Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Paul Panzer

Getting Evidence (1906)

This short comedy from Edison relies on a predictable formula of repeated foiled attempts and physical violence to get laughs. It has similarities to other comedies of the period, and, yes, even a large-scale chase sequence as well.

The opening title tells us this will show “the trials and tribulations of a private detective.” The first shot shows a stage dressed to be a classic private eye’s office, right down to the door with “Hawkshaw Private Detective” printed on the glass. The detective reclines in a chair with a newspaper. A man comes into the office and paces about, agitated. He gives the detective an envelope, which the detective opens and reads, then the two sit at the desk while the detective gets the particulars. The man gives him money, then leaves.

The next scene takes place in front of a house. The detective “sneaks” quite openly into a hiding position behind a pole, then watches as a lady and a gentleman emerge from the house and get into a car. The detective jumps out to photograph the two of them driving off, but as he does so, a gardener comes up from behind him with a wheelbarrow and knocks him down, wheeling him off. Next we see the detective on a country road. He jumps out as the car approaches, attempting to take his picture, but the driver runs him over. He gets up and hobbles off. The next scene shows the man and the woman at an outdoor café at a club, being waited on by an African American waiter. The detective tries to take their picture again, but this time the man punches him and drives him off. The detective meets the waiter outside and pays him for his jacket, then smears dirt on his face to create blackface and puts on a shaggy wig. He serves the couple, but as he prepares to take the picture, the man grabs a seltzer bottle and sprays him in the face.

In the next scene, the couple is golfing, and the man hides in a sand trap. When he leaps up to take the picture, the woman drives the ball right at him, hitting him and knocking him down. The couple goes to see who’s been hurt, but when they find it is him, the man smashes his camera. Next we see the detective in a sailor suit, getting onto a gondola ahead of the couple. They board and he prepares to take his picture, but the man punches him and knocks him into the water. Then the couple are seen sitting on a hammock together in a park. The detective sets up a tripod to take their picture from behind, but when the flash goes off they are alerted and the man again smashes the camera. Finally, the couple stroll along  the beach, followed by the detective in a white uniform. This time he is able to take their picture unobserved, they are so distracted by one another, but another bather rises the alarm and soon the whole beach is after him! He manages to stash the photograph by hiding out under a levee, but the crowd does find him, beat him, and smash his camera again.

Now we see the client and his wife together at home. He is obviously agitated and the wife denies doing anything wrong. The detective is shown in, with bandages and bruises from all of his fights, and triumphantly shows the man the photograph he took. It’s the wrong woman! The woman and the man in the photo are shown in (apparently it is the mother-in-law), and then the poor man is forcibly shown the door.

This movie has a lot in common with “Mr. Flip,” that came out a few years later. The comedy hinges on a man being a persistent pest, and not taking the hint when he is upbraided for his behavior. The seltzer spritz and wheelbarrow scene are also similar to some of the punishments Ben Turpin suffers in that film. Unlike Turpin, however, this comedian doesn’t really add much to his pratfalls, he just takes the abuse when it comes. He isn’t funny in himself, it’s just that some of the things that happen to him are funny. The car running over him is pretty convincing, although I think it was done with jump cuts and a dummy. I particularly laughed when the entire beach started chasing him after it looked like he would (finally!) get off all right. I mostly felt sorry for him, though. Given that the couple weren’t doing anything wrong, it seems that the violence they mete out in defense of their privacy is a bit extreme.

Director: Edwin S. Porter and Wallace McCutcheon

Camera: Unknown, possibly Edwin S. Porter and Wallace McCutcheon

Starring: Paul Panzer

Run Time: 14 Min

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

Princess Nicotine (1909)

This fascinating short from Vitagraph shows a very innovative approach to trick photography and allows more direct interaction between actors than double exposure would have. Director J. Stuart Blackton brings a fantasy to life that has elements of Guy and Méliès, while also displaying a distinctly American style.

Nicotine PrincessA man is in a room, preparing to smoke his pipe. Suddenly, he drowses off and falls asleep. While he is asleep two tiny figures appear among his smoking accoutrements – one a small child and the other, a grown woman, both in fairy costumes. They appear to be only a few inches tall. There is an edit, and we see them at closer range, moving among the oversized implements. The woman gets into the cigar box, and the child hides in the pipe, putting tobacco over herself in the process. The man wakes up and starts smoking his pipe, but he notices something strange. He shakes it out and the child tumbles out happily (apparently unconcerned that she was almost burnt up!). She and the woman dance on the table for a bit, and the man smokes and tries to trap them in the cigar box. When he looks inside, all he finds is a flower, but when he removes it, the child is there smoking a cigarette. Then, he gets up and leaves. Now, there is an animated sequence which shows the matches arranging themselves and then a cigar rolls itself out of leaves and tobacco. The man walks into what looks like a different room and finds the cigar, lighting it and also breaking a bottle that holds one of the fairies. He begins smoking and blows the smoke at the fairy, which seems to annoy her. She builds a bonfire out of the remaining matches, and he extinguishes it with a spritzer bottle. He then uses the spritzer to spray the fairy off of the table.

