Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Pathe Freres

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.

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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.

Max Learns to Skate (1907)

One of the earliest surviving films of one of the earliest film comedians, this is a fairly simple short about a man’s efforts to learn a simple physical skill – but which takes considerable athletic ability to pull off in a comedic manner. Max Linder succeeds with flying colors in this early outing.

Excited Anticipation

Taken mostly in long shot, this movie consists of just a few sequential scenes, each shot from a stationary camera and lasting several seconds to a minute or more. It begins by establishing a snowy path in a forest, with several people walking along, almost looking like an actuality of France in winter until the star finally approaches close enough to the camera to be recognizable. He stands out from the rest of the characters in the movie by his dandy-ish dress. Most of the men are wearing caps that indicate they are from the working class, while Max sports a shiny top hat. He’s also carrying a pair of skates, designed to be affixed to the bottom of his shoes when he finds a frozen lake. He stops a passerby and asks directions, is pointed the right way and exits, screen left. The next shot shows a table where skaters may check their overcoats and other unneeded items (Max checks his cane, but not his hat). He approaches enthusiastically, and pantomimes his excitement at the opportunity to glide across the ice. The next shot shows wooden chairs where people don their skates, and Max gets one of the local fellows to help him on with his. Next is a shot taken of the shore of the frozen lake, showing Max descending a short plank onto the lake. He is awkward, but stays upright until actually on the ice, where he quickly enters a kind of rapid dance before toppling (and losing his hat). Another local fellow eventually takes pity on him and rights him, giving him his hat back and holding him up as they skate offscreen.

The harsh reality.

The next scene shows Max and his tutor, still arm-in-arm, moving slowly. This shot is taken from the shore and we can now see all the other skaters, out having a grand time. One fellow is on a bicycle. Max eventually feels secure enough to try on his own again and the other fellow skates off. This time, Max is a bit more secure at first, but still wobbles more than he glides, eventually losing his hat again. His effort to recover it results in another pratfall, with him landing on it and crushing it. Another scene of the ice shows Max moving along cautiously, still with the crooked hat, when he is run into by a large child. He runs this kid off angrily, but his buddies show up with snowballs, pelting Max mercilessly. In trying to get away from this assault, Max crashes into another skater who is pushing a lady in a kind of sled-wheelchair. Everyone lands on the ground, and Max, in a fury, is trying to fight with all of them. A skating policeman skates up and removes him from the lake. Max is taken back to the table, where his skates are removed and he retrieves his goods. A final close-up shows Max in tears, his dream of a winter wonderland shattered.

Aftermath

This is a pretty basic film, not especially innovative for 1907, but not bad either. What makes it work is Linder’s screen presence, which keeps the attention and interest of the audience despite the very limited plot and film technique. Max is adorable in the early scenes in which he shows the audience how excited he is to go skating, which makes it all the more effective when he discovers that the sport isn’t as easy as he’d imagined. He only takes four falls, but each is a payoff of some kind of setup, and although we know they’re coming, we don’t know just when. The most surprising is the one where he’s hit from the side, the boy coming in from off camera to crash into him, and this escalates the situation to include others. I wondered, up to that point, if any of the other characters in the movie were “acting,” or whether they were just random people found at the location, behaving naturally. Once Max starts fighting them, we know it’s been set up, but the movie overall feels decidedly natural and unrehearsed. It’s worth noting that what I’ve called a “close-up” at the end of the film is more of a medium-shot, much further back than the camera got to the bandit at the end of “The Great Train Robbery.” It’s possible that the cameraman at Pathé was a bit skeptical of this new-fangled idea, and not willing to take it so far. We can still see enough of Max’s tears that it works, though.

Director: Louis J. Gasnier

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 5 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Toil and Tyranny (1915)

This short movie was released by Pathé as episode twelve of their series “Who Pays?” but I saw it alone and am reviewing it as a single film. The series was not linked by characters or situation, but thematically by examining problems of the time, and this one takes on the highly topical subject of labor disputes in the timber industry.

