguely like Irma Vep to be his maid, hypnotises her and carries her into the country in a trunk…so she can wear a mask for a few seconds and give the Grand Vampire something Irma Vep was going to give him anyway? How did he know in advance to have her wear a Vampire costume? How did he manage to get the right room when everyone was using assumed names? How did he know to station his gangsters outside the window with a net just at the moment he was going to push her out the window? And why did we have to watch that silly bullfighting sequence? Anyway, I’m glad Mazamette finally has enough money to send all his children through school. Hopefully the adventures of Musidora and Moréno will continue to thrill us next week.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Camera: Manichoux

Starring: Édouard Mathé, Marcel Levésque, Musidora, Fernand Hermann, Jean Aymé, Miss Édith, Maxa

Run Time: 58 Min

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

Eleanor’s Catch (1916)

This two-reel short from Universal is an interesting twist on the many “lost girl” love triangles of the period. Some of its notability no doubt results from the fact that it was directed by star Cleo Madison, an early feminist who believed that women could do anything as well as men could, and that the day was not far off when everyone agreed to this.

And men can do housework, too!

And men can do housework, too!

Madison introduces her character, Eleanor, as “a tenement rose,” and we see her literally wearing rags as she hand-scrubs her laundry. She also introduces William V. Mong, who wrote the screenplay and plays “Flash” Darcy or Dacy (the credits say “Darcy” but the Intertitles consistently spell it “Dacy”), a “shining light of the neighborhood.” Darcy comes out of a bar and runs into Eleanor’s mom (Lule Warrenton), who is carrying home a heavy basket of linens. He offers to carry them home for her and uses the opportunity to hit on Eleanor, who seems annoyed at first, but becomes interested when he flashes his wallet and agrees to pay for groceries and beer for the family. Mom rushes off to shop and leaves the two of them alone. Flash again ingratiates himself by offering to do some of the scrubbing and then invites a street musician to play accordion for them while they dance. Now, Eleanor’s boyfriend “Red” (Edward Hearn, who’s called “Spike” in the credits for some reason) walks up, and he scowls at what he sees. Mom tries to make it better by inviting him in for beer and dinner, but he mostly sulks while Eleanor and Dacy chit chat. They arrange to meet while Red’s at night school that evening.

Smooth operator.

Smooth operator.

At this point we cut to Eleanor’s less-pretty sister, who’s reduced to begging from men on the street. Then we see Eleanor’s reaction to the nice dress Dacy has sent over for her to wear when they go out (and a pair of socks for mother). He takes her on the town and shows her his trick of stealing a man’s tie clip by pretending to yawn and snatching it in his clenched fist. She’s impressed, but scared, and tells the man about hit, but it’s one of Flash’s cronies, who knew what was up the whole time. Now she tries, and fails, to get away with it. Some time passes, and we are given to understand that Dacy has been training her as a pickpocket. He brings a man with a nice tie clip over to her house and she does the fake yawn. But, instead of stealing the tie clip, she grabs Dacy’s gun from out of his pocket and holds him up, claiming to be an undercover cop. The man flees and a fight breaks out between Dacy and Eleanor, with the hard-up sister in the middle. Red’s been standing outside this whole time, and it finally dawns on him to come in and help and then mom shows up with a cop who hauls Dacy away, although I’m not sure on what charge. We are then told that “officer” Eleanor returns to her home life – which is pretty much like it was in the first reel, except now Red is a welcome guest.

Eleanors Catch2I did enjoy this little movie. In fact, I’d had a somewhat grueling afternoon pre-watching “Intolerance” and was ready for a nice light short. But, it had a few problems, plot-wise. First, I didn’t really buy Eleanor’s revelation that she was with the Secret Service. They sent her deep undercover so she could catch up with a small-time hoodlum that steals tie clips? Second, why does Flash need Eleanor in the first place? He seems like a good enough thief to steal all the tie clips he needs without her help. He certainly didn’t come out ahead on the deal: he had to buy all that food, booze, and clothing, and all he was going to get out of it was a tie clip? Finally, I do like the fact that Eleanor more or less rescues herself by grabbing the gun at the end, but then why did we need a big fight with Red and a policeman charging to the rescue? On top of that, I wish she had found some way to make Red more likeable. I was ready to like him when he showed up, since Dacy was an obvious skeeze, and he’s kind of a good-looking working class mug, but all he does is scowl and sulk until the end. Wikipedia makes the dubious claim that this is one of the first movies to include a twist ending, which obviously depends on your definition of that concept, but it isn’t really the most successful I’ve seen. Still, it was an interesting and fun little movie in its way. I liked the fact that Cleo makes Dacy do laundry, which fits with her idea that work shouldn’t be defined by gender, and she did look pretty comfortable with the gun in her hand, not like a typically nervous female of the time. I’ll keep an eye out for more of her work in the future.

Director: Cleo Madison

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Cleo Madison, William V. Mong, Lule Warrenton, Edward Hearn

Run Time: 15 Min

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

Execution of Czolgosz, with Panorama of Auburn Prison (1901)

Last year, on July 4th, I posted about the first filmed footage of an American presidential candidate, “William McKinley at Home in Canton, Ohio.” It seemed like a good way to link the heritage of the United States to the early film industry, and it was a short film that was easy to download and review. Much to my surprise, it rapidly became the most popular movie review, in terms of hits, on my entire blog. It has since been surpassed by Charlie Chaplin’s “The Tramp,” but still holds a respectable position. Americans remain fascinated by the history of the Presidency, it seems.