Nicotine Princess1As the DVD notes observe, there is a wealth of material here for a dedicated Freudian – even if “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” I alluded to the special effects, which were managed by shooting the women in a mirror at a distance that made it appear that they were small and on the table, rather than using double exposure and having to shoot everything twice. Keeping that technique in mind, this is a very interesting performance. I think the “different room” continuity confusion was a result of the trickiness of these effects: on a second viewing I noticed that most of the background was replaced with a black curtain starting just before the animated sequence. Possibly they were having difficulty getting the effects to show up against the original backdrop. For the insert shots, we see the fairies interacting with large props (a barrel-sized pipe bowl, and matchsticks the size of their legs, etc). I’ve seen claims that the first time this was done was for the movie “Dr. Cyclops” (1940), but here’s an earlier example and there may be more.  The editing structure is relatively sophisticated, not just stringing together scenes, but allowing us to change our perspective on the action as it develops. The movie owes something to the French, in terms of its effects and overall tone, but there’s something quite unique in the subject matter and the ambiguous attitude towards smoking and tiny women.

Alternate Title: Princess Nicotine; or, the Smoke Fairy

Director: J. Stuart Blackton

Camera: Tony Gaudio

Starring: Paul Panzer, Gladys Hulette

Run Time: 5 Min

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

The Thieving Hand (1908)

This odd little short from Vitagraph has a kind of reputation as a (pre-)Surrealist masterpiece. It does involve the use of trick photography to bring an arm to life, but how does it look from a modern viewpoint?

Thieving HandWe see a one-armed man begging on the street. He is selling pencils or some other time-honored item to get handouts. He sells to a man in an expensive-looking coat and the man walks away. Shortly thereafter, the beggar notices something on the ground and picks it up – it seems to be a ring or small piece of jewelry. He runs after the man and catches him in front of his house. The man is very grateful to get back his ring and starts to reach for another handout, but thinks better of it. He takes the beggar to a shop called “limbs” and buys him a new arm! The shopkeeper demonstrates that the arm works by winding it up on the display case. It moves by itself (actually a jump cut has allowed it to be replaced by the arm of an actor hiding behind the case). The shopkeeper attaches the new arm and cranks it up for the beggar. The beggar is thrilled, but doesn’t seem to notice the arm stealing from his benefactor. When the shopkeeper notices, he takes back his goods and sends them on their way. The beggar scolds his new arm.

The beggar goes back to his corner and continues trying to sell pencils. While he does so, his new arm flails about and grabs things off of each passerby while the beggar distracts them with the pencils in his other hand. Several come back, annoyed, and take back their possessions. Finally, returns the arm to the shop, but when the shopkeeper puts it in the window, it steals a bunch of rings and goes back to the beggar! The shopkeeper discovers the theft and has a policeman arrest the beggar. Once in jail, he meets a one-armed convict who recognizes that it is his arm. He returns the arm, and the convict now has back his thieving hand – no doubt his main means of labor.

Thieving Hand1

As I suggested above, this film stands out by its very weirdness, and seems reminiscent of some of Alice Guy’s more bizarre comedies, like “The Drunken Mattress” or “The Truth Behind the Ape Man” in which the animate and inanimate world become blurred for comic effect. It’s pretty pedestrian, really, in terms of camera-work, editing, and effects, but it feels new because we’ve never seen this particular story before, although it might fit into the strange world of “Felix the Cat” or another of the wilder cartoon series. There’s an interesting irony to the fact that the beggar is rewarded for his honesty with a gift that makes him appear dishonest, and even gets him arrested.  There’s also an element to this movie that makes me think of David Cronenberg, a Canadian director whose horror films often explore invasions or mutations of the body. A hand acting of its own volition is right up his alley. This is a good memorable movie from the early Nickeloden Era, when American film makers were just starting to think about their possibilities.

Director: J. Stuart Blackton

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Paul Panzer

Run Time: 6 Min

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