The movie begins by introducing its actors through “living credits” – each actor is depicted on a stage in costume, standing beneath a big question mark. I suspect that the question mark was a part of the “Who Pays?” branding, but unlike other credits of this nature, the actors just look out at the audience and bow, rather than depicting their characters in any way. The action begins by showing us David Powers, the “Lumber King” (Daniel Gilfether) at work in his office. He calls in his foreman, Jake Snyder, who is described as a “petty tyrant” and tells him that the unpredictable price of lumber requires that he get his shipment off as quickly as possible. “Don’t spare your men,” he advises. One of those men is Karl Hurd (Henry King), who “has known nothing but toil his whole life.” He makes the mistake of sitting down to rest soon after the conference between his bosses, and Jake decides to make an example of him. Karl fights back, however, and the fight escalates until Jake hits him on the head with a 2-by-4. The fight is observed by Powers, and by Perry Travis (Edward J. Brady), his “ruthless legal adviser,” who comments that violence is the only language the workers understand. Karl’s fellow workers carry him home, where a sickly-looking wife does piecework to help make ends meet, and a little girl plays with a single doll. A doctor makes a house call to inform Karl and his wife that he will need “several weeks” of bedrest before he can work again. The doctor refuses to accept payment from the poor family.

Read the rest of this entry »

Troubles of a Grasswidower (1908)

For my contribution to the “Food in Film”  Blogathon, I’m taking  a look at an early example of a typical gender-bending situational comedy: one in which a man is left to his own devices and has to perform “women’s work” for himself, including shopping for food and cooking. Max Linder runs with this premise in this Nickelodeon-Era comedy.

Unhappy home life.

The movie begins with Max having a meal with his wife. Max reads the paper and ignores her. She seems bored and agitated. She tries to speak to him and he ignores her until she snatches the paper away. He demands it back and she gives it to him but begins crying. Max puts his fingers in his ears. This causes her to get up, throw her napkin down and stalk across the room, to where she puts on her hat, takes her coat and leaves. Max gets up and dances a jig, then reads his paper.

The next scene begins with the intertitle “back to mother” and we see the wife enter a room and meet another woman who gestures with sympathetic horror. Then the intertitle says “washing the dishes.” We are back with Max, who has finished his paper. He gathers things from the table on a tray, pouring unfinished glasses of wine back into the decanter. As he piles up more and more of the service, it becomes increasingly awkward or him, and soon he is embracing the tray to keep it all from spilling off. He walks delicately into the kitchen, putting the tray on a cutting board, and brings over a basin of water. We cut now to a closer shot of Max gingerly wiping off the dirty dishes with a dripping brush. It finally occurs to him to put on some gloves, but he is just as delicate with the dirty items when he is wearing them. When he tries to wash a bottle, he can’t figure out how to get the brush inside to scrub. Finally, he takes the whole tray down to the street, where there is a hose in a bucket and he sprays all of his dirty dishes with the hose. Satisfied, he now returns to the kitchen, but he’s not paying attention when he tries to put the tray on the cutting board and it drops, all of the now “clean” dishes shattering on the floor. He sweeps them up with a broom, but then loses interest and leaves in annoyance.

Eeeww!

The next scene is labeled “the market” and it calls attention to the fact that men at this time were not expected to act as consumers. Max is in his silk hat and a topcoat and he approaches the front of a grocer’s, where a woman immediately comes out to serve him. She piles various goods on him and takes his money, but he has no bag or other method to hold his purchases, so once again he stands awkwardly embracing the items. He walks off, but as he reaches the corner he sees a young lady of his acquaintance, so he puts some of his haul behind him and holds the rest behind his back as he speaks to her. A street kid sees the goods he has left on the ground and snatches them, running off, and Max immediately pursues, which reduces his lady friend to laughter. Max catches the kid after a short chase and throws his carrots at him before retrieving his other groceries, all of which have now been on the ground at least once. Picking things up, he of course loses his hat, and there is quite a challenge getting his load back under control.

