Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Martha Mansfield

Max Wants a Divorce (1917)

One of three movies Max Linder made at Essanay before that studio’s final demise, this movie shows his talents and charm effectively, but apparently was not a hit with audiences of the time. Possibly its “European” themes of divorce, infidelity and jealousy did not sit well with Americans, but I found it a lot of fun.

As the movie begins, Max is cuddling with a girl (Martha Mansfield) still in a bridal veil from their recent marriage. The honeymoon comes to a rapid end, however, when a maid comes in to deliver Max a letter from a lawyer telling him that he stands to inherit three million dollars if he is single on his upcoming birthday. He quickly realizes that it will be in both his and his bride’s interest if they can get a divorce, but her response is to smash various vases and other breakable objects when he proposes it, most of them by throwing them at Max himself. He calms her down by promising to buy a string of pearls and to re-marry her as soon as the money is secured. Then they have to work out a plan to establish “grounds” for the divorce. He tells her that he will seduce a woman of her choosing, and she can send in a detective to catch them in the act.

Max and his wife go out to a very stylish dance and she proposes a large, older woman as his target, but Max vetoes this and chooses a young blonde (Francine Larrimore) instead. His efforts to woo her are interrupted by bursts of his wife’s jealousy, including her throwing a pastry in his face. He manages to get rid of her long enough to at least get the young lady’s phone number. He and his wife secure an apartment for the rendezvous, and she hires a detective over the phone, confusing him slightly when she checks with Max to confirm the time of the affair. He calls from home, once again incurring the jealousy of his wife who interrupts the phone call as well, but she agrees to meet him there. Meanwhile, an “experimental psychologist (Ernest Maupain), driven from his residence by noise complaints from the neighbors, takes on the apartment across the hall. He arranges to have various lunatics come and meet him there, including a man who thinks he’s a car, a butterfly catcher, and a “ballet master” (the last is played by Leo White).

On the night of the date, Max’s wife decides she can’t bear to let this happen outside of her sight, so she puts on a silly disguise and pretends to be a maid. Each time Max and the girl start canoodling, she comes into the room and asks if they need anything. The girl gets more and more uncomfortable, but Max insists she stay until five. The detective goes into the wrong apartment and is put in the room with the “loonies.” Finally, Max, the mistress, and the wife get into a roaring argument, which gets the psychiatrist’s attendants to investigate, and they wind up getting thrown into the loony bin as well. Finally, Max winds up with a large “diva” (Mathilde Comont) and the detective takes notes for his wife. Exhausted, Max and wife return home, where they are greeted by the maid with a new letter. The lawyer apologizes for his mistake, the terms of the will state that he must be married, not single, in order to inherit. Oops!

This movie is a very good example of Linder’s more sophisticated, situational comedy style, and confirms once again that slapstick was not the only form of humor known to the early silent screen. While not as urbane and witty as an Ernst Lubitsch film, it reminded me a bit of his style. I was surprised at the quality of the cinematography, including silhouettes, clever lighting, and many close-ups. This is unusually sophisticated filmmaking for a 2-reel comedy of the time. In terms of acting, the wife’s jealousy was very over-the-top, however. I think a Lubitsch character would have chosen to get even by finding a lover of her own, rather than constantly undermining her own interests by making it harder for Max to come up with grounds for the divorce. I was also surprised when the detective pulled out a notepad rather than a camera to “catch” Max in the act – technological assumptions were different in those days, obviously! The highpoint of the humor, though, is all of the chaos the various “crazy” characters create. The fellow pretending to be a car was a riot, and the “ballet master” managed to be wonderfully incompetent in his constant pirouettes and leaps. Not especially sensitive (or realistic) in terms of its handling of mental illness, this movie manages to be quite funny as a result.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Arthur Reeves

Starring: Max Linder, Martha Mansfield, Francine Larrimore, Ernest Maupain, Leo White, Helen Ferguson, Mathilde Comont

Run Time: 27 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Max in a Taxi (1917)

In this short film, Max Linder plays “Max,” a rich swell who gets himself into trouble drinking, then proceeds to get into even more trouble trying to get out of trouble! Linder’s physical comedy skills are on full display, but the situational aspects of the movie are what make it work.