President William McKinley

President William McKinley

Having started with the beginning of McKinley’s presidential career, I’m following up this year with its conclusion. On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was shot by an anarchist assassin, Leon Czolgosz. He lingered, then died about a week later. The country mourned as several films were released showing his funeral parade, the public process ending with this movie, made by Edison studios and directed by Edwin S. Porter, the man who would make “The Great Train Robbery” just two years later. Porter’s original plan had been to film the actual execution, but he was refused permission by the prison authorities. So, he improvised.

Leon Czolgosz

Leon Czolgosz

What we see at first is a “pan” of the prison walls, the beginning of which coincides with a train passing, although there is a jump-cut mid pan and the train disappears. The bleakness of the location is underscored by the leafless trees (this was shot in October or November). Supposedly, this footage was taken on the day of the execution, and, given that Porter had planned to be there in order to shoot that day, it seems possible. Then we cut to a very obvious set, and see some less obvious actors take a man disguised as Czolgosz from a cell. Next comes a view of a large room with a strange-looking device in the middle. Some electricians, it seems, are checking out the electric chair. Once they are satisfied, the prisoner is brought in and hooked up. The electricity is turned on three times, and each time he stiffens, then relaxes. Finally, two doctors check him with a stethoscope, and confirm that he is dead.

 Execution of Czolgosz1

The above is done in three shots, edited together in sequence. This was a fairly new idea – previously a single movie meant a single strip of film shot continuously, and attempts to tell longer stories had been made by shooting a series of short scenes, which were sold separately and not necessarily screened in order. This new way of taking bits of a film from different places and stringing them together allowed for much more sophisticated story-telling, essentially giving us the birth of film editing. Note also the use of the panorama of the prison as an “establishing shot,” as is often done when the outside of a building is shown before the action moves inside to a studio space, signaling to the audience that the action takes place within the building just seen, in the context of the story, when of course it may have been shot in an entirely different location in reality.

 Execution of Czolgosz

What’s not entirely clear is whether audiences knew they were seeing a reenactment of a execution, or whether they thought they were witnessing the actual event. Edison’s catalog was honest enough in selling to distributors, but it’s hard to know what exhibitors were saying to their customers. Today it is easy to spot the phony walls of the prison interiors, but were inexperienced audiences of 1901 as discerning? I don’t know for sure. It also seems likely that the movie would have been shown with a narration by the exhibitor, or at least mood-setting music, which makes the presentation different from what we get to see. It was apparently a popular item at the time, which may be interpreted as a morbid fascination with death by audiences, or a sense of justice and wanting to witness the important historical events of their time.

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Possbly Porter or James H White (or both)

Run Time: 3 Min, 25 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Execution of Mary

Alternate Title: The Execution of Mary Stuart

The debate rages boringly on about which movie is the “first narrative film.” I don’t really think knowing which is “first” is all that important (though I’d submit “The Sprinkler Sprinkled” as a good candidate for having a beginning, a middle, and an end); what’s interesting is the way that early filmmakers seem to have constantly edged towards telling stories, even when their technology was frankly inadequate to the task. This movie probably has a good claim on being the first to recreate a historical event, and also is certainly one of the first “trick films,” which uses an edit to achieve a special effect (sorry, Méliès fans, this came before he even had a camera). What we see is a group of people surrounding a chopping block, with one dressed as Mary, who kneels and puts her head on the block as the executioner raises his axe. Then, a quick edit and he lowers the axe to chop off a doll’s head, holding the head up high for all to see. Again, interest in the kinetoscope was already waning in 1895, so the thrilling and gory subject matter may have been an effort to drum up business.

Director: Alfred Clark

Camera: William Heise

Run Time: 28 seconds.

You can watch it for free: here or here.

Enoch Arden (1911)

Enoch_Arden_(1911_film)

This two-part “featurette” by Griffith has a lot in common with his earlier film “The Unchanging Sea.” First of all, it’s based on a poem of the same name, in this case by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was read by all educated people at school at the time. Secondly, it follows the story of a couple, separated when the husband goes to sea to seek his fortune, and shows their seaside romance as well as images of the abandoned wife staring out to sea forlornly while she waits for her husband’s return. Unlike that story, however, it does not end in reconciliation, but rather in tragedy, as the wife finally relents and marries her other suitor (a remarkably persistent fellow, who continues to court her as her children grow from babies to adulthood). It’s obvious that Griffith was becoming interested in more complex storylines and storytelling techniques: we see closeups, and there’s a pretty impressive ship, either built or hired for the shoot. The story stars and was written by Griffith’s wife Linda Arvidson, who we’ve seen in “Corner in Wheat” and “The Adventures of Dollie,” with Enoch portrayed by Wilfred Lucas, from “His Trust” and “The Girl and Her Trust.” The rival is Francis J. Grandon, who would soon turn to directing movies like “To Be Called For” and “The Adventures of Kathlyn.”

Director: D. W. Griffith

Camera: Billy Bitzer

Starring: Wilfred Lucas, Linda Arvidson, Francis J. Grandon, George Nichols, Grace Henderson, Blanche Sweet, Dell Henderson, Charles West.

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.