The next scene is “cooking dinner” and it is the real crux of this movie’s relevance to this blogathon. Max brings all his goods into the kitchen, still wearing his silk hat. He tries to move the basin of water but winds up spilling it all over. He takes off some of his fancy outer clothing and puts on an apron. Then he takes out a large bird for cooking and begins to pluck it. The camera once again switches to a closer angle, and indeed we seem to be in a completely different room as we watch Max’s half-hearted effort to pluck the bird. He takes out some scissors and snips off pieces of the wing, but the bird seems half-prepared at best when he puts it in the pot. He breaks an egg with a knife and drops it in, but most of the shell goes in with the edible part and he tries to scrape it out. He throws in various vegetables and peels a potato over the pot (so most of the peel goes in as well). He pours a copious amount of wine over the pot and sprinkles some spice. Then he lights a match and starts the fire underneath the pot, and makes a show of stirring the mixture. Then he seems to forget about it as he starts polishing a shoe right there on the counter. He spills most of the shoe polish and tries to spoon it back into the bottle, then he remembers his meal and stirs it with the same spoon. He tastes it and adds some more pepper, which makes him sneeze the pot off of the oven.

Clueless in the kitchen.

The next scene is labeled “Housekeeping.” Max comes into the bedroom and starts to undress, but he notices that the bed is a mess, he moves mattresses and sheets around, generally making the bed lumpier than before and them climbs in with most of his clothes on. The next morning Max cannot find his favorite tie. He gets out of bed and puts on a collar, then he starts looking in every possible place, including the bed, the dresser, and under the bed. Each place he looks, he throws the neatly folded contents on the ground, then moves on. He begins tearing up the drawers in the study and the sitting room, even looking inside potted plants. The house is rapidly becoming a disaster area, and this only reaches new extremes when he topples a secretary. Now his wife and her mother arrive to find him in the wreckage and he pleads with her to return to him.

The trope of the reversal of gender roles was a common one in comedy, right up to the Golden Age of television: “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Flintstones” and many others would use it decades after this. Max Linder probably didn’t invent the idea: in the nineteenth century gender determined the division of labor to an enormous degree, which would lend powerful comedic possibilities for use on the vaudeville stage and elsewhere. What this movie emphasizes for us is that even seemingly simple tasks like shopping and clearing the table (never mind the more obvious cases of cooking and washing dishes) were imagined as beyond the capacity of a man. The grocer’s is an alien environment for Max, and he daren’t allow a young lady friend to see him carting groceries. Food, in short, was entirely a woman’s domain, from the conception to the aftermath. All a man knew how to do was hold a knife and fork. That said, it struck me that Max was very “French” in his failed attempt at cooking – he even thought to use some seasoning on the bird, something which escapes first-time cooks today!

This has been my contribution to the “Food in Film” blogathon, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Be sure to head over and check out the other entries!

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 10 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Golden Beetle (1907)

This short film by Segundo de Chomón will remind my regular readers of the work of Georges Méliès. The story is a typical one of magic and its consequences, but it goes in a surprising direction.

This movie depicts a sorcerer in a turban who looks like something out of an Arabian Nights fantasy. The background is similarly decorated in an elaborate Middle Eastern pattern, as if it were the outer wall of the Taj Mahal or a similar structure, with the camera placed in the courtyard. The sorcerer gives the audience a little tumble, then notices a large beetle climbing up the wall behind him. He gestures for the audience to be quiet as he sneaks up to it. He grabs it, and gestures, causing a cauldron to appear. He tosses the beetle into the cauldron and it bursts into flame. He makes more magical gestures over the fire, and now a faerie appears hovering in space above him. The faerie has six wings and the body of a young woman. The sorcerer rubs his hands in glee, but becomes more concerned when the faerie conjures a large fountain and descends into it. He seems frightened by the sprays of colored water from the fountain. He crawls along the ground, sort of like a beetle himself, and suddenly the fountain shoots forth pyrotechnical displays of smoke and embers. Now the sorcerer runs and tumbles about the stage. The faerie reappears at the top of the screen, spinning in place like a top. The fountain disappears and two more faeries join the first. The three faeries descend to the stage floor and dance together while the sorcerer cowers in fear. The first faerie sends the others offscreen, then dances about in pursuit of the panicked sorcerer. The faeries bring back the cauldron from the beginning of the movie and throw the sorcerer in. He bursts into flames as the beetle did. The faerie waves her wings in triumph, climbing atop the cauldron which contains her vanquished foe.