The movie begins with Max very drunk. He and a friend have various mishaps in trying to get home. Eventually max hitches a horse to a carriage to drive them home – only he’s so drunk that he hitches it so that it’s facing the carriage. Fortunately, the horse is good at following orders, so it just trots backwards with the carriage attached. Max has further pratfalls as he bids his friend goodnight at the door and tries to go upstairs. At one point, he falls out a second-story window backward and lands on his friend as he walks out the door! Finally he makes it up the stairs to encounter a stern-looking older man in his room. I presume this is Max’s father or rich uncle or whoever supplies the money he lives on. He obviously disapproves of Max’s state, and he tosses him out with no further support.

This is not, in fact, a taxi.

Max walks the street for days, still in the finery he wore for his night of partying, but unable to come up with any money for food or other survival needs. He resolves to kill himself and tries and fails to do so in several amusing ways. He lies down in front of a train, but the train switches tracks at the last minute. He tries hanging himself, but the rope breaks. Now Max discovers an invitation in his pocket for a party at a wealthy woman’s house that very day. He rushes over there, fakes his way in past the butler, and dances up a storm, somewhat flustering the hostess. Soon, he gets to the main purpose of his visit – a large table stacked with pastries and treats. He sends the butler away so he can chow down, stuffing several into his mouth at a time. However, the hostess now brings her young daughter (Martha Mansfield) over to meet him. He’s nearly as interested in her as in the sweets, and she takes him out on the dance floor with his mouth full. He eventually comes up with the expedient of getting rid of the many cream puffs jammed into his mouth by hiding them in the piano. For some reason, he also throws a cat in after them, and of course that ruins the music. Max manages to stay sober and makes a graceful departure, shaking hands with the butler instead of giving a tip since he’s broke.

The next day, he spends his last two pennies to buy a paper and look at the want ads. He applies for a job driving a taxi, even though he doesn’t know how to drive a car. He gets a short lesson from his new employer by pretending he’s not familiar with “this model,” and gets the car a few blocks away from the station before parking it. Soon, the two ladies from the party walk up. He doesn’t want to admit he’s driving a cab for money, so he puts his top hat back on and tells them he’s just waiting for the chauffeur. They wait for a while but get bored and leave him to nap in the car. When they return, he tries to start the car, but it starts going on its own. Soon, Max is riding the driverless car on the hood, while the two women sit in the back. It hits a telephone pole and is destroyed. The women are alright, but they clothes and hair are ruined. They look for Max in the wreckage, but he has been thrown onto the telephone wires, where he does a few tumbles for the audience.

This is a taxi, but Max isn’t in it.

I’ve been somewhat remiss, up to now, in not reviewing a Max Linder movie. It’s not that I was unaware of him, or thought he was unimportant, or don’t like him. It’s just that there’s always so much to review, and until now I hadn’t gotten to it (I’ve still only reviewed one movie by Harold Lloyd, who’s actually my personal favorite of the silent clowns, so this isn’t entirely a matter of favoritism). This one seems like a good starting point, but note that Linder had been doing “Max” films for ten years already when it came out. Charlie Chaplin fans will see some similarities between the opening of this movie and Charlie’s “One A.M.” from the previous year. Chaplin was influenced by Linder’s work, and later honored him as “the professor” who had taught him the art of comedy. This movie was actually a bit of a collaboration between them, as it was shot in Hollywood and Linder met Chaplin and spoke with him about shooting it while it was in progress. There’s a lot of difference between Linder’s on-screen persona and Chaplin’s, though. When Chaplin played the “drunken swell” (as opposed to the Little Tramp), his comedy was almost entirely physical, and what little we see of the character is largely unsympathetic. Max’s “swell” is certainly dissolute and libertine, but he has a definite charm and sympathy. His character is aware of social expectations, and as a result gets into humorous situations when he doesn’t have the money people expect him to have.

Linder had recently moved to the USA from France and joined Essanay, who hoped to replace the recently departed Chaplin and make a profitable series of “Max” films. This was the third of those, and apparently the most successful, but it wasn’t enough to justify his salary, and the failing studio canceled the contract. Linder’s career went into a decline afterward, although he did make more films and film appearances periodically until his death in 1925. We still have quite a few of them to enjoy, and I trust this will not be his last appearance in this project.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Arthur Reeves

Cast: Max Linder, Martha Mansfield, Mathilde Comont, Ernest Maupain

Run Time: 19 Min

You can watch it for free: here.