Segundo de Chomón

This is a thrilling movie, made all the better with hand-painted color that is among the best early color work I’ve seen. There’s no doubt that Méliès was the inspiration, but this isn’t a rip-off or remake of one of his movies, this is a loving homage done by an artist who may have equaled or excelled him in creativity. All of the magic and effects are there, but with an unusual sensitivity to the “female” character of the beetle/faerie. The movie has been interpreted as a feminist revenge on the sorcerer by the victim of his magic. Whether this is right or not, it certainly surprises us when the power is taken from the sorcerer and he winds up the victim of a stronger sorcery. I found myself thinking at the end that de Chomón had a distinctive “voice” as a director, even while working within the framework of a formula invented by another artist.

So, is it a horror film? I’m posting it as part of my October “history of horror,” and like many of the early films on here, it is somewhat ambiguous. The human character is ultimately destroyed by a non-human (supernatural) creature, so one can read it that way. Or, we can see it as a typical “Frankenstein” tale, in which the hubris of the sorcerer causes him to create a monster beyond his control. One could also read the magician as the “monster” of the movie, who tries to victimize the innocent faerie. In any of these interpretations, it certainly demonstrates some elements that would be typical of the future horror genre, even if its purpose really isn’t to frighten.

Director: Segundo de Chomón

Camera: Unknown, possibly Segundo de Chomón

Starring: Unknown, possibly Segundo de Chomón

Run Time: 2 Min

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

Max the Heartbreaker (1917)

Max Linder stars as Max Linder, who dates two pretty American tourists only to create complications for himself. Again, the style of droll humor contrasts interestingly with the more overt slapstick of the era.

The movie begins with a close-up on the two female leads, accompanied by a short poem that relates to the French title (“Max Between Two Fires”), then an Intertitle informs us that Max is traveling “incognito” to Switzerland. We see shots of the Riviera, with Max watching the two girls feeding the birds. He tries to join them, but they break into laughter when they recognize him. He looks annoyed and leaves. The next day they send a note apologizing and inviting him to meet them at a specific time and place with a white carnation. He has his “revenge” by substituting a red carnation instead. For some reason, this insults them and they leave, then he sends an apologetic note…I forget how many times this goes back and forth, but eventually they meet and talk and seem to get along well. They all spend the next day together seeing the sights. There’s an odd bit I don’t quite get in which one of the girls sneaks off and substitutes a woman with painted dark skin and wild hair (a gypsy?) for herself, surprising Max when he turns to kiss (?) her. Max is so startled  that he almost trips over a pig. It’s sort of like the routine from “What Happened in the Tunnel,” but less clear.

We now see Max, in medium-close shot, looking at pictures of the girls, kissing them, but apparently unable to choose. He brings two bunches of flowers over with identical notes, and manages to hide the extra one each time and give the right bunch to the right girl. He also makes dates with each of them, at different times. He goes horseback riding with the lighter-haired girl and on a moonlit rowing excursion with the darker-haired girl. The next day, the two girls are walking around kissing their pictures of Max when they run into one another. They tease each other a bit for being in love, then agree to show each other the man of their heart. Their playfulness gives way to anger, then tears, when they both realize the other has been seeing Max. Soon they decide upon a plan for revenge. They allow Max to overhear them planning to have a duel over him. He arrives before the appointed time and climbs a convenient tree to watch the carnage from above. The girls go through the motions of the duel, but at the last minute, one of them points her gun in the air and fires into the tree! Max falls out and runs away, holding his scorched bottom.

I’m going a bit backward with Linder – recently I reviewed his last movie at Essanay, and this time I’m reviewing a movie he made in France before contracting with them. It’s not a romp like “Max in a Taxi,” but it’s probably funnier than the description above makes it sound. Linder is very good at improvising little bits of “business” and he’s particularly amusing when he flirts with one of the girls. The girls are also funny when they mimic each other’s reaction to his advances and betrayal. The review in the Moving Picture World says “Some scenes in the doctor’s office are quite funny,” but I never saw any doctor’s office – either this is an error or there’s something missing from the surviving print.

Director: Max Linder

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Max Linder

Run Time: 19 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)

This, I believe, is the first movie I’ve reviewed by James Young Deer, a Native American director who mostly made movies about Native Americans for white audiences (at white-owned film studios). This is a short movie, based on the themes of “The Squaw Man,” but told from the Indian girl’s perspective, utilizing fairly basic editing techniques and a central chase sequence to heighten tension.

White Fawns DevotionThe movie begins with a white settler receiving a telegram informing him of his inheritance. He has to go to some unspecified place to receive it (the ancestral home, I suppose), but he’s very happy to hear it and runs home to tell his family. Said family consists of a small child and a Native wife. When he tells them of his good fortune, the child seems happy for her father, but the wife looks uncertain. Finally, when he gestures about his coming departure, she objects. They argue, apparently the wife is concerned that he plans to go for good, abandoning her (and the child? It’s never clear what her intended fate is). No matter how he tries to reassure her, she will not be consoled. Finally, the father sends the child away, not wanting her to hear the dispute, which escalates until the father goes into the house to pack his belongings. He has left his knife on the table, however, and his wife grabs it and plunges it into her heart. He comes out and finds her, pulling out the knife just as the child returns, making him look like the murderer!

In a panic, the child runs to the neighboring Indian tribe and speaks to a Native elder. When he hears her story, he demands justice for the wife, and sends out the warriors to hunt the white man down. He figures out what is happening and runs for it, grabbing a horse and making tracks as fast as possible. Unfortunately, he is cornered at a cliff and has to climb down, leaving the horse behind. He winds up in the river, fighting the current and losing, ending up passed out on the shore. His pursuer finds him, binds him, and returns him to the tribe, where the elder tells the daughter to kill him, giving her a large dagger. She balks, and the warriors begin a dance. Just as it seems that the elder will take his tomahawk and do the deed himself, White Fawn suddenly arrives, apparently uninjured, and interposes herself. She, evidently, explains the situation and the white man is freed. The family gathers together and the elder signals them to leave.

White Fawns Devotion1According to the notes that came with the DVD, there’s a missing scene at the end where the father renounces his inheritance and stays with his family, making this the one version of “The Squaw Man” with a truly happy ending. I guess. It seemed to me as if he could go attend the will reading or whatever and then get his money and come back to the homestead easily enough. This version didn’t make it clear what all the fuss was about. In “The Squaw Man” it’s made very obvious that his marrying a non-white is unacceptable, and there’s even some question as to the child. Apparently, Young Deer later made a gender-reversed version in which a white woman was married to a Native American, which Moving Picture World found “disgusting.” There’s also some dispute about the female lead: the “Treasures” disc and the imdb attribute Lilian St. Cyr (aka “Princess Red Wing”) as the actress, but Wikipedia says it doesn’t look like her. I’m inclined to agree, but it’s hard to tell from the distance of the shots and the quality of the available prints (and my own uncertainty regarding the still images Ive seen of her).

In this movie, the focus is really on the chase, which is handled competently, but not especially innovatively. Action tends to cut from the pursued back to the pursuer just as the latter reaches the place the former just left. There’s a bit of more sophisticated inter-cutting for the scene at the cliff, where the warrior cuts the rope that the white man is climbing down on, but it’s pretty standard for 1910. There are no close-ups or camera movement, and pretty much the whole movie is done in wide shot. Young Deer made this fairly early in his contract with Pathé Freres, which hired him because American critics were making fun of their phony Westerns, and it was felt that he would bring added authenticity to the new American unit.

Director: James Young Deer

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Uncertain (see above)

Run Time: 11 Min

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

Luke’s Movie Muddle (1916)

While this isn’t the first Harold Lloyd movie reviewed on this blog, it is the earliest I’ve seen with him in a starring comedic role. This comes from his time working for Hal Roach for the American Pathé Exchange. It does not disappoint, despite an obviously lower budget than Charlie Chaplin had at the time for his work.

Lukes Movie MuddleLloyd is still (sort of) impersonating Charlie here as the owner of a small movie theater – although his mustache is somewhat the inverse of Charlie’s and his pants are tight rather than baggy, he hasn’t developed the bespectacled, straw-hat-wearing look we associate with his 1920s pictures either. At times, he seems to try to walk like Charlie, but at others, his natural physicality takes over and we see his persona come through. Harold tries to run the movie theater more or less alone, he sells and tears the tickets, and he seats each patron individually, more or less by brute force. This would be a bit much, but he makes it even harder on himself by taking time to chat up all of the female customers. At least he doesn’t try to run the projector. He leaves this up to Snub Pollard, who seems to serve the purpose of Ben Turpin in an Chaplin Essanay film (or his own role in “By the Sea“). Snub unreels a large amount of film and makes a mess (and a fire hazard) of the projection booth. Once he gets it going, he falls asleep while cranking, requiring Harold to run up and boot him in the pants, which only makes him crank much too fast. The climax comes when a country yokel, straight out of an Edison comedy, puts his pipe in his pocket and catches fire, resulting in everyone panicking and running out of the theater. Snub leaps out of the projection booth on top of Harold.

Lukes Movie Muddle1What really struck me in this movie is how nice the small 10-cent theater looks compared to the movie theaters in Chaplin films of just two years earlier, to say nothing of “Those Awful Hats” (1909). The space is large and the screen is set above the heads of the patrons so they don’t block one another’s view, despite the lack of a sloping floor or theater seating. I also appreciated the attention given to the piano player – a vital element in every theater by 1916. The movie uses close-ups and sophisticated editing, but most of the humor comes directly from slapstick and Harold’s physical timing.

Director: Hal Roach

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, Bud Jamison, Bebe Daniels

Run Time: 9 Min, 45 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Romance with a Double Bass (1911)

Romance with a Double Bass

This Russian comedy short relies mostly on situation rather than slapstick for its humor. However, as compared with “Princess Tarakanova,” the actors do rely more on pantomime to get the story across and we have no intertitles at all. In this one, a very different sort of a princess goes out fishing at a local stream. So far as I can remember, this is the one time in 104 years of movies that I’ve ever seen a woman cast a fly in a film (someone can correct me in the comments if Katherine Hepburn actually did it in “Bringing Up Baby” or something, but all I remember is golf). Anyway, once we’ve gotten past the shock of that gender-bending situation, we are introduced to a musician traveling with his friends, who decides to put down his instrument and take a dip, just a little way downstream. His friends move on, and as soon as they do, two thieves show up and steal his clothes, as would happen in any American comedy of the period. The swimmer spies the princess napping and swims up to meet her, but becomes shy, perhaps because he’s only wearing a longjohns-style-swimsuit, and moves on. When she wakes up, she goes for a dip too. She, however, is wearing the latest in Paris fashions in swimwear. Still, while she’s in the river, the same two thieves steal her clothes. When each comes back to land, they discover their embarrassed state, and soon afterward, they discover each other. Luckily, the thieves didn’t take the heavy double bass (I guess there’s a big market in Russia for illegal clothes fencing, but not expensive musical instruments), so the musician convinces the princess to hide in the case while he chases after the thieves. The friends now return and, finding the case abandoned with no musician about, pick it up and carry it to the nearby home of the princess. She bursts out, in front of her father, his guests, the servants, and everyone, humorously ashamed of her semi-nudity.

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Charles Musser, in The Emergence of Cinema, mentions a number of American comedies in which women’s bodies are exposed for the pleasure of male audiences. This one differs slightly from that earthy tradition. For one thing, it’s based on a Chekhov short story, suggesting that even where light comedy was concerned, Russian audiences wanted to class up the movies with a little culture. For another, the man in this story is also deprived of clothing, although his embarrassment is not lingered over as much. It’s hard to imagine that female audiences found his skinny frame as interesting as the men found the princess, either. Finally, in the movies Musser mentions, the father is often also the butt of some Oedipal prank, as where the escaping boyfriend topples the peeping father from a ladder in “How the Athletic Lover Outwitted the Old Man,” but here the father is an agent of the girl’s humiliation.

Director: Kai Hansen

Camera: Joseph-Louis Mundwiller

Cast: Vera Gorskaya, Nikolai Vasilyev

Run Time: 6 Min 45